Ferrari faces fine & hearing over team order row

As the sun set on the German Grand Prix, Ferrari have walked away with a 1,2 victory, a World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) inquiry and a $100,000 fine for imposing team orders which are illegal in F1 (Ferrari have chosen not to appeal the Stewards decision). This controversy is and will always remain controversy on three elements: The legality of it (which is banned by the FIA), the banality of it (which is evidenced in most of the teams including the obvious manner in which Ferrari displayed today) and the palaver it prompts.

Team orders have and always will exist and the dichotomy or essence of the argument is of two camps from a fans perspective.

Many fans do not want team orders. They want a race to the end and they want it to unfold as fate would have it. If the best driver for that day is a teammate lagging in points, then they want him to win based upon his merit and not that of team orders. Points and championships be damned, they want pure racing as it is meant to be not as it is orchestrated by the team to one particular drivers loss.

The other fan appreciates the concept of pure racing and fate but also respects the team spirit of the championship. They see the ultimate goal as a fight of the team to claim the prize and if a driver, lagging in the points, happens to be ahead of the other; they understand the order to “let pass” because they see the team as paramount and not the driver.

There are fans of drivers and fans of teams and a combination of the two. It depends on which camp you reside and what you feel is fate and what is manipulation. As a fan, you decide if calling team orders is additive to the whole championship or detrimental to pure racing. It is a parallax at best.

From a team perspective, team orders have always existed and will continue to exist. Ferrari paid $500K for their breach of podium process and NOT for team orders for this move (this is the move that beget Article 39.1 of the Formula 1 Sporting Regulations from the FIA banning team orders):

With the regulation in place, did it prevent teams from ordering the result of a race? No. In Japan 2006, Toyota had their own issue with a slower Jarno Trulli and a faster Ralf Schumacher. Trulli, having been ordered three times to let Schumacher pass, ignored the call and prevailed to finish ahead of the German.

McLaren were under investigation by the FIA for team orders in the 2007 Monaco Grand Prix which also involved Fernando Alonso. The team also has been accused of some interesting tactics via code over the radio. The term “save fuel” and “you don’t have to save fuel anymore” are benign at first glance as the team must be worried about fuel loads but many argue that it is a way of telling their drivers to hold station or allow for one to pass another as they are preserving fuel and had to do so in order to finish the race irrespective of if they get passed or not.

Some argued that the ban of refueling would eliminate team orders but that was never going to be the case because teams will adapt and use other tactics. McLaren were famous for denouncing Ferrari’s team order while engaging in the same and perhaps that is the head games that occur in F1. Today Red Bull’s Chritisn Horner has decried Ferrari’s antics by saying:

“I have to say, that was probably the clearest team order I’ve ever seen,” he said, “especially when you’ve got the team apologising to a driver.

“The regulations are pretty clear that team orders aren’t allowed and it looked like a team order.”

Horner added that his Red Bull team would not have acted in the same way.

“We let our drivers race,” he said. “Massa’s still in this championship, or maybe he’s signed a contract that says he’s a number two driver, but I think that it’s wrong for the sport.

“The drivers should’ve been allowed to race. Massa did the better job. He was in the lead.”

That’s some serious criticism from a man embroiled in his own battle over team orders and favoritism regarding drivers Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. In today’s heated Q&A with Alonso, Massa and Vettel, the young German was baited into the fray and asked about the team orders. He contradicts his team boss by saying:

It’s never wise to say anything that you might regret. Maybe in a week’s time. I’m happy where we are now, as a team. Again, I can only repeat that from the outside there was more of a fuss made than there was inside. I can assure you that Mark and myself are always looking to do our best but on top of that, I think we understood many times this year that the team is the main priority and we are racing for the team, in the end. We don’t get our cheque from you guys, we get it from the team. I think that’s something we always have to respect.

The Q&A was an abrasive session with the media piling on the two Scuderia drivers. The Daily Mirror’s Byron Young winning the award for most charming and magnanimous reporter award. Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali was punchy today as well and as the media attempted to trap him with his own words, he saw fit to steer clear of the insinuations. While seen to be in breach of Article 39.1 of the Formula 1 Sporting Regulations, they have also been accused of breaching Article 151c as well and we all know what that one is…the disrepute clause!

The BBC found it difficult to reach the coveted condition of Group Think that so often permeates the British Media in times of team order breaches. For some reason or another, this lights the fire under the red bums of British media and F1 pundits more than any other single issue in F1. If it is due to the high principle of their expectation, fine. I do trust it is not due to their illusion that British teams have never participated in team orders of any kind regardless of how adamant former McLaren boss Ron Dennis or current boss Martin Whitmarsh may be about it.

BBC commentator and former McLAren driver David Coulthard said:

“For me this whole rule about team orders is ridiculous,” said BBC F1 analyst David Coulthard. “You shouldn’t stop teams being able to control their race result. Like video evidence at the World Cup, it is time to change that rule.”

Fellow commentator and former team owner Eddie Jordan said:

“It was unlawful and was theft,” he said. “They stole from us the chance of having a wheel-to-wheel contest between the drivers. Ferrari should be ashamed. This was a team order. For me, it is cheating and these two cars should be excluded.”

