Team orders taint F1 yet again by Ferrari

It couldn’t come worse for Felipe Massa. Exactly one year after his crash in Hungary that ruled him out for the rest of the year, his team have turned his back on him, and blatantly taken a rightful win off him. Of course, championship points are what Fernando needs at the moment, but this cannot cover what happened today.

This incident kicked off when Alonso was unable to make a move on Massa for the lead. He complained on the radio: “This is ridiculous”. Clearly, the heads of the team wanted Fernando to get through, and the engineers, specifically Rob Smedley, were fighting for the drivers to battle over the lead themselves. After many laps of arguing over the matter, Smedley dejectedly ordered Massa to lift and allow Alonso through.

After this, nobody on the pit wall spoke to each other, Smedley sitting there, with his arms folded, not saying a word. Stefano Domenicail was in between Smedley and Chris Dyer, who was similarly refusing to talk, although it is not known what side of the argument he was on.

The problem lies within the FIA’s inability to punish Ferrari for this blatant act of team orders. Firstly, the stewards will need to find hard evidence to hand out a penalty, and unfortunately “Fernando is faster than you” just doesn’t cut it as evidence. While there is 100% certainty that the race was manipulated by Ferrari, they have conveniently maneuvered¬†themselves in such a way that they cannot realistically be punished. And secondly…. Jean Todt is FIA president. Do you trust him in this situation? I don’t. But it would be nice to be surprised.

If Ferrari were to be punished, excellent. Team orders would be fully banned (at least in situations in relation to the lead of the race), and it would not happen again. If that were the case, then I would be happy enough, and move on. But, Ferrari, even if they were summoned to the stewards, could use many other blatant team orders to defend themselves. Look at Kovalainen letting Hamilton through in Germany 2008, or Raikkonen and Massa in China ’08. The radio transmission “Driver X is faster than you” has previously been shown to work, and I don’t think that it will change this time.

So, we must point the finger of blame, but I don’t think it should be aimed at Fernando Alonso. While he certainly gained from this, it was the team who made the call, and they are the ones who need to be taught a lesson. On the other hand, Fernando’s complaining about “this is ridiculous” earlier on shows that he was expecting Massa to let him through, as opposed to what happened in Australia, when he was held up by Felipe all race long.

However, should we not criticise Massa, who was obviously slower than Alonso? When Fernando got through, he was up to half a second faster at points, and pulled out a 4 second lead by the end of the race. This situation would never have happened if Felipe had the pace to stay away from Fernando in the first place.

But that’s not justifying the team order. What happened today has happened many times before, and it needs to stop now. The McLaren and Red Bull bosses are saying that they treat their drivers equally (cough *Webber* cough), and that Alonso is gaining an unfair advantage by using Massa to help himself to some extra points, and this is perfectly true. Look at what happened in Turkey, when Vettel and Webber collided. While what happened was completely unnecessary, at least the team allowed them to race each other, rather than ruin the excitement (before the crash, that is) by issuing team orders.

In fact, the shining example of how to treat your drivers comes from McLaren, who have been excellent so far in giving equal treatment to both Button and Hamilton. While the “save fuel” incident initially caused concern, the team later said that it was a mistake by Hamilton’s engineer, and I would believe them. If the world championship ended today, then McLaren would totally deserve to win it. Button or Hamilton? Doesn’t really matter.

You know what the worst part of this is for me? While in London, I bought a Ferrari shirt, and I’m wearing it as I write this. ¬†Looking back, not a perfectly timed purchase.

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