It was the story of the German grand prix: the blatantly obvious team order radioed to Felipe Massa telling him to give the lead to team-mate Fernando Alonso. This led to a $100,000 fine, the maximum penalty the stewards could give, and a reference to the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC), a division of the FIA.
Many of you have been quite rightly angry about the incident. Some disagree with the order being given at all, given that it was exactly a year since Massa’s life-threatening accident and was quite frankly a lot better than Alonso for the majority of the grand prix.
Some of you object to the crass way in which it was handled, with engineer Rob Smedley left to do the dirty work and making it very clear he wasn’t happy about doing it. And possibly even more of you got properly narked when the Ferrari team proceeded to attempt the worst cover-up in the history of F1. We certainly learnt one thing about Ferrari last weekend: they can’t lie for toffee.
Of course, there are some big Ferrari fans out there, and it has been interesting to gauge their reactions to the incident. “The team comes first” has been the party line from Ferrari, but they would have had the full 43 points whether Massa or Alonso stood on the top step. The switch only bolsters Alonso‘s quest for the drivers’ championship.
For Massa fans it was a dark weekend. What could, and should, have been a triumphant return to form a year to the day from the crash ended with Felipe’s reputation in some confusion. Was it really “magnanimous” of him to give Alonso the lead, as Rob Smedley told him over the radio, or does it expose him to ridicule for not having the guts to go for a world championship himself? We’re barely past the half-way mark of the season, and already Massa has ruled himself out. Perhaps Massa should take a leaf out of Mark Webber’s book and go for the win anyway and suffer the wrath of the team later? If he wants to call himself World Champion one day he will have to be that ruthless.
The Team Orders debate: were Ferrari out of order?
As many of you have pointed out, team orders have always happened in Formula 1, despite being ‘banned’ fully in 2002. Here’s a selection of reader comments on the debate:
“If Fernando is as good a driver as he claims to be then he should be able to pass his teammate properly” – Spud
“There is still so much more to play for in this season’s championship, and there is no need for this to happen with 200 points still available in the season” – Richard Sobey
“Despite what has happened “in the past” the rules are quite clear that ‘team orders’ should play no part in the final position of the participants whilst the race is conducted” – Badvok
“The worst ‘crime’ here though is the inept way Ferrari executed the team orders” – Carlostastic Racing
Let’s get things back in order?
So should regulation 39.1 be repealed if it is effectively worthless? The WMSC are yet to rule on this occasion, but with former Ferrari-boss Jean Todt at the helm of the FIA it seems extremely unlikely that Ferrari will get anything more than a slap on the wrist. If indeed no action is taken is it even worth having the rule there at all if it does not serve purpose?
Perhaps not, but this incident has got everyone talking, and sometimes shouting, about the future of the ‘Team Orders’ rule. If team orders are so prevalent, then should it be repealed? Or should Ferrari just have some lessons in PR and the art of concealment? In the words of Lotus chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne, “the bottom line is if you are going to do it then do so far more cleverly than they did.”
And here’s one more thought: had the race been, well, a bit racier would we have even cared so much about this incident? Perhaps it all got blown way out of proportion simply because the 2010 German grand prix was such a yawn-fest?
Image credits: Sutton images and Darrren Heath