Op-Ed: What I don’t get about Ferrari’s response to Valencia

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I’m still puzzling over Ferrari’s public reaction — overtly public reaction — to the European Grand Prix.

The team’s reaction, understand, makes total sense. Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa were positioned well, possibly able to challenge Lewis Hamilton for podium finishes, when the safety car divided up the field and spoiled any chance for a strong Ferrari finish. So I know why they are crying foul, complaining about the stewards’ handling of penalties and throwing around hot-button words like “scandal” and “unacceptable.”

But I still don’t understand why the team is doing it in public.

Behind closed doors, I’d understand if Alonso is screaming at Stefano Domenicali about the cruddy Ferrari he’s in. I might even understand a less than “rah rah, we’ll get ’em next time” talk with his engineers. The race, and maybe the season, has gone in the wrong direction, largely through no fault of theirs — other than not being on pole.

And I can see Stefano Domenicali calling up old buddy Jean Todt to quietly, but very clearly, make their case.

But to do all this in public strikes me as absolutely counter-productive, for a few specific reasons.

1. It’s Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. If any other driver on the grid had been the one to slip past the safety car, this issue would have an entirely different tone. But there simply cannot be an Alonso-Hamilton story without all the background and all the history coming immediately to the surface. It is impossible — for sure for the media and, I think, for fans — to separate Valencia from the year the two drivers spent at McLaren. All that will come back up, and in doing so it is going to cloud whatever valid argument Alonso and Ferrari may have.

2. It’s Ferrari and McLaren. Much like above, if any other team besides McLaren were involved, this story would have a different tone. But Spygate, and Ron Dennis, and these two teams’ histories are impossible to remove from the discussion. Ferrari can’t simply say, “We’re protesting this incident” without their being some sense that they are protesting because it’s McLaren. Or that they are protesting so loudly because it’s McLaren.

3. It’s Ferrari. As I noted elsewhere, along with a few readers, for Ferrari to play the “victim” in any Formula 1 incident is a bit hard to swallow. And I mean that as a compliment to Ferrari. They are the big team, they are the straw that stirs the F1 drink, a position they have earned by their long and successful involvement in the sport. But for them to act the aggrieved party is a bit of a stretch, even if they have reason to do so.

4. Finally, it’s F1. Is Ferrari new to F1? This kind of unacceptable stupidity is part of the sport’s very DNA, at this point. It’s just that Ferrari is used to coming out on the other end of the idiocy.

I think for the reasons above, Ferrari has misplayed this incident. The team should have quietly, but forcefully, gone to the FIA and asked for a clarification of this safety car rule. Of course, clearing up the rule might not be what they want. After all, they wouldn’t then have the chance one day to make use of it themselves.

And so I don’t get why they went so public. Unless…

On one issue, however, Ferrari may have done just what the team intended. As a few of our posts and a few readers have noted, Ferrari was just beginning to get scrutinized for its lapping the F10 at Fiorano. That story has all but died while the focus has been on this issue, instead. If Ferrari manages to deflect any attention, that probably will be success.

But I’d think this whole dust-up will only embolden Martin Whitmarsh to stick it to Ferrari in regards to the testing ban. And he might have some friends willing to stick it to Ferrari along with him.

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