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

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)

Members
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.

Punishment

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

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