It appears that once a destination target craft has been determined, there is very little that will change the driver’s mind.
It is fairly simple to see this in action:
Place a single-weapon ship in front of an enemy formation, such that it is the closest target to the enemy fleet and will be selected as the first target. Then, keep it alive through any means necessary, be it with a pile of shields/armor or some kind of driving orders. The opposing fleet will pattern their driving as if it were attacking this ship until it dies.
The rest of your fleet can do whatever it likes. I put up a challenge called “AI quirk” if you want to see. Place a short range assault fleet in the center by the front two ships.
This behavior is very easy to see if the fleet uses a single ship type (like all cruisers) and if the opposing fleet does not use ‘keep moving’ orders, although it works either way. Note this this does not apply to the weapons on the ships, which appear to operate (like retaliate or rescuer orders) as appropriate.
I suspect this behavior is why units eventually get so nutty with 1% fighter attack orders, and why it’s so difficult to get a ship to maintain a minimum range. Cautious orders will probably have the driver pick a more appropriate target on re-approach, but this is obviously too late.
If you find a way around this, please let the rest of us know!