THE BLOG

It's All in the Detail

26/03/2013 17:39 GMT | Updated 26/05/2013 10:12 BST

The first two races of the 2013 F1 season are done and I'm back in the freezing cold UK after two intense weeks in Australia and Melbourne.

On track the season is exceeding the pre-season hype.

In Australia, Kimi Raikonnen put in what he called an "easy" race win to kick off the season, and in Malaysia Sebastian Vettel gave the headline writers plenty to think about when he beat his teammate to the line, despite team orders being in place to ensure both cars made it across the line without any issues.

Team orders are part of F1, officially.

The teams are all fighting for two championships; the drivers' and the constructors' titles, and, unfortunately, they require different and sometimes competing strategies to ensure victory in both.

The drivers' title can only be won by one driver, hence Seb's move on Mark Webber in the final laps of the Malaysian GP. Seb wants to win his fourth title in a row, and he saw a chance to add to his 2013 points tally and took it.

However, the constructors' title is a challenge for the whole team. Theoretically, for the team it doesn't matter which driver finishes first on the road, as long as both cross the line as high up the final standings as possible, the team is happy.

However, team orders are used both passively and aggressively by teams to help both the drivers challenge for their title, and the team to fight for the constructors' honours.

Passive use of orders during a race would see both cars told to hold position to ensure the drivers' final positions on track are guaranteed (as much as anything can be guaranteed in a sport with so many variables at play).

By asking the drivers to act passively and hold station in the latter stages of a race, the teams can manage some of those variables - limiting unnecessary tyre wear, reducing the stress on engines, gearboxes and mechanical systems that have to last multiple races and thereby maximising their chances of success for the team.

Team orders are also used aggressively throughout every race by every team, and because they're not as obvious as one teammate passing another on track, they're not recognised as such by fans who think team orders should be banned.

The best example of how team orders are used aggressively is how drivers' pitstops are often timed to cover a rival team's race strategy.

If you have four cars fighting for position on track, two from each of two teams, and one team pits for new tyres, the other team may instruct one or both of their drivers to either pick up or reduce their pace. This might seem odd, telling a driver to go faster in a sport which, to the naked eye, involves 22 cars going as fast as possible for every lap of the race, and even more odd to tell them to slow down, but tyre management and track position is what's behind these strategic calls.

An F1 tyre starts to degrade from the moment the car leaves its garage and heads out on track. The drivers have to work very hard to bring the tyre up to its optimal operating temperature quickly and efficiently on the out-lap by applying the right amount of steering input, acceleration and braking force at the right time.

Then they have to work even harder to manage the degradation of the tyres through several phases until their next pitstop. Manage it super-efficiently and the driver can stay out on track longer than planned, maybe even saving a pitstop, and that can pay dividends at the end of the race. Mess it up and the car has to pit earlier than planned, and that can ruin a race strategy.

The driver might be told to "push", drive the car harder than he's already doing, and therefore degrade the tyres more quickly than planned. This sort of order from the engineers may be because the boffins have worked out that they can win enough time over their nearest rival on track to ensure that next time their rival stops for new tyres, he'll come back out on track behind their driver.

From that point, they can control their race and the car behind has to work his tyres harder to pass his rival, thereby degrading his tyres faster than planned, and so on....

The opposite is also true. The driver might be told to slow down to save tyre wear and therefore limit the total number of pitstops required throughout the race. The fans will see that driver's laptimes go down by, say, 0.5 seconds per lap, and what they see is what looks like a driver not going as fast as he could.

However, by reducing his pace by even that small amount his tyre wear could be dramatically reduced, and he might save himself a stop, thereby promoting himself in the final standings over a rival who's scampered off into the distance and destroyed his tyres in the process.

There are many arguments over whether or not this level of detail is good for the sport, but for me it's fascinating.

F1 is not supposed to be easy. It's supposed to be many layers of technical detail that all end up with the show on track that is watched by hundreds of millions of people throughout the year.

The little details that go on during a race, like the use of team orders, mostly go unnoticed by the fans as there is no way of interpreting tactics, like telling a driver to push or go easy, without knowing the context of what the team's actual race plan is.

Increasingly, however, the fans are educating themselves on every aspect of the sport and they understand that F1 is not just a lights-to-flag mad dash. Managing tyre degradation, helping to position your car on track by varying pace and pitstop counts - all of this is part of the show and it's part of what makes F1 the greatest show on earth.

Last year it gave us seven different winners in the first seven races, and this year we've already had two different winners and a bunch of controversy.

If this is what comes from team orders then let's have more of it please!