Analysis: Was Hamilton right or wrong to ignore team orders?

Analysis: Was Hamilton right or wrong to ignore team orders?


Despite a contemporary classic on Sunday in Hungary, the main story dominating the major Formula 1 websites as well as the sports sections of newspapers on Monday was not Daniel Ricciardo’s stunning drive to win an absolute thrilling Hungarian Grand Prix, but the debate over Lewis Hamilton’s decision to ignore the orders of his Mercedes team.

Hamilton, who produced a stormer of a drive to finish third having started from the pitlane after his qualifying fire, has come under scrutiny for his refusal to allow his team-mate and title rival Nico Rosberg past during the race, despite the request of his team.

The German, who led from pole early on, found himself fourth, behind the 2008 champion after losing out badly during the two safety car periods, with a final stop still to make. Yet, for nine laps Rosberg shadowed Hamilton, the latter arguing that the former was not close enough to pass him without ruining his own race.

Rosberg was soon in for his final tyre change, rejoining behind the two Williams cars as well as Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari and on fresh rubber sliced his way through the traffic to finish fourth, just half a second behind his team-mate who had earlier refused to let him past.

The question is, was Hamilton right to ignore the orders of his team to let Rosberg by, or should he have conformed to Mercedes’ request and slowed to allow his team-mate through to give chase to the then yet to stop Daniel Ricciardo and the long-running Fernando Alonso.


First and foremost, and judged as a matter of professionalism, Hamilton’s insubordination was out of line. In a team sport, where you win and lose as a part of a team of hundreds, it was a slap in the face to Mercedes to simply dismiss the order.

Team orders, despite their almost universal dislike by fans, exist to be followed, and Hamilton, as an employee of Mercedes should be expected to do as he is told, just as any other team member, be they a mechanic or a senior member of staff, would be expected to do so.

On Sunday Lewis put his desire to succeed beyond that of the wishes of Mercedes, who understandably wanted to record the best joint finish possible, in what was a big faux pas. Yet, Hamilton has escaped any punishment, with the team’s non-executive chairman Niki Lauda going so far as to back Hamilton’s refusal to pull over for his team-mate, an order he says came from a moment of panic for the team, who have been more accustomed to running first and second this season.

Yet, while it is difficult to deny that Hamilton’s indiscipline might have been out of line, was it in fact the right call to make on his part? Simply put, yes it was. Lewis’ defiance worked out perfectly in his favour, coming home third, ahead of his team-mate Rosberg who otherwise would almost undoubtedly of been in contention for the race win.

In maintaining his position in third earlier in the race, and defying the orders of his team, Hamilton cut Rosberg’s lead at the head of the drivers’ championship to 11 points, down from 14, despite his team-mate starting on pole, while he started from the pitlane and spun on the opening lap. Not bad for a days work.

Hamilton’s argument for his defiance during the race was simply that Rosberg was not close enough to pass him – which was evidently true, Rosberg struggling to even break within a second of Hamilton. As the 2008 champion said himself following the event, he feared that allowing his team-mate through at that stage would have released him, enabling the German to come back at him and pass him on fresh tyres during the final laps, which Nico very nearly did, despite the hold up.

With that in mind, one must question Mercedes’ order itself. The idea that the team on the pitwall expected Hamilton – who admitted after the race that he was shocked by the call – to allow his title rival past, while still in contention for the race win, underlines how far from the mark their team order itself was, and goes a long way to explaining why Mercedes quickly dropped the issue after a number of laps, possibly realising their error in judgement.

In light of the result, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admitted that his team’s pre-season agreement, which while allowing its pair of drivers to race head-to-head, stipulated that neither could choose a radical strategy, may have to be re-evaluated in light of increasing tension in the camp between the two title challengers.


“At the moment, we have a 170-point advantage in the constructors’ championship and maybe it is a moment of loosening it a bit, in agreement with both of them,” said Wolff.

“At the beginning of the season it is easy to say these are the rules and this is how we are going to do it. But now it is clear: these two are fighting for the world championship.

“Maybe we have come to a point where what we had at the beginning of the season doesn’t function anymore, because we cannot ask either driver to give up positions or jeopardise their own campaign and championship chances for the benefit of the team.”