In closing, the stakes are much to high for teams to ignore the championship titles for drivers and constructors. I am sorry but that is the reality. We can wax poetic about the nuance of mano-a-mano and how this brings the sport into disrepute but in the end, the sport has created this with the multi-billion dollar business it has become. Teams hire employees and the employees work for the teams. This saw Singapore’s “crashgate’, Austria’s team order debacle, McLaren’s “spygate” and Max Mosley’s “spankgate”…well, okay…maybe not the last one. It has rend the series and put the titles and money on the line and while the 7 point delta presented Alonso if he would have held station doesn’t sound like much? Consider the 2007 and 2008 championships have been won by a point.

We all want pure racing, don’t get me wrong, and fixing a race result is always a bit odd given the FIA says it’s illegal but in the end, Ferrari’s $100,000 fine is chump change to what they will receive should they win the title or place even one place higher in the standings at the end of 2010. Many may say well who cares? If they want to win positions and make more money by cheating, that’s to their detriment. Perhaps but I doubt it.

The drivers work for the team and team work for the money. Idle threats about sponsors not liking Alonso’s attitude or outrage as to the purity of the sport are all well intentioned and warranted as emotions run high in times like these but are we surprised when the stakes are so high? I saw a tweet by a bloke named Tom Leninger that said, “saying team orders doesn’t exist in F1 is like saying doping doesn’t exist in bicycle racing”. He’s right.

As my friend Tony Greene says, “Ferrari, you suck”. Yes, they do suck at hiding team orders as well as the other teams but with the new, transparent F1 as promised by FIA president Jean Todt, perhaps Ferrari are just opting to not be pious in the face of what clearly occurs in F1. I jest of course.

I can assure you of one thing, F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone is loving every minute of it…keep the press churning. Keep the PR machine focusing on F1 and the money raises yet again…more money for the teams to fight for and more reason for team orders to exist. A vicious cycle indeed.

Perhaps Hockenheim 2008 is what it looks like when your teammate is slower than you are?:

Heikki laisse passer Lewis
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The official team statements:

Stefano Domenicali: “First and foremost, I want to congratulate the team on this fantastic result, which is down to all the work undertaken with so much effort, ability and passion by everyone, both at the track and in Maranello, day after day. Already, over the past few races, we have seen that the performance level of our car has improved and finally today, we reaped the rewards. As for the Stewards’ decision, given after the race, in the interests of the sport, we have decided not to go through a procedure of appealing against it, confident that the World Council will know how to evaluate the overall facts correctly. The congratulations mentioned earlier should also extend to our drivers who drove a great race. Both Felipe and Fernando got very good starts, with the Spaniard squeezed in a very decisive fashion by Vettel and the Brazilian making the most of the space that created ahead of him. Then came a long three way fight to the chequered flag, with Felipe very quick on the softer tyres while he struggled a bit on the hards, which meant that Fernando was at first able to close right up on him and then take the lead when his team-mate decided it was best not to create a risky situation, given that right behind them, Vettel was fighting back. The situation in both championships is still complicated, but this result is further motivation for the coming races: we firmly believe in our chances of reaching the targets we had at the start of the season.”

Fernando Alonso:
“This is a very important win, which comes on the back of weeks of hard work from the team, who pushed to make up the ground that separates us from our main rivals. Race after race, the improvements applied to the F10 have proved to be effective, thus making the car more competitive. I am very happy, because winning with Ferrari is a very special feeling. At the start I was pushed right up against the wall by Vettel, whose only thought was to close me down, while Felipe made the most of it to go past both of us. Then, I tried to stay close all the time to my team-mate and when he had some difficulties, I got past: I am sure that Felipe was thinking above all of the good of the team and that it was pointless to take risks when we had Vettel catching us up. There is no point in doing the sums for the championship now. We have shown what our package can do in a normal race and we must simply continue to work, trying to always pick up the maximum number of points. As I have always said, the final tally will come in Abu Dhabi.

Felipe Massa: “A driver always wants to win, so I cannot be completely happy with second place. I know that this year, the team has lost too many points in previous races and today it was important to do the maximum. We drivers have to first of all think of the interests of the team and that is what I showed again today. In my opinion this was not a case of team orders: my engineer kept me constantly informed on what was going on behind me, especially when I was struggling a bit on the hard tyres: so I decided to do the best thing for the team, and a one-two finish is the best possible result, isn’t it? I got a great start, the best of the season. At the start, on the soft tyres I was going very quickly but then, with the hards, I was unable to run at an ideal pace. I think today I proved that when everything is in order, I am a winning driver. It would have been nice to stand on a higher step on the podium but all the same, I want to dedicate this result to Fernando Marins, a relation of mine, who passed away at the start of this week.”

Chris Dyer: “A great result for the team. Going home with the maximum number of points after all that has happened in the races immediately leading up to this one is enormously pleasing. This one-two is down to all the people who have done an extraordinary job over the last two months, to improve the performance of our car. I think we now have a very competitive package and we will continue to push as hard as possible on the development of the car to be even stronger in the forthcoming races.”

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