The full reasons behind the decision of the World Motor Sport Council in the case of Ferrari’s team orders in Germany has been published and it is clear that the governing body has turned a corner from the Max Mosley era.
Yesterday the WMSC decided to uphold the decision of the Hockenheim stewards, that Ferrari had broken Article 39c of the F1 sporting regulations banning team orders, but as it could not prove it on the balance of probabilities, it could not take any further action or press home a charge of bringing the sport into disrepute.
The team orders rule was brought in during the Mosley era, but was worded in such a way that teams were always likely to fall foul of it and moments of high theatre such as in Hockenheim and yesterday in Paris would ensue. Now the FIA under new president Jean Todt is looking to review and possibly remove this unworkable rule.
The intervention of the Williams and Sauber teams seems to have played a part. They wrote to the WMSC in support of Ferrari’s position.
“It is undeniable that the race result would have been different had the contentious instruction not been issued to Mr Felipe Massa,” said the notes today.
As we argued here on JA on F1, the rule was unworkable because there is a time and a place when team orders are appropriate and others where they are not and yet we have seen team orders in various forms over the years, albeit not as blatant as Germany this year.
Acknowledging this point the WMSC said, “There were many examples of what could have been said to be team orders in Formula 1 in recent years, and therefore there has been inconsistency in its application. Also its application to indirect team orders via messages where drivers raise no complaints is uncertain and difficult to detect and police. The Judging Body of the WMSC accepted that this may well have influenced Ferrari’s approach,” as it has for other teams who have acted similarly in the past.
Massa’s face and body language told you that he would have won the race had he not been told that “Fernando is faster than you”. He got the better start and was in front on merit.
He has paid a massive price for this, because not only is his motivation damaged, but his standing among fans, especially in his native Brazil has been hammered. This is a driver who less than two years ago showed dignity in defeat in Brazil, when Lewis Hamilton nicked the world title at the final corner and then 12 months ago showed immense courage when coming back from a terrifying accident to drive an F1 car again.
Yet now in the eyes of many fans he is a diminished figure, who has given up the fight with his team mate by accepting a team order. He is no longer a ‘racer’.
This comes in the same season when Mark Webber, notionally a number two driver at Red Bull has spat the dummy at any attempts by his team to subjugate him. When he had his front wing taken from him in Silverstone he went out and won the race anyway, yelling “Not bad for a number two driver!” as he took the chequered flag. Two weeks later Massa capitulated. The contrast is painful.
Possibly Massa’s contract is worded differently from Webber’s, in terms of acting in the interests of the team, but F1 in the eyes of the fans is about life on the limit.
“In the view of Ferrari, Mr Felipe Massa was not ordered to allow Mr Fernando Alonso to pass; rather he was given relevant information, based on which he decided, for the benefit of the team, to allow Mr Fernando Alonso to pass,” concluded the FIA.
It’s the way it is and there is no other way to look at it than it is massively painful for Massa. The supreme irony of this being that Massa was a protege of FIA president Jean Todt in his days as Ferrari boss and is still Nicolas Todt, Jean’s son’s, highest earning client.
The WMSC hearing and statement has highlighted the awfulness of his situation, “Mr Felipe Massa realised that the best interests of the team and the drivers’ safety were going to be served by allowing Mr Fernando Alonso to pass, and acted accordingly.”
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the documents from the hearing reveal that both drivers had their engines turned down, but Alonso had been allowed to turn his up, unbeknownst to Massa. “Alonso increased his engine speed without Mr Felipe Massa’s being informed. Mr Fernando Alonso was therefore benefiting from a definite performance advantage over Mr Felipe Massa in the moments preceding the contentious overtaking.”
Ferrari is looking for closure on this matter, but this statement means that this is not over, not by a long chalk.