Racing lines: orders must be followed, as Formula E reminds us

Racing lines: orders must be followed, as Formula E reminds us

His face said it all. Porsche had just claimed its long-awaited first Formula E race win with an emphatic one-two in Mexico – but André Lotterer couldn’t hide his disappointment that he wasn’t the driver to deliver it. Instead, dreaded team orders had come into play.

It was a call that every racer hates to hear, dictating that he should hold station behind his team-mate (Pascal Wehrlein) and accept second place. The result secured, Porsche celebrations erupted, but Lotterer was struggling to break a smile.

Yet at the same time, he understood why it happened. At 40, the three-time Audi Le Mans 24 Hours winner is also one of the most experienced single-seater racers of the modern age after his many years racing in Japan’s Super Formula (what used to be Formula Nippon). He has spent more than a decade racing as a works driver, first for Audi and now for Porsche. He knows how motorsport works at this level and what was at stake for his team.

Porsche has been in the electric single-seater series since 2019 yet, in painful contrast to Mercedes-EQ, which won both drivers’ and team’s titles last year, had somehow contrived to not even win a race. Very out of character. No wonder there were nerves in Mexico during the closing stages as Wehrlein and Lotterer raced in formation to the finish.

Lotterer had saved more energy than his team-mate, who had started from pole position, and therefore had more performance on tap. But the risk of a collision, of committing the cardinal motorsport sin – taking out your team-mate – was simply too high. The call was inevitable and actually the only sensible choice for Porsche.

Yes, we all hate team orders. Of course we do. But there’s a tricky contradiction at the heart of motorsport that sometimes makes them unavoidable. On the one hand, it’s an individual sport for driven, narcissistic characters who are always hungry for wins. On the other hand, they rely completely on a team, without which they would have nothing. It goes against instinct, but selfish mavericks who put themselves first, ignoring the greater good, don’t last long at the top level.

Sometimes you just have to swallow the bitter pill, and Lotterer knew that.

A great sport

How Lotterer did so was a reminder of just what a class act he is. Sure, he has earned a niggling reputation in Formula E for triggering collisions too often, but as a character, he remains one of the best: a devil-may-care throwback and a proper petrolhead, too (yes, despite racing an EV!). One of the best sports car drivers of his era, Lotterer combines a still-youthful fire for competition with a deep understanding of how the wheels turn, as his words reflected in the immediate aftermath of his enforced capitulation.