The question of team orders briefly reared its head in the Malaysian Grand Prix last week when the Williams team told Felipe Massa that he should get out of the way of team-mate Valtteri Bottas in the closing laps of the race, to allow the young Finn, who had better tyres, to attack the McLaren of Jenson Button for sixth place.
If Bottas had been successful he would have eight points instead of the four that he got for eighth place.
It was a logical call for the team to make. However, the wording used was at best unfortunate: the engineer said, “Valtteri is faster than you, do not hold him up”.
This echoed the famous incident in Germany in 2010 when Massa was ordered by Ferrari to give way to Fernando Alonso. He did at the time but that basically established the unspoken truth that the Spaniard was the team number one, a very painful thing for Massa to have to accept.
Funnily enough, in Malaysia the Brazilian did not move over and Button stayed ahead and points may have been lost. Massa said that he did not believe that the result would have changed and so it did not then matter which driver was ahead.
Williams does not have team orders as such, but wants drivers to obey its instructions if they are given. The team was not overly upset by what happened as the view was that if Bottas had been quick enough he would have overtaken Massa and then been in a position to attack Button.
The fact that he could not force his way through meant that it would have been very unlikely that he would have been able to pass Button – and thus there was no point in making a fuss about the situation.
Bottas was pretty laid back as well. Here in Bahrain ahead of the third grand prix of the season, the team said that it had apologised to both drivers but did not rule out the use of team orders in the future.
“I’d rather that it was just called strategic decisions and instructions,” said Claire Williams, the deputy team principal. "We are a racing team that needs to score the maximum amount of points in the constructors’ championship, so both drivers know that and understand that.
"As a team, those are the calls that we will be making to make sure that we gather the most amount of points. The objectives are to score the maximum points and to let our drivers race on the racetrack.”