Ferrari face FIA World Motor Sport Council on team orders charge tomorrow

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Ferrari will learn their consequences of their use of team orders during the German Grand Prix in a World Motor Sport Council hearing tomorrow.

Ahead of the crunch meeting let’s review what happened, the likely arguments for and against Ferrari, who will decide their fate and what their punishment could be.

The race, the radio and the switch

The Ferrari drivers started from second and third on the grid at Hockenheim and at the start Felipe Massa moved up from third to lead ahead of Alonso.

Alonso stayed around 1-1.5 seconds behind Massa before making his pit stop on lap 14, followed by Massa on the next lap. Both switched from the soft to hard tyres.

Initially, Alonso was clearly quicker than Massa who ran wide on more than one occasion. From lap 15 to 23 he was within a second of his team mate.

On lap 23 Alonso took advantage of Massa being delayed in traffic to get alongside of his team mate at the straight approaching the hairpin. But he wasn’t able to complete the pass. He then dropped back, falling 3.4s behind by lap 27.

He began to catch his team mate again but on lap 35 he had a big slide at turn ten and dropped back. This meant he wasn’t close enough to make another attempt to pass Massa when he caught the next group of lapped cars a few laps later.

At some point – it’s not clear exactly when – Alonso told his team on the radio, ??I am much quicker than Felipe??. His race engineer Andrea Stella replied, “We got your message.?? Massa was warned by his race engineer Rob Smedley “You need to pick up the pace because Alonso is faster.??

By lap 39 Alonso was one second behind Massa again. Later Smedley came on the radio to utter the now-infamous words, “Alonso is faster than you. Can you confirm you understood that message?”

Shortly afterwards, on lap 49, Massa slowed at the exit of the hairpin and Alonso went by into the lead. Smedley was heard to say: “OK mate, good lad. Stay with him now. Sorry.” Massa was 1.8 seconds slower on that lap than he had been on the lap before.

After the chequered flag a depressed-sounding Massa got on the radio to say: “So, what I can say? Congratulations to the team.”

The stewards of the race fined Ferrari $100,000 and referred the matter to the WMSC. They found Ferrari guilty of breaking two rules – article 39.1 of the 2010 Sporting Regulations:

Team orders which interfere with a race result are prohibited.

And article 151c of the International Sporting Code:

Any fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motor sport generally.

Article 39.1 was introduced after the 2002 season, when Ferrari had ordered Rubens Barrichello to hand victory to Michael Schumacher in the Austrian Grand Prix, to widespread condemnation. No team has been punished under this article before.

Article 151c has been used several times in recent seasons, notably in 2007 when McLaren were found to have used confidential Ferrari information.

The case for

After the race Ferrari claimed Massa made his own decision to let Alonso pass. The drivers stuck to this line in the press conference, with Alonso repeatedly denying Massa had been told to hand him the win.

Asked if it was his decision to let Alonso past Massa said “Yeah, definitely” and gave this reason for it:

Because I was not so strong on the hard [tyres], so we need to think about the team.
Felipe Massa

Ferrari said that Smedley said “sorry” to Massa shortly after the change of position as an expression of sympathy rather than an apology for the order to let Alonso by.

The case against

Massa’s explanation invites the question why he did not let Alonso pass on previous occasions when he was holding his team mate up – such as at Melbourne and Sepang this year.

The answer is at that early stage in the season Ferrari were not yet ready to sacrifice Massa’s championship chances to help Alonso’s. But admitting that would be tantamount to submitting a guilty plea on breaking article 39.1.

Massa’s remark that “we need to think about the team” was echoed by Alonso in the post-race press conference:

For sure we don?t have team orders, so we just need to do the race that we can and if you see that you cannot do the race that you can, you need to think about the team.
Fernando Alonso

And by Luca di Montezemolo later:

I simply reaffirm what I have always maintained, which is that our drivers are very well aware, and it is something they have to stick to, that if one races for Ferrari, then the interests of the team come before those of the individual.
Luca di Montezemolo

These remarks are odd because switching positions in the manner they did made no difference to the team’s points total – they would have scored the maximum 43 points whether Massa or Alonso came home first.

The change of positions was not in the best interests of the team – it was in the best interests of Fernando Alonso.

