Team orders were banned in F1 after 2002. The reason was fan outrage at Ferrari’s blatant and obvious orders to then driver Ruebens Barrichelo to allow Michael Schumacher to pass him and then their botched attempt at the US GP to stage manage the finish. Michael did have it in his contract that he was the #1 driver and his teamate had to defer to him. Up to that point team orders had been the norm. Back in the 30’s and mid 50’s if you disobeyed Herr Neubauer, the Mercedes Team Manager, on Sunday, you were unemployed on Monday.
After the rule was implemented for 2003 and beyond teams did on occasion manage to ‘arrange’ finishes. It usually occured late in the season when one driver had a good chance of winning the Championship and the other did not. However, the teams managed to do it in ways that were not too obvious, although on occasion suspisions were aroused. It could be done by the timing of pit stops, which was easier when there were more stops with refueling, which is now banned. Or a pit stop would be slightly botched allowing the team’s other driver to gain the spot. Sometimes there were subtle instuctions given such as be very careful of your brakes, we have a problem, or conserve fuel, we are close. Almost always those instructions came from the Team Manager or even as Eddie Jordan said from the team principal. He said when he owned a team and orders were given regarding a position he did it himself.
Well yesterday in the German GP Ferrari wanted Alonso to win but Massa was leading after a brilliant start from 3rd and passing both Alonso and Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel in the first turn. For Massa it was a real boost as it was a year to the day he had almost been killed by a spring coming off of Barrichelo’s Brawn.
Then came the very obvious instruction to let Alonso past. It was not delivered by a senior Ferrari team member but by Massa’s race engineer. The words were ‘Alonso is faster than you are. Confirm you understand.’ and delivered in a tone from Ross Smedley, the engineer, that left no doubt of his thoughts on the matter. Massa shortly complied, again in a very obvious manner. Smedley then said ‘Good boy’. The podium ceremony and the interviews afterwards were very subdued and it was clear Massa was very upset.
It took a little while but after the fan outrage became apparent the Stewards decided to investigate. The BBC commentators and the FOX commentators realized that it was team orders immediately and the questions in the press conference left no doubt what the journalists at the track thought. Of course we did not see the interviews on TSN as they went to some prerecorded program despite there being time left. I got the interviews from a web site.
The result was a $100,000.00 fine against Ferrari and a request that the World Motorsport Council consider further action. They do not meet until September although Jean Todt, the FIA President, could call an earlier meeting. Difficult position for Jean as he was the Ferrari Team Manager in the Schumacher era!
Now a $100,000.00 fine sounds like a lot but not in the world of F1. That is approximately the cost of a steering wheel!
I actually do not have a problem with team orders and I disagree with the ban. If Ferrari had not been so obvious back in 2002 orders probably would not have been banned. That said the rule is there and it must be enforced. Again if Ferrari had not be so obvious, including Smedley and Massa, probably nothing would have happened. Massa would have been unhappy but they would have got away with it. Instructions from the Team Manager or even the Senior race engineer would have been issued in a more neutral way and referring to a car problem would have disguised things more. Asking Massa’s race engineer, who is very close to Massa, to do it was a mistake. Should there be further penalties or sanctions against Ferrari? Personally I think so. Let the race win stand but strip the team of constuctor points for the race would be my thought. Possibly give the drivers only half points. We will probably have to wait until September to find out if more will be done.
Now on to the Edmonton Indy. I will be shorter.
Helio was robbed. Brian Barnhart has made some (too many) dumb calls before but this one was the worst I have seen. Helio may have been slightly blocking but I do not think so. On a restart with a track about 200 feet wide it is awful hard to block and as far as I am concerned it was racing. All year there has been quite blatant blocking by certain drivers with no penaties so that make this even more idiotic. Of course the most blatant blocker, especially on ovals, is a certain ‘Go Daddy’ car and that one does not get penalized!