F1 2018: Could lack of team orders in the Austrian GP come back to bite Ferrari and Vettel?
Ferrari's decision not to issue team orders in the closing stages of the Austrian Grand Prix threatens to hurt Sebastian Vettel's bid for the Formula One drivers' title.
With both Mercedes drivers out and Kimi Raikkonen and Vettel running second and third respectively behind eventual winner Max Verstappen, one radio message could have maximised the benefits for the Scuderia on a dismal day for their main rivals.
"No, why?," said Vettel after the race as he dismissed the notion that Ferrari could ever have asked Raikkonen to allow him to pass on the final lap.
The difference between third and second may only be three points, but in a season where Vettel now leads Lewis Hamilton by a single point, minor gains could bring big rewards at the end of the season.
The championship lead changed hands for the fourth time this season after a thrilling #AustrianGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/flEuRrJQ7l
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 2, 2018
It's not like Ferrari don't have a history for this kind of thing.
At the very same circuit in 2002, Rubens Barrichello opened the door for Michael Schumacher to take the chequered flag at the final moment.
The move was branded a disgrace by some and Schumacher's decision to allow his team-mate to grace the top step on the podium did nothing to silence the jeers of fans who felt cheated out of the true result.
Only a year earlier in Spielberg, a similar move had seen Schumacher take second from the Brazilian.
The 2002 incident was especially baffling given Schumacher had won four of the first five grands prix of the season and ended up winning the championship with six races to spare.
Vettel has won three of the first nine and was undeniably in greater need of this kind of helping hand than his compatriot was 16 years ago.
There may have been other factors at play. Reports this weekend suggest Raikkonen will be replaced by Charles Leclerc in 2019 and keeping the Finn on side in his remaining time with the team could prove valuable later in the campaign.
Allowing the 38-year-old to chase what would have been his first win since the opening race of 2013 goes some way to achieving that aim, and the fact he posted the fastest lap of the race on the closing lap indicates he had no intension of ceding the position.
DHL FASTEST LAP AWARD
A scorching lap from the Ice Man helped him to a P2 finish at the #AustrianGP
And clinched his first @DHL_Motorsports Fastest Lap Award of 2018 pic.twitter.com/ZSYPXyOz3b
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 1, 2018
Although team orders were banned in the wake of the Austria controversy of 2002, they are now fair game and a viable option for teams wanting to give one driver a leg up in the drivers' championship.
So while Sunday was a victory for pure racing, Ferrari may look back at this race as an opportunity missed if Hamilton goes on to win the title by a whisker.