The Todt factor

FIA president Jean Todt will be breathing a sigh of relief that he reduced the president’s function on the World Motor Sports Council shortly after he took over the role last year. It has saved him from ruling on a matter where he could be said to have several conflicts of interest.

Todt, of course, ran Ferrari’s F1 team from 1993 to 2007. It was he who ordered Barrichello to make way for Schumacher – on more than one occasion.

Team orders were always part of how Todt operated as a team principal. While running Peugeot’s Paris-Dakar rally squad he once decided whether Ari Vatanen or Jacky Ickx should win by tossing a coin.

But even if his willingness to use team orders in the past might make him inclined to look more sympathetically on his former team for using them today, he does not have the same degree of influence over the WMSC that Max Mosley had in his day.

World Motor Sport Council

The following people are members of the WMSC (nationalities in brackets):

FIA President
Jean Todt (France)

FIA Deputy President for Sport
Graham Stoker (United Kingdom)

Vice Presidents for Sport
Jose Abed (Mexico)
Michel Boeri (Monaco)
Morrie Chandler (New Zealand)
Enrico Gelpi (Italy)
Carlos Gracia Fuertes (Spain)
Mohammed Ben Sulayem (UAE)
Surinder Thatthi (Tanzania)

Shk Abdulla Bin Isa Alkhalifa (Bahrain)
Garry Connelly (Australia)
Vassilis Despotopoulos (Greece)
Luis Pinto de Freitas (Portugal)
Zrinko Gregurek (Croatia)
Wan Heping (China)
Victor Kiryanov (Russia)
Henry Krausz (Dominican Republic)
Vijay Mallya (India)
Hugo R. Mersan (Paraguay)
Radovan Novak (Czech Republic)
Lars ?sterlind (Sweden)
Vicenzo Spano (Venezuela)
Teng Lip Tan (Signapore)

President of the International Karting Commission
Nicolas Deschaux (France)

President of Formula One Management
Bernie Ecclestone (United Kingdom)

President of the FIA Manufacturers’ Commission
Fran??ois Cornelis (Belgium)

Jose Abed was also one of the stewards at the German Grand Prix.

The team orders debate

The events of Hockenheim have led to a fresh debate over team orders which has divided fans, commentators and journalists. On F1 Fanatic, more than three-quarters in a poll of 2,600 readers wanted Ferrari to be punished.

There are, broadly, two points of view. One is that the article 39.1 cannot and should not be enforced, and that teams should be allowed to order their drivers as they see fit.

The opposing view is that races decided by team orders – particularly on occasions like Austria 2002 and Germany 2010 where both drivers were still in the running for the championship – undermine the sporting integrity of Formula 1 and attract great public criticism.

I lean towards the latter view. Teams have their own title to win – the constructors’ championship – and should not be allowed to interfere in the fight for the drivers’ title.

Yes, sometimes difficult decisions have to be made about which driver gets the latest upgrade first. But telling a driver to give up a win is a different matter. Team orders are deeply unpopular for a good reason – no-one wants to see a rigged race or a fixed championship. Witness the furious reaction to Austria 2002 and Hockenheim 2010.

I’m not convinced by claims a team orders ban is ‘unenforceable’. With refuelling and pit-to-car telemetry banned, and stewards able to monitor radio transmissions, it’s getting ever harder for a team to hinder one of their drivers during a race without being detected. The prospect of a swingeing punishment for anyone caught doing it would help.

The existing rule banning team orders also helps prevent much worse forms of team orders – such as the inter-team collusion seen at Jerez in 1997.

Since article 39.1 was introduced there have been other instances of a teams’ drivers swapping positions, possibly under the instruction of their teams. Some of these occurred when one driver was mathematically incapable of scoring enough points to become champion. Others involved drivers on different strategies where the overtaking driver might easily have passed his team mate without interference from the team.

None of them involved one driver who had clearly beaten his team mate being told to pull over. That is why the events of Hockenheim provoked such intense criticism and why the WMSC must punish Ferrari.


Ignoring all other considerations, what would be a suitable punishment for a team that interfered with the result of a race to improve one driver’s position in the drivers’ championship?

