Today is a big day for Ferrari as they will appear before the World Motor Sort Council to answer charges relating to violation of the rules regarding team orders in F1.
This relates to an incident at the German Grand Prix in July, where Felipe Massa allowed Fernando Alonso through to win the race after receiving the message from his race engineer, “Fernando is faster than you”.
In Germany the race stewards examined the matter and were satisfied that a team order had been used, which violates Article 39.1 of the Sporting Regulations. The team was fined $100,000 and referred to the World Motor Sports Council. They will also face an enquiry into whether their conduct violates Article 151c of the International Sporting Code, by bringing the sport into disrepute. If found guilty of that, they could face a serious fine, as McLaren did in 2007 and Ferrari did in 2002 over the original team orders scandal in Austria.
Although the stewards were satisfied that Massa was ordered to move over, the WMSC will be challenged by Ferrari to prove that the content of the radio transmission that day was a direct order. Race engineer Rob Smedley, who delivered the messages to Massa, has been called to give evidence. He will be asked whether he was instructed to get his driver to move over and why he said “Sorry” if there was not some kind of instruction to yield.
Ferrari’s defence is that the decision to move was Massa’s alone, having been told simply that his team mate was faster. It could just as easily be construed as a hurry-up to the driver, even though millions of F1 fans around the world understood exactly what it meant. I understand that they may be able to point to an incident in Melbourne this year where Massa was also given the “Fernando is faster than you” message but ignored it.
The Ferrari lawyers will also no doubt look at what other teams have done, such as McLaren’s famous “fuel saving” instructions to its drivers in the closing stages of the Turkish GP and other races. Let’s face it, there have been hundreds of team orders in the years since 2002.
And for the sake of consistency I would like to know why this German GP incident is such a big deal when Ferrari has twice used team orders which directly – and very publicly – affected the outcome of the world championship, in 2007. Massa let Raikkonen through to win the race and that gave him the championship. Not a single fan or commentator or rival team had a problem with that, but it was just as much a team order as the German GP. The difference is that everyone accepts it in the last race, they don’t accept it at the 11th round of 19.
So let’s be grown up about this. The rule which says “No team orders” is ridiculous and unworkable and we need a sensible, workable alternative to come out of today’s hearing.
For FIA president Jean Todt today is really his first political flash point since taking the reins earlier this year. If Ferrari get off with a light punishment, everyone will say it’s because he was biased given his long association with the team. If they get punished, then everyone will say it’s because he left Ferrari on bad terms with its president Luca di Montezemolo and wants to get even. Whatever the outcome, he is compromised by the fact that Massa is managed by his son Nicolas. So he cannot win today and has stepped right back from the process, handing it to his deputy Graham Stoker.
The smart money is on a larger fine and possibly loss of some constructors’ points. Any other outcome could itself interfere with the championship fight. If Alonso loses his 25 points for the win, he will go to Monza 66 points behind the championship leader Lewis Hamilton. Although not insurmountable, this would almost certainly wreck his chances of fighting for the championship.
There is a whole other back story here to do with the threat posed to FIA and FOM by Ferrari president Montezemolo, potentially lining up some kind of takeover of F1 when the Concorde Agreement expires in two years time. Montezemolo is one of few figures in the sport who could get together the financing to buy CVC’s stake in the F1 commercial rights holder.
Montezemolo and Todt met earlier this summer in Paris and there is a lot going on behind the scenes as the various parties line up their power bases and prepare for one of the most important negotiations since the early 1980s. Will that spill over into today’s case? We will know more when we see the judgement.