Ultimately Ferrari did what they had to do
28 July, 2010
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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