This leaves us with a situation whereby Mercedes, with both world titles now effectively destined for Brackley, could allow both Hamilton and Rosberg to take the gloves off in their battle for the drivers’ crown over the coming months, which could only be a major victory for the sport over the remainder of the season.

Hamilton’s refusal to play ball on Sunday was a win not just for those fans who despise the notion of team orders, but also for Lewis personally, cutting his team-mate’s lead at the head of the drivers’ standings with a champion’s drive.

Furthermore, the Briton’s defiance, which can be expected to now be met by a similar attitude from Nico Rosberg should the roles ever be reversed, also seems set to push Mercedes to remove any pretence of cooperation between the pair, which leaves us with the mouthwatering prospect of an almighty battle between the two team-mates over the remaining eighth races

To conclude, Hamilton was undoubtably wrong to ignore the commands of his team. But was his defiance well-founded? Without question, certainly. In the ilk of a true winner he offered his team-mate no quarter, and defied a call that would in all likelihood have dropped him behind his title rival. Hamilton’s actions have set the tone for the remainder of the season, which right now is building up to be sensational, I can hardly wait for Spa.

Featured image courtesy of Mercedes AMG PETRONAS, text images courtesy of Octane Photographic


  • Richard Piers

    Back to school Mr Paddock “have” not “of” please. As far as the paymasters are concerned having your mouth water is not a consideration. There are now team orders, regrettably, and generally the team want the Constructors title and are less interested in the WDC. If an agreement was in place both between driver and driver and drivers and team, that will have determined their agreed strategies. That will now change. Galling it would have been, but Hamilton should have let Rosberg through and given him the chance to win the race. It was much more a matter of baulking his team mate thus denying him and the team any chance of a victory in order to further his own ends.

  • KK

    If Mercedes wanted the best result ,they should have put Hamilton on the same strategy as that of Nico. That would have given the chance for an Hamilton victory and a 1-2 for Mercedes. Mercedes screwed Hamilton big time first in qualifying and then with the strategy in the

  • Douglas d. Gard

    Mercedes wants Nico to win the title, otherwise how do they explain 2sec. Differences in pit stops, exploding brakes(only on one car), fires(only on one car) ect. (Mostly the pit stops) . It seems strange to me. Only my opinion, no proof.

  • KevinW

    All I can say, is that after the universal outrage of the multi-21 affair, which posited that team orders were sacrosanct law, calling for Vettel to be sanctioned and punished, if not thrown out of the sport altogether, you’d think team orders were a regulation not to be ignored for any reason, that the driver responsibility is to obey and shut up, no questions asked… Since then, the violations by Raikonnen, Massa, and Hamilton carries no such outrage, no such call to action, no demand for a head on a stick. This exposes the previous outrage as nothing more than popularized hating, with no credibility whatever. Now, not only has the topic not generated outrage, it is about how the driver, Hamilton, was right to make the call – that protecting his own personal interest and position was superior to that of the team itself. Bottom line: This topic no longer carries any credibility. Team orders are just a radio transmission, to be treated as nothing more serious than passing of information from pit wall to driver. There is no regulation, or requirement for them to be obeyed, and the precedent has now been set – any discussion of orders communicated and ignored are to be between the driver and his team, behind closed doors. Now, lets see what happens when Rosberg is asked to pull aside and let Lewis by, but decides to ignore the “order” to protect his own position, costing Lewis a position. I’m guessing the reaction will be significantly different to the one we are now witnessing, from both driver and peanut gallery alike.

  • Shane Phillips

    Formula 1 is different to the business world, the individual success is every bit as important as the team success… if not more so, most fans care more about the WDC than the WCC.

    Mercedes don’t need the extra points, it’s so obvious to anyone watching the sport that they are going to win the constructor’s title at an absolute canter, and Lewis has been on such a bad run of late that I completely understand his decision not to follow the order.

    Drivers and teams form business arrangements, the driver scores points for the team to count towards it’s WCC standings, and in return the team provide the driver with an opportunity to go for the WDC. Lewis has a right to try and ensure his success.

