Full WMSC decision: Ferrari used team orders but shouldn’t be punished

Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Hockenheimring, 2010

The FIA has published its full decision concerning Ferrari’s use of team orders in the German Grand Prix.

The World Motor Sport Council agreed that team orders had been used and that Ferrari had interfered with the race result.

However it added there had been other examples of “what could have been said to be team orders” in recent years and that there had been “inconsistency in its application” of article 39.1 which forbids team orders.

They also took into consideration Ferrari’s concern their drivers might crash into each other in light of Sebastian Vettel’s crash with Mark Webber in Turkey.

The WMSC also noted it had received letters of support for Ferrari from Frank Williams and Peter Sauber.

Despite not adding any further punishment the original $100,000 fine imposed by the German Grand Prix stewards was upheld and Ferrari also had to pay the cost of the proceedings.

Ferrari’s defence

Ferrari’s defence was that Felipe Massa was not ordered to let Fernando Alonso past.

They claimed he was “given relevant information, based on which he decided, for the benefit of the team, to allow Mr Fernando Alonso to pass. The relevant information was that Mr Fernando Alonso was faster than him, and that Mr Sebastian Vettel was closing the gap on both of them.”

Ferrari added:

There is a clear distinction between ‘team orders’ on the one hand, and ‘team strategy and tactics’ on the other hand. The disputed communication should be considered ‘team strategy and tactics’.

Ferrari also challenged the charge under article 151 (c) of The International Sporting Code (bringing the sport into disrepute), saying:

It would be improper to try to make good some deficiency in the Regulations (if such there be) by relying on some generally worded provisions which are clearly intended to apply to different situations.

The example of Lewis Hamilton passing Heikki Kovalainen in the latter stages of the 2008 German Grand Prix was cited by Ferrari, describing it as “the same” as what happened between Alonso and Massa while noting that it did not receive a sanction. They did not offer any evidence that the change of position was instructed by the team.

Ferrari also claimed McLaren’s instruction to Hamilton and Jenson Button in this year’s Turkish Grand Prix to “save fuel” was “a coded instruction to the drivers to preserve their existing positions”.

According to Ferrari, the stewards were reluctant to punish them in way that would affect their finishing positions in the German Grand Prix.

They said: “The decision of the Stewards not to alter the race result no doubt reflects a degree of realism on their part regarding the ambiguous nature of the rule itself, and the difficulties of policing it and ensuring consistent treatment between different teams.”

The FIA case against

The FIA noted the exchange of radio messages between the drivers and the team, parts of which weren’t broadcast at the time:

On lap 19 Mr Fernando Alonso put pressure on his engineers saying “Guys, I am a lot quicker”, and the engineer said in reply: “Got that, and we are on the case, don’t worry”; and on lap 28 Mr Felipe Massa’s engineer said: “You must keep up the lead, you must keep the gap to him, you know the score, come on”.

They added:

It is self evident to the Judging Body of the WMSC that this was an implied team order using a message, and as such was contrary to article 39.1 Sporting Regulations.

The FIA also made the case that Ferrari had “interfered” with the result of the race:

It was said by Ferrari that with