Will Gray

Gray Matter: Team order time?

Will Gray

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Red Bull have announced there will be no team orders in
their camp at least until the closing races of the season - but how long will
that decision really last?

Team orders have been officially banned from the sport
ever since Ferrari made a mockery of them during their dominant 2002
championship campaign, when they famously asked Rubens Barrichello to move
over for Michael Schumacher at the Austrian Grand Prix and the Brazilian, to
make a point, waited until the final corner to make the switch.

Since then, team orders have been the 'decision'
of the driver and the team can only suggest that one driver might perhaps be
kind enough to allow the other past if it is for the good of the
championship.

And this has put Red Bull are in a difficult situation.

Championship-leading Brawn driver Jenson Button is 25
points clear of Red Bull's lead
driver Sebastian Vettel, who is third in the title race. Sandwiched between
the pair is Button's team-mate Barrichello,
who is second but, crucially, 23 points behind.

That makes Button already clearly the number one at Brawn,
but at Red Bull Vettel is just 3.5 points ahead of Red Bull team-mate Mark
Webber, who sits in fourth.

German Vettel has hit the headlines with two race wins to
Webber's nil so far this year, but
the Australian has three second places, has scored in one more race than his
team-mate, and is eager to take on both Vettel and Button in a race for the
title.

Red Bull gave Brawn a clear hint at Silverstone that
Button may need every point he can get to keep hold of his lead to the end of
the season, and Brawn are likely to be ready to make that call and ease
Barrichello into his all-too-familiar 'number
two' position as the season heads
over its halfway point, much as Ferrari did during all those years alongside
Schumacher.

But Red Bull are far from having the significant level of
points gap between their two drivers that would allow them the comfort of calling
in 'suggested' team orders. To make the call with 3.5 points
between the pair, despite apparent urges from Vettel for the team to do so,
would leave Webber fuming and likely create an unfixable rift between team
and driver.

Team boss Christian Horner is no fool. He knows his driver
line-up is a strong one and he would not want to jeopardise that for the
future - but he also knows that to take on what is already effectively a
one-man focused team at Brawn he will surely need to adopt a similarly
singular focus at Red Bull sooner rather than later if they want to battle
for the drivers' crown.

And so these next few races could be crucial.

It's hard to
see either of the Red Bull drivers running too far down the points, so the
separation gap will likely remain close for the next few races unless either
one makes mistakes or suffers unreliability. If that happens, and the gap
widens, then surely Red Bull are going to have to start thinking about the
championship...

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