  • Lovejoint


  • McSerb

    No Richard, you should go back to school to improve your arithmetic skills. You see, Hamilton had the advantage of track position and therefore he had pit stop priority (TEAM RULES). Since he is battling ONLY Rosberg for the WDC he could have altered his strategy and pitted BEFORE Rosberg (to cover the strategy of his only opponent AND it would have been the smart thing to do). Then HE would have been chasing Alonso and Ricciardo for the win on the soft tire. Why do you think Hamilton HAD to stay on the harder tire until the end of the race ? He did not, but you obviously prefer that case. Mercedes only managed to humiliate their team by proving that they wanted Rosberg, not Hamilton, to win. Hamilton had every right to do exactly what they wanted Rosberg to do, but Wolff (just like you) keeps forgetting to say so. I think you are well aware of this, so cut the…

  • McSerb

    You are not as naive as you pretend to be. The pattern is that you clearly support the German drivers in every case. Vettel should not have been criticized, but the others…Vettel made it clear that team orders can not be implemented, because they are illegal and the team CAN NOT punish the driver. Also Vettel cheated, because the team told Webber to reduce the engine revs and bring the car home and Webber was promised that Vettel would do the same, but he did not. I think you know that very well. Besides, this is much different. These two are fighting for the title and just explain to all of us, wiseguy, why Hamilton could not have pitted before Rosberg to change his own tires instead of letting Rosberg pass him, slow him down a bit and then go in for fresh rubber? Just because Mercedes (and you) wanted the German driver, not the Englishman, to win? Pathetic fanboy stuff. Say hello to the guys at primary school.

  • KevinW

    Why the unqualified personal attack? It changes nothing, it just lowers the quality of dialog, adding nothing of value.

  • Cedric Lee

    hamilton may have defied orders but it was the right thing to do. there was no reason for him to lose 2 seconds just to let nico past. nico can complain all he wants to but it would be dumb for anyone to suggest hamilton should just pull over and let him by when nico wasn’t really anywhere near him. mercedes know this as well which is why they’re trying not to draw additional attention to the issue.

    if the object was just to win the race then hamilton had a much better chance than nico did. if you believe the other analysis of the situation, nico lost 6-8 seconds behind hamilton, riccardo won by 6.5 seconds. that may have given nico the win but its not a guarantee that he could have made up that time WHILE passing 3 cars. hamilton on the other hand was in line to win the race and challenged for the lead until his tyres gave up on him because mercedes pitted him much earlier than they were supposed to for that last stint. granted, it was probably the right decision since they were expecting a safety car, but at the point when they issued team orders to lewis, they did not know that perez was going to crash so all they should have done was to minimize any potential time loss for lewis. so the team order itself is contradictory to their own success as lewis had the best chance to win the race. maybe they’re going for the 1-2 but i would posit that you worry about winning first before strategizing for a 1-2 finish in which case they should have focused on lewis since he was in a better. both in terms of strategy and in track position as well since he was ahead of rosberg.

  • modw

    Giving team orders isn’t good for the sport, but allowed. Recently read on this site that Hamilton is talking with Mercedes about a 3 year 90 million contract. Well, if I refuse something my employer asks me to do, I can fire me for it! F1 drivers are employees and at least some of them, like Lewis, get a lot of money for driving a racing car. At least they can obey, even if they don’t like it, tasks given by there employer.
    For Lewis his bad luck: Remember Schumacher driving the Mercedes: same bad luck.
    Although, not al bad luck. I think the driving style between drivers are quite different. Rosberg way of driving might be less aggressive than Hamilton, which causes the problems to arise in the first place.

  • McSerb

    I accept that, it did turn out like that, and you have my apology.

  • PIV

    He has a long history of supporting German drivers against all logic and reason.

  • Pear Bear

    Dan Paddock, you’re talking rubbish! Rosberg was never in a position to take Hamilton and even if Lewis had let him past Rosberg was never going to pass Alonso. So the team result would have been no different, except that Hamilton would have thrown away valuable points for no good reason. Team orders were completely out of order, Hamilton was the better and faster driver. You must have been watching a different race to the rest of us.