WRC – business not Olympics

It’s amusing how little it takes to stirr up a big debate over some aspect of modern day motorsports – team orders are here from the beginning of time, yet they are still being discussed and criticized then abolished and justified over and over again. And there is always one conclusion coming out from all those discussions – team orders are here to stay.

I’ve done my part in killing trees (or in this case computer screen pixels and electricity, so essentially, trees again) with endless threads about team orders being bane of motorsports, from Formula 1 to World Rally Championship and yet I’m not any closer to finding a solution to this ultimate question.

In ideal world, the one we will never get to experience (sorry hippies), we would not need any kind of team orders. Drivers would be allowed to fight without restraints and sponsors, not to mention manufacturer company bosses, would not mind if both cars end their fight in a ditch handing over the victory and public attention to another team and company. In such world Mikko Hirvonen would laugh off Yves Matton’s order to stop pursuing victory and let Sebastien Loeb have it – or rather – Citroën’s boss would not even think of suggesting something as silly as that. In this world of Ideal Rallying (TM), Mikko Hirvonen would not even be part of Citroën, because Sebastien Ogier would not need to start his crusade against the injustice and would instead happily remain big pain in Loeb’s exhaust (translating ass or butt to car lingo does yield some strange results, eh?).

However, this is not the world we live in. Instead, we are part of very edgy times. Manufacturer teams are hard to find and they are very, very careful about their investments, although seeing what they get (or don’t get in this case, *cough* TV *cough*) in return I tend to question this very fact. Put simply, modern motorsports that involve manufacturer teams are business first, sport second, and it will remain this way no matter how hard FIA tries to impose some holy rules of fairness. It just does not make any sense to risk victory, points and media exposure just so the general public can enjoy the fair and ruthless fight until the very last meter of last special stage.

It would be like seeing buyer who is subconsciously influenced by motorsports, picking Ford over Citroën just because Ford told their drivers to keep pushing when it should have been the opposite, arguably more boring instruction of “keep it on the road”. How would they make their TV ads? “Our car is a winner. It won a Fair Play Trophy!”

Companies invest, they want returns and results. And results means victories. And to score those you need to master team control and not only car control. Being fair will not win you anything else except some space in motorsport media, but winning rallies will earn you very valuable reputation. And whatever FIA tries to do and no matter how hard the QQ armada yells against team orders, they are here to stay. World Rally Championship is not Olympic Games, and companies do not develop cars and spent shitload of cash each year just to do a favour to humanity in search for the best driver of them all.

With more teams being able to chase victories in the WRC we might be able to see more fights going down to the wire, and I would be more than happy to enjoy some reckless in-house battle going within Citroën or Ford camp over the course of the season, but in the end, if victories are at stake and especially if team is in need of points, it is inevitable they will resort to some sort of team orders. Just to bring cars home, to justify investment and to be able to remain in sport. As sad as this may sound.

Oh yes, by the way, I sincerely hope Volkswagen recruit young Andreas Mikkelsen for 2013. I would really like to see how Sebastien Ogier’s alleged search for equal footing team ends up when Norwegian ace starts breathing down his neck. Unless Ogier left Citroën’s shameful and dirty tactics (read this in Ogier’s voice!) only to join Volkswagen under premise of being their number one driver.