Ultimately Ferrari did what they had to do

28 July, 2010

Fernando Alonso leads the German GP shortly after overtaking team mate Felipe Massa

Fernando Alonso leads the German GP shortly being allowed to overtake team mate Felipe Massa

Jul.28 (Daniel Chalmers) There is no doubt the controversy surrounding Ferrari’s team orders victory at the German Grand Prix left a bitter taste in the mouth, but Ferrari did what was best for their chances of succeeding in 2010.

Ferrari reconvene on the podium (L to R): race winner Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari; Stefano Domenicali (ITA) Ferrari General Director; Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari, second. Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, German Grand Prix, Race, Hockenheim, Germany, Sunday 25 July 2010.

Ferrari celebrate their second 1-2 on the Hockenheim podium

At the end of the day this is the most important factor for all the teams. When the teams pour in millions of pounds and have sponsors to keep happy the fans are far from their first priority.

As much as FOTA may say they care about the entertainment value of F1, winning is top of the priority list for everyone rather than entertaining the fans.

Ferrari won’t have endeared themselves to many fans outside of Spain, but when everything is considered, they chose the right option (even if they implemented it badly).

Throughout the season Fernando Alonso has been by far the stronger of the two Ferrari drivers. Felipe Massa on the other hand has been struggling for much of the season.

He hasn’t looked the same driver since his accident last year. The German GP was really the first time we had seen him resembling the Massa we knew before Hungary 2009.

Fernando Alonso's win in Germany keeps him in the title hunt

Fernando Alonso's win in Germany keeps him in the title hunt

Alonso also went into the race 31 points clear of Massa in the championship standings. They know that realistically Alonso is their best chance of grabbing silverware.

Furthermore, despite Massa leading a large portion of the race, Alonso was the quicker driver all through the weekend. In qualifying, Fernando beat Felipe by 0.497 seconds, which is a pretty substantial margin on such a short lap.

At the start Massa only got ahead because Sebastien Vettel concentrated on defending against Alonso and forgot about Massa.

It was very evident after the pit stops that Massa was holding Alonso up. There was a three or four lap period when Massa pulled clear but Alonso then reigned him back in.

Had Ferrari decided to let Massa take the win, that’s seven extra points that Alonso wouldn’t have got. If Alonso lost the championship by less than seven points then Ferrari would be absolutely kicking themselves.

Felipe Massa leads Fernando Alonso in Melbourne

Felipe Massa leads Fernando Alonso in Melbourne

Ironically fans probably would have looked back and questioned the decision, just as they did in Melbourne. In that race Massa was holding up the much quicker Spaniard but didn’t get the call to move over.

There will have been other factors going through the team’s mind. Ferrari will have been very well aware of what happened when Red Bull allowed their drivers to race each other in Istanbul.

This would have been the risk had Ferrari allowed their drivers to race each other. On a day where they were comfortably the fastest, throwing away 43 points so cheaply would have been disastrous.

It has to be remembered that this race was a must-win. After losing potentially big points in Valencia and Silverstone, they couldn’t afford the same to happen in Hockenheim, otherwise it could have been game over.

There is also a more important benefit this whole episode could bring. Ferrari’s two main rivals in the championship are now Red Bull and McLaren.

Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa after the German GP in parc ferme

Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa after the German GP in parc ferme

A similarity that links both those teams is that their drivers are very close in the standings. Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button are separated by just 14 points, and at Red Bull Sebastien Vettel and Mark Webber are tied on points.

With this in mind Ferrari may have considered the benefit of electing a clear number 1 driver this early.

The inter team battles at Red Bull and McLaren are very likely to carry on until the end of the season, meaning the drivers at those teams will be taking points off each other.

With Massa now looking like he will have to resort to the role of Alonso’s wingman, he won’t be taking points off Alonso, and could take points off his key rivals.

As Massa faithfully obeyed the order on Sunday he effectively offered this role to himself.

Of course we would much rather have seen Alonso and Massa engage in another wheel to wheel battle but F1 is first and foremost a team sport.

Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa faced a hostile media after the race

Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa faced a hostile media after the race

The drivers are employed and paid by their team, which means they are driving for the team as opposed to for themselves.

The ban on team orders was brought in after Austria 2002 where Rubens Barrichello was ordered to let Michael Schmacher past to win the race.

This was met with such disapproval because Barrichello had been quicker than Michael all weekend. Michael also already had a huge lead in the championship in the dominant car. Ferrari didn’t need to do this.

The scenario now couldn’t be more different as Ferrari are coming from a long way back, and unlike that weekend in Austria the benefactor of the team order was the fastest.

Clearly this episode has caused the biggest outcry since the 2002 Austrian GP, but there have been many other examples of team orders since 2002.

Rubens Barrichello (BRA), left, gives the thumbs up to team mate Michael Schumacher (GER), right, after controversially letting him through to win with metres to go to the finishing line. Austrian Grand Prix, Rd6, A1-Ring, Austria. 13 May 2002. BEST IMAGE

Rubens Barrichello gives thumbs up to team mate Michael Schumacher after controversially letting him through to win the 2002 Austrian GP

Two years ago, at the same track, Heikki Kovalainen got told to let Hamilton through. In China in 2008 Raikkonen let Massa through, so that he would be less points behind Lewis going into the title decider in Brazil.

At Brazil in 2007 Massa let Raikkonen through so that he could take the championship. Had he not done that the title would have gone to Hamilton.

On these occasions there wasn’t any outcry over the team order.

The main reason there has been an outcry over this latest example was the battle for the lead was the only interesting story in an otherwise dull race. Some will consider it too early in the season for such an order.

It was also the anniversary of Massa’s horrific accident.

No doubt it would have been a lovely moment to see Massa win to mark the occasion. However in a sport as fierce as F1 there is very rarely room for sentiment.

Alonso was a long way behind in the championship as it was, the equivalent of 21 points under the old system, going into the weekend. Massa would have been 31 points behind, a gap which nobody has ever come back from to claim the championship.

Rob Smedley with Felipe Massa

Rob Smedley with Felipe Massa

Bearing this in mind along with Massa’s mixed form it makes a lot of sense to back Alonso now.

Unfortunately for Ferrari, because of the ban on team orders they didn’t cover it up well enough. Getting Massa’s race engineer Rob Smedley to deliver the instruction was a bad move. It should have been Stefano Domenicali or Chris Dyer.

Smedley made it obvious that it was a team order.  He used the phrase “please confirm you understand the instruction” and then saying “sorry” after the move took place. This could yet land Ferrari in hot water.

Ferrari would have been better off choreographing the switch during the pit stop phase. All they had to do was change Massa’s tyres slightly more slowly.

The farce we saw after the race where the team made out it was Massa’s decision shouldn’t be blamed on Ferrari. It should be blamed on a rule change which never should have been brought in.

Stefano Domenicali (ITA) Ferrari General Director celebrates a 1-2 finish on the podium. Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, German Grand Prix, Race, Hockenheim, Germany, Sunday 25 July 2010.

Ferrari F1 boss Stefano Domenicali under pressure to deliver

Like many other rule changes we have seen in F1’s past it was brought in as a knee jerk reaction after Austria 2002.

It’s just too hard a rule to police, and teams will always find another way (coded messages being the main way) to issue team orders anyway.

Ferrari may get their fair share of boos as the F1 circuit moves to Hungary but in the end the priority is to do what has to be done to win.

Their decision to turn Massa into a number 2 could well be the crucial factor that wins Ferrari the championship. If that did turn out to be the case F1 fans worldwide may find it a bit galling, but will Alonso and the team really care what they think? The answer is probably not.

Had you been in Domencali’s position, where the pressure and expectation to deliver is sky high, could you honestly say that you wouldn’t have at the very least contemplated switching the drivers?

For me, as a fan, I was left very disappointed by how the race was decided. However when investigating the situation in detail I have to say I would have made the same decision.

