Team orders returned to the top of the agenda in Formula 1 today as Fernando Alonso took the win in the German Grand Prix thanks to his team mate Felipe Massa letting him through in the closing stages, despite leading the race from the start. It is a tough moment for Massa and a hard call for the team to have to make.
Although the message was coded it was unmistakeably a team order, which are banned in F1. The team will also know that Massa’s motivation will have been torpedoed by this moment.
The 1-2 finish for Ferrari is the first since the opening race in Bahrain. The car has been on the pace since Montreal, but wasn’t able to get the results in Valencia or Silverstone, where Alonso should have been on the podium but for falling foul of the stewards. The Ferraris lapped everybody up to Kubica in 7th place.
It makes for an interesting championship situation, with the two Red Bull drivers now tied on points and now 21 points behind Hamilton, with Alonso back in the title race.
At the start, Vettel was so concerned about Alonso coming down the inside that he forgot about Felipe Massa down the outside. The Brazilian flew into the lead and Alonso tucked in behind in second place. Vettel was forced to accept third place, while Webber was passed by Hamilton for fourth place. Further back Schumacher made a great start from 11th to 8th and the two Toro Rosso cars hi5t each other Buemi losing his rear wing.
Ferrari were delighted with a 1-2 at this stage, but the wrong car was in the lead in many ways, with Massa well behind Alonso in the drivers’ championship.
The super soft tyres held up pretty well and Vettel was the first of the front runners to pit on lap 14, as the lap times were coming down impressively. Alonso and Webber pitted a lap later, with Webber rejoining in traffic and losing ground.
Massa pitted on lap 16 and rejoined ahead of Alonso, but as we have seen all season he was not as happy on the hard tyre as on the soft and he locked up consistently, but Alonso did not attack for a while.
We had another great fight between Schumacher and Kubica after the Pole’s pit stop, but he held his nerve and fought off the great champion.
Alonso soon closed up and was in a position to attack on lap 23, but Massa resisted. Alonso cam on the radio to say “This is ridiculous,” clearly feeling as he did at Indianapolis in 2007 when he followed Hamilton in the McLarens.
Button pitted late, lap 24 and he got out ahead of Mark Webber. Nico Rosberg also used the tactic of stopping a lap later and he jumped his team mate Michael Schumacher for 8th.
Massa started pulling away from Alonso and Vettel, the gap was out to 3.5 seconds by lap 28. Alonso clawed it back slowly, and by lap 35 it was down to 2 seconds, down to 1 second on lap 40. Meanwhile McLaren told Lewis Hamilton to go on a fuel saving mode in fourth place and Mark Webber was instructed to nurse the car to the finish and not challneg Button for 5th place.
On lap 50 a very reluctant sounding Rob Smedley came on the radio to tell Massa, “Fernando is faster than you,” which is code for “Let Alonso through.” He later came on and said “Sorry” to Massa, showing how hard it had been to deliver that message.
Massa obeyed and the Spaniard duly swept past to take the win. But after the race it was announced that the FIA World Motor Sport Council is to be called in to decide whether Ferrari should face further sanctions for the team orders controversy at the German Grand Prix, after the team was fined $100,000 for flouting the team orders rule. It should be remembered that the rule was brought in because of a Ferrari team order in 2002 which was very unpopular with fans.
German Grand Prix, Hockenheim, 67 Laps
1. Alonso Ferrari 1h28:38.866
2. Massa Ferrari + 4.196
3. Vettel Red Bull-Renault + 5.121
4. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 26.896
5. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 29.482
6. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 43.606
7. Kubica Renault + 1 lap
8. Rosberg Mercedes + 1 lap
9. Schumacher Mercedes + 1 lap
10. Petrov Renault + 1 lap
11. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari + 1 lap
12. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth + 1 lap
13. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth + 1 lap
14. De la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari + 1 lap
15. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1 lap
16. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes + 2 laps
17. Sutil Force India-Mercedes + 2 laps
18. Glock Virgin-Cosworth + 3 laps
19. Senna HRT-Cosworth + 4 laps