If the purpose of the punishment is to prevent other teams from doing it, then the drivers involved must lose points. Points deduction cannot be confined to the constructors’ championship, as has happened in the past (e.g. McLaren in 2007), for Ferrari’s actions were clearly designed to affect the drivers’ championship alone.

Stripping the team and drivers of all their German Grand Prix points would be a reasonable penalty.

Will the WMSC be swayed by other considerations? For example, is there a desire to teach Ferrari a lesson after their claims the European Grand Prix was “manipulated”?

Or might the FIA stay their hand and not hand down a points deduction to keep the drivers’ championship battle as open as possible? Expect these explanations to be invoked by anyone who finds the verdict too harsh or too soft.

One thing is clear: if the FIA really wishes to stop teams from manipulating races, giving Ferrari’s drivers anything less than a points deduction would be meaningless. It isn’t just Ferrari on trial, this is a test case for article 39.1.

Over to you

What do you think the WMSC should do? And what do you think their decision will be? Have your say in the comments.

Ferrari team orders in Germany

Image via Adam Cooper on Twitpic

321 comments on “Ferrari face FIA World Motor Sport Council on team orders charge tomorrow”

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  1. The rule upon which this controversy is predicated cannot be enforced.

    Admittedly, Ferrari were a little heavy handed in flouting this rule, but the act itself has been exercised by all championship contenders over time, and they will continue to do so – hopefully with a little more finesse.

    The solution is to eliminate the rule – although I have little faith in the FIA’s ability to realize that.

  2. There is no difference between this and, for example, when McLaren told Jenson not to pass Lewis in Turkey:

    Lewis: If I back off will Jenson pass me
    Team: No Lewis

    You may point out that Jenson did infact overtake him, but once Hamilton retook the position they reaffiremed to Jenson not to do it again.

    So surely this is the same? Without the instruction Jenson may well have had another go and potentially won the race.

    If you penalise Ferrari then every other team in the pitlane are guilty of team orders in one form or another. To suggest the problem is the manner of the way in which Ferrari did it as the main problem is to take us all as fools as it doesn’t take a blatantly obvious manouvre like that for people to realise team orders are taking place

  3. Oh, and I forgot to say… if Ferrari think it’s big or clever to pretend that they didn’t give a team order then they are just making a farce out of themselves and the sport.

  4. No further punishment for Ferrari stated at 18.10

    1. That was the right decision.

  5. Very interesting article by James Alen:

    “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.”

    Funny how only a handful of British papers are trying to blow this case way out of proportion. As far as I know, French and German papers (as well as Spanish and Italian papers, but that’s to be expected) are much more measured and are not letting their hate/fanboyism cloud their judgement.

  6. Of course team orders should be legal!

    The reason the team orders a slower driver to make way for a faster driver isn’t because they have made some sort of backhanded deal with the driver in question – it’s to mitigate the risk of BOTH of their drivers crashing out of the race trying to overtake each other in the same instant. It’s simple risk mitigation to order the slower racer to let the faster one through.

    How is this a difficult concept to grasp? The drivers are *employees* of the team, paid a salary to do their job. The constructors championship is the one that really matters (remember who invests the 100’s of millions of dollars into the season?). Not necessarily to the fans, agreed, and thats why there is also a drivers championship. The drivers championship is inherrently unfair as they don’t all race in the same spec’d cars – even when in the same team, and are often forced onto different strategies to maximise the teams chances in races which are difficult to plan. The drivers all understand this simple principle, why not the fans?

    1. The constructors championship is the one that really matters (remember who invests the 100’s of millions of dollars into the season?)

      If that was Ferrari’s reasoning, would they still have bothered switching the order of their drivers to give Alonso more points in the drivers’ championship? Nothing they did at Hockenheim affected the constructors’ championship.

      1. I thought I made that clear: so that Alonso didn’t try to overtake and risk taking them both out.

        Remember a driver overtaking his team mate is far more dangerous (to the team) than him taking over another teams driver.

        If a charging bull like Alonso takes himself out trying to overtake someone else, then his team mate can be ordered to take it easy preserve the chance for some point. If they take each other out – BAM zero points!

        1. You don’t think Ferrari trusted their twice world champion, 23 race-winning driver to overtake someone without crashing into them?