Team orders have always been part of Formula 1 whether we like it or not, and that’s never going to change.


  • Twiinz

    AAAHHHH, the voice of reason. You don’t have to like it, but it was the right thing to do. Could it have been handled better?? absolutely. Well thought out article.

  • Barlow

    Yes, Ferrari did what was best for their chances of succeeding in 2010. But it wasn’t Formula 1 racing. It was Formula one half, or Formula one third. Formula One is where the drivers go flat out, come what may, the fastest driver that gets the most points. Anything less is not Formula One!!

  • Aatif

    Well justified article.. Absolutely agree with Daniel.

    The value of these points will be apparent only in the last round.

  • 49MAN

    Absolute Bullshit!!..It is obvious that it was unfair that Massa wan’t allowed to win.
    Yes, Alonso has a better chance of winning the drivers championship but Massa hasn’t done as bad as it had been painted either.
    Alonso pretty much ruined Massa’s race in sliverstone by touching him which he could have avoided, he also took a lot of points off massa in China by shoving him off the track in the pits delaying him.

    Massa also had to queue behind Alonso in the pits for the second time instead of letting him continue in one of the races..

    Alonso wouldn’t have listened or reponded to that call had it have been him in Massa’s position, so defending Ferrari’s actions is very disgusting!!

    Massa would be in front of Alonso in Hungary this weekend again, Ferrari wouldn’t intervene!!

  • Arthur

    Daniel, the reason why it was Smedley and not Dominicalli who told Felipe on Radio because it would add up to more speculation of a team orders. In my point of view, Smedley was hesitant to let Alonso pass through. Maybe, just maybe, Smedley said a few extra words (“please confirm you understand the message” and “sorry”) to show an act of rebellion against the team. His words made a huge impact on the opinion and probably the outcome of the investigation of the stewards…

    If this was the case, I would still praise Smedley and of course Felipe for their actions…

  • Pit Rat

    Daniel, what you say makes perfect sense. but the general idea in F1 is that as a team sport, the COnstructor’s championship is the main thing, as it is it that offers all the monetary rewards the next year plus all the freebies. the driver championship is a bonus, and doesnt win anyone any extra money, just bragging rights. so in this context, no Ferrari didnt have to do it.

    but Getting Alonso on board has cost Ferrari and Santander Millions, and being the golden boy, they want to prove that their investment was right even if obviously it’s not the right way to do it…so he will always be chosen first…

    for example, when Ferrari pitted the kid against its two drivers in a kart race. they never mentioned who of the F1 drivers won, they just mentioned that the kid ended up splitting the two.

    the truth is that Massa, being the master karter that he is won, but wanting not to sound like idiots, they prefer to keep it under wraps to protect the Alonso money, and not have the 2 time world F1 champion get his ass kicked in Karting by a 12 year old and an almost has been driver that is possibly being kept around because no one has the heart to fire him or let him go…

    there is also Alonso’s spirit and disregard and disrespect to his teammate that bubbled to the surface last weekend.

    although Massa said it was his decision to let him past, and not a mistake a missed gear or whatever, Alonso did not show any appreciation for the gift he was given. he thought it was his god given right to get the victory because he was quicker all weekend. he has forgotten that he is a racer, and that for racers, it’s only Sunday that counts.

    I never liked the fact that Alonso joined Ferrari, together they can’t be good, they will be dubious, especially with Teflonso’s stellar past with controversies…

  • F1 Sommelier

    Daniel, you are absolutely correct. Massa and Smedly acted like my 5 year old daughter does when she does not want to do something that I tell her is the right thing to do. All she does is think about how she feels. She does not think about how it is going to affect those around her. There is only 1 difference, these 2 guys get paid very well to do what is best for Ferrari!
    Where was the outrage when Kimi let Massa by in China in 2008 so that could have a better chance at the title. Did Smedly tell Massa not to take the free pass from Kimi? did Massa refuse to pass Kimi? No, of course not. Ferrari gave Massa his pass when he deserved it. This year if you look at the times of the drivers he is clearly #2

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