Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ferrari team orders

So what exactly was it that made Ferrari's decision to move Fernando Alonso past Felipe Massa in the closing stages of Sunday's German Grand Prix, so objectionable? Whilst team orders have nominally been banned since Ferrari's infamous prior offence with Schumacher and Barrichello in 2002, covert team orders have, of course, continued to be implemented. The teams have avoided issuing overt commands over the radio, but team orders have nevertheless been effected, either by issuing information which is interpreted as a coded instruction by the driver, or by timing pitstops in a manner which swaps the positions of the team-mates.

So, was it because victory in a Grand Prix was at stake? Well, it clearly wasn't this alone, because Massa himself had to sacrifice victory in the 2007 Brazilian Grand Prix in order that his then team-mate Kimi Raikkonen could win the World Championship. There was no media or public outcry on that occasion.

Was it because there are still many races to be run in the championship? Well, once again, clearly not, because in 2005 Juan-Pablo Montoya was forced to let McLaren team-mate Kimi Raikkonen past in the Hungarian and Belgian Grands Prix in order to assist Kimi's championship hopes, when the season had yet to reach its final stages. In the case of the Belgian Grand Prix, this cost Montoya a Grand Prix victory. McLaren even deliberately sabotaged Montoya's chances in the Canadian Grand Prix that year to permit Raikkonen first call at the pitstops induced by a safety-car.

Was it because the passing manoeuvre took place on-track, rather than during the pit-stops? Once again, it cannot be this alone, because at the 2008 German Grand Prix, Heikki Kovalainen let McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton past at exactly the same place, coming out of Turn 6, where Massa let Alonso past in this year's race. On that occasion, Kovalainen wasn't leading, but by letting Hamilton past he permitted Lewis to catch the leaders and win the race himself.

Whilst these factors exacerbate the offence, there is a crucial additional property which is common to both the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix scandal and Sunday's reprise: Massa, like Barrichello eight years ago, was labouring under the illusion that he would be permitted to beat his team-mate.

Ferrari could, if they so wished, have explained to Massa what they required of him before the race. Team Principal Stefano Domenicali could have told Massa beforehand that, 'if we're running 1-2 in the final stages of the race, with Fernando less than five seconds behind, then you must let him pass, for the sake of the championship.' The fact that Ferrari didn't do this, entails that they were hoping that the situation would never arise, that they could avoid de-motivating Massa by making their support for Alonso explicit. Thus, rather than acceding to a pre-agreed plan, we had a coded instruction, and a driver dis-illusioned whilst driving a car that was leading a Grand Prix.

Grand Prix racing will always be a confluence of sport, business and technology, but to maintain the revenue streams which depend upon the interest of millions of fans across the world, the teams need to understand that any coordination between team-mates must be seen to be done with the planned and grudging consent of both drivers.


Anonymous said...

Massa maintains he is not a No.2 driver and that if ever he would become one he'd quit racing.

Who does he think he's kidding.

I follow F1 racing, but would prefer to see the best driver/car combination on the day win the race.

The sight of Alonso occupying the winner's position on the podium, enthusiastically spraying the champers as though he deserved to be there, nearly turned my stomach.

Sean said...

or we could get rid of all communication with the cars, boards, radio ect. The confusion would be fun.

Daniel @ Campinas said...

I know this is old news now and the season is almost over. I for one would like to play "what if.." as in "What if Ayrton had received orders to 'let' Alain pass?"
In the days after this event, that is all the TV and radio commentators in Brazil would bring up. Massa has never been a darling here, and he has to put up with being compared to Senna constantly. At times it is unfair, but this was one instance where I thought it was spot on.