          1. Haha. Were you watching in the Prost/Senna/McLaren days? It’s not about skill, it’s about ego.

            And it’s still a risk not worth taking.

    2. I agree that team orders shoud be allowed. But the tittle that realy matters to the teams is WDC, not the WCC. The WDC is the one that attracts the media attention and that’s what the sponsors value. I’m sure you know whos the WDC in 08, but would it be of general knowledge who was the WCC? Could you say with no googling??

      1. It definately helps sponsorship that fans can follow their favourite drivers, but it’s absolutely not the case that all fans do (I don’t). How many long-term fans of F1 follow drivers rather than teams, especially as drivers switch frequently and may in one season go from running at the front to running in the pack due to a team change. Considering the lack of screen-time given to the pack-runners I think it’s hard to follow only a favourite driver in the sport for years, unless it’s an era with a massive dominator who you happen to follow (Senna, Prost, Schumacher). I think you’ll find that Ferrari fans are fans of Ferrari, regardless of the drivers that season. Also, quite alot of us just want to see good racing and good sportsmanship across the whole field.

        However, the fact that celebrity drivers does bring sponsorship is why there IS a drivers championship at all. Thats why F1 is a complex sport, the various factions all have different agendas.


        Media/Sponsorship is not as simple as you think. F1 is a spectacle, and that spectacle exists because of the whole setup – not just because of popular drivers. Remember a few years back it was a huge crisis in the sport that it was boring to watch (due to lack of overtaking) not because there were no superstar drivers – there was Schumacher.

        I don’t know the facts and figures, but (at least in the era’s of the sport being dominated by manufacturer-teams like now) I’m pretty sure that many teams don’t get a profit from the sponsorship. They take the choice to ‘invest’ in formula one because it allows them to invest in technologies that they want to develop for their business. Mercedes and BMW as engine developers definately fall into that category.

        This is why rule changes effecting the technology side are very signifigant. The decision for F1 to go green is an example of this. It’s where car manufacturers need to go. It’s not done to make the racing more interesting (such as the with the Overtaking Working Group) or serve the needs of the drivers (who are concerned with safety), yet these types of decisions have by far the most impact on the sport.


        1. Yes, F1 was born as team sport and manufactures development and brand image. But I think you are undermining the power of publicity. Advertising sustains the show, and you cant deny that and its not only the name on the car, its TV rights, merchandising… It might not cover 100% of the costs, but it would be unsustainable without it, tell the new teams that have arrived this year

          Lets use some clear examples:

          – how do you become a F1 newcomer driver? Brining a sponsor with you to support the team
          – how many Spaniards do you think support Renault or McLaren? Every team change from Alonso, new shirt! ($$$) Even Ferrari is selling shirts in blue (colours of Oviedo where Alo was born); for the 1st time not in red
          – why has the interest on F1 decreased in Germany so much between the Schumi years til Vettels arrival? Because they are all Ferrari fans?
          – why has F1 interest increased so much in Spain since Alos arrival?
          – Last one: do you think F1 would disappear without the WCC tittle? Or rahter without the WDC?.
          I thnik the masses of fans follow drivers and a small number of fans follow teams (tifossi).
          08 WCC tittle went to Ferrari, WDC Ham

          1. Thats very well argued.

            Honestly, I thought the days of rookies bringing sponsors had gone away with the last of the pay drivers, but it certainly makes sense for the smaller teams.

            I think it’s clear the sport is always under tension from a variety of different influences, and honestly, I think thats probably one of the most interesting parts of it.

            Your probably right about the distribution of fans. I’ve noticed that F1 does have to compete to keep the fans, so it makes sense that the majority of the fans are fickle otherwise we wouldn’t see that.

            I always think of the failure of the A1 when I think about the impact of driver nationality on F1, but it’s possible that the A1 didn’t have enough glamour to quite replace F1 for those sort of fans.

            As for the WCC vs the WDC, I can really only speak for myself. The WDC is absolutely meaningless to me and I don’t care who wins (well actually – I hope a nice guy/good sport wins). The sport isn’t a fair test of driver skill because the formula allows for far too much difference between the entrants, so I’d have to be much better at kidding myself to think that any driver I was following was really the best driver in the field :)


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