When Team Orders in Motorsport Goes too far

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The events of Sunday’s DTM race at the Red Bull Ring saw one of the most disgraceful uses of team orders in motorsport in recent history. When Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich gave Timo Scheider the broadcasted message “schieb ihn raus” which translates into “push him out”, it severely damaged the reputation of one of the (up to then) most well-respected men in all of motorsports. It hasn’t only affected the reputation of Ullrich however, but it has also harmed the reputation of Scheider, and that of Audi – the manufacturer who has won 13 Le Mans titles, two World Endurance Championships, numerous race victories in the European and American Le Mans Series and 11 DTM titles all since the turn of the new millennium with Team Joest, Abt Sportsline, and numerous others.

The whole thing kicked off after Mercedes driver Robert Wickens held up Scheider in the closing stages of the race, in an attempt to get fellow Mercedes driver Pascal Wehrlein – who is fighting for the championship, ahead of both cars. It worked initially, as Wehrlein got past at the second corner on the final lap of the race. Following that, the controversial message came over the radio and before anybody could react to it, Scheider had seemingly knocked off both Mercedes drivers deliberately into the next corner, which was what the race stewards determined on Sunday night.

As a result of this, Scheider was excluded from the race results, which remains provisional as the possible unsporting instruction has since been referred to the DMSB (Germany’s motorsport governing body). Initially, Ullrich denied any wrongdoing in the press conference, claiming that it was not him on the radio; however Audi later released a statement however quoting Ullrich implying that it was indeed him who came on the radio to Scheider.

Is this all a case of team orders going too far? Was Mercedes right to use such a team order in the first place? Was Audi’s retaliation worthy of a significant ban and/or fine? What impact will this have on the brand? And what of Ullrich and Scheider too?

Team orders have been in motorsports ever since the first ever team came about. There is definitely a time and a place for team orders, but when they get onto the scale of ‘Crashgate’ or in this case, it is definitely too far. Regardless of whether it was a heat of the moment thing or not, to tell your driver over the team radio to take somebody off is not acceptable, in any category, at any time, to any driver.

Firstly, Mercedes’ use of team orders was not the first ever case of seeing somebody deliberately trying to hold somebody else up. It’s pretty commonplace in fact, especially towards the business-end of a season, or in a race with multiple strategy options being thrown around. However that does not mean that performing such an act is sporting, because it absolutely is not. Whilst it does add extra tension and excitement for the fans, it can prove to be incredibly frustrating for team and driver, and can sometimes lead to some pretty clumsy collisions.

However regardless of what you think of Mercedes’ use of team orders in this case, it was nothing compared to that of Audi. Under no circumstances is it right at all to put drivers, fans or marshals at risk, and that is precisely what they did with “push him out”. In this case, it also requires the driver to think very quickly as to whether he wants to commit one of the worst offenses possible in motor racing, or disobey team orders which could well lead to an instant sacking. I know that I wouldn’t have wanted to be in Scheider’s position there. It is not the first time that a driver has been told to deliberately hit something – as I am sure that we all remember ‘Crashgate’, and there was a similar incident to that currently under review in last night’s IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio when Sage Karam spun off, helping his team mate Scott Dixon, with championship leader Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya claiming foul play by Chip Ganassi Racing.

If they are both found guilty of performing such a disgraceful act, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see some serious action taken against both Ullrich and Audi here. I feel that the exclusion from the second race was sufficient for what Scheider did, as the majority of the blame for this should be placed on those above the driver. The state of team orders in DTM, and possibly all motorsports, will come under review once again but it was clear between F1’s time of having team orders banned that any ban is in no way able to be policed. As for Ullrich – one of the most successful team bosses in motorsport since the turn of the millennium, his reputation will definitely be tarnished from this. Whether he gets the sack from Audi, or a ban from DTM, he has have gone from hero to zero with just three words. Schieb ihn raus.

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