Now that the controversy over Rubens Barrichello being ordered not to win the Austrian Grand Prix is dying down, it is permissible to remark that team orders were in force long before the start of the world championship. This is a fact, however much one sympathised with Rubens. If your boss had decided not to fire you but to offer a multi-million-pound salary, wouldn’t you yield?
The good thing, as I see it, was that Rubens left it to the closing stages to ease off, showing that it was not driving inability which had settled the result. This reminded me of the Moss/Fangio finish I saw at Aintree in 1955 (0.2sec between them after more than three hours of racing) when both Mercedes-Benz drivers had shown equal competence. Team managers have dictated finishing orders from the earliest times. Do you suppose Lautenschlager was not informed by Mercedes that he was to win the 1908 and ’14 French GPs, if Mercedes were in a position to do so, letting the others in the team go fast to try to break-up the opposition, while the older test-driver used circumspection to nurse his car home? Do you not believe that team-mates of Georges Boillot were instructed by Peugeot to let him win unless trouble slowed or eliminated his car?
It didn’t pay to ignore such team orders. In 1921, Louis Coatalen wanted Kenelm Lee Guinness (Talbot-Darracq) to win the 1921 Le Mans voiturette race. But Rene Thomas told his mechanic, Albert Divo, to peer, as he would, into the cockpit as their Talbot-Darracq passed the pits when SLOW signals were shown to them, thus beating KLG. So Coatalen tore up Thomas’s contract.
There was a sequel, however. Guinness having lost to Thomas, Coatalen promised him that he should win the 1921 JCC 200-Mile Brooklands’ race. However, Segrave was desperate to make a living from motor racing and, according to his biographer, he ordered his mechanic Moriceau to ignore the T-D pit signals as Rene had done, and with a secret signal from his wife Doris, he thus won from a puzzled KLG. Malcolm Campbell replaced the sacked Thomas, who told the media, in spin-doctor mode, that he didn’t drive because he didn’t much care for Track racing! Good drivers were scarce so Segrave was forgiven.