Whitmarsh defends Alonso…sort of

There was certainly a lot of consternation and unfortunate name calling last week regarding Ferrari’s outburst over the European Grand Prix results and specifically the Safety Car period that cost the Scuderia several positions on the grid (arguably depending on your point of view).

Even while Ferrari and its driver Fernando Alonso suggested the race was marred by the FIA race control and their in-race performance, the very team that benefited from the situation was McLaren and their team boss has just come tot he defense of Ferrari’s Alonso (well, sort of).

For years the FIA had been lead by Max Mosley and the prevailing character was one of a litigious nature that often placed politics at the forefront of any incidents such as this years European Grand Prix. Accusations such as Ferrari’s words last week would most likely have been met with a serious scolding and possible litigious ramifications from the FIA.

Since Mosley’s departure, new FIA president Jean Todt has had a different impact on the organization and that has manifest itself in a less confrontational posture. The Frenchman has a history of a measured, calculated response to adversity when he was at the helm of Ferrari but his role as FIA president has been a stark contrast to the pontification and media-craving actions of Mosley.

Todt is not a media hound. He doesn’t seek attention but does command respect. His approach to most issues is measured and while logical thought gauges his decision tree, he can have a penchant for reducing his decisions to the magnetic pull of pragmatism instead of Long-term methodical planning. That’s not a criticism so much as a reality in this current world culture.

With this new approach to controversy, the FIA has remained relatively quiet on most issues tending to negotiate behind the scenes with FOM boss Bernie Ecclestone and FOTA chairman Martin Whitmarsh. This has seemed to garner a positive affect on F1 and while I do not agree with all the decisions they have made, I am also honest enough to know that as a fan, I am bereft of the nuances that affect those decisions and as such, ill-prepared to render judgment on them.

This week McLaren boss and FOTA president Martin Whitmarsh has commented on the new FIA approach to adversity and in that statement, he has actually defended Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso’s outburst in the after math of the European Grand Prix.

“Alonso was fairly outspoken but actually people want a bit of that, and it doesn’t worry me.

“In the past you have not been able to question. There has to be a limit, some fine lines, but not being able to question a referee’s decisions, or umpire’s decisions or stewards’ decision? And frankly you have not been able to do that.”

“People complained about a sterility of conversations and debate within the paddock, but there was a regime where you were not even allowed to question whether we had got it right? As that would bring the sport into disrepute.

“Now I don’t think it is reasonable for any of us to go on a blast and criticise the FIA over anything, there have to be some limits and we have to be respectful to the FIA, but I think it is acceptable for people to display their passion, enthusiasm and agreement in the sport. It is a healthy thing.”

If there is a recurring theme to today’s F1, besides more passing, it is that the drivers are sterile and the corporate character of F1 has ruined such outspoken characters such as Gilles Villneuve, Ayrton Senna, Jacques Villneuve, James Hunt, Nigel Mansell, Eddie Irvine, David Coulthard and Niki Lauda. Drivers have reduced the rhetoric and trash talking in favor of corporate-friendly comments that are neither from the heart or the most candid.

When a current driver does criticize the establishment, it was traditionally punished by the FIA but perhaps the new FIA is more forgiving of such outbursts. Whitmarsh feels they are and endorses the open dialog as healthy. When a current driver gets animated and critical, we tend to recoil as it has not been typical for the last 15 years.

I have been guilty myself of criticizing McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton for getting lippy and mouthing off about something and many fans berated Alonso last week for his diatribe but I am reminded that Hamilton’s outbursts are actually part of the sport and most likely add some spice to the team rivalry as well as ratchets up the rhetoric for a good show on track.

It is refreshing to see a young man like Hamilton have a passion for something and criticize a process if he feels wronged. Equally, it is interesting to see how the FIA approaches team complaints and public berating toward the regulatory body as well.

Clearly Ferrari got caught out by the Safety Car incident in Valencia and had words for anyone who would listen but the FIA remained quiet. They did not engage in the rhetoric or take the bait. I suggest that is going to continue until someone gets really personal with Todt and then he will show us the claws he rarely displayed at Ferrari.

It is a refreshing approach and perhaps the GPDA as well as FOTA will feel more at ease when sharing their concerns over regulations they feel should be examined for integrity. That can’t be bad can it? What do you think of the new approach of the FIA? Is Todt correct in reducing the litigious nature of the organization and keeping those concerns out of the papers? Do you miss the Mosley era? I personally like the fact that the McLaren boss is defending Alonso and Ferrari’s position and actions (to some degree) as being good for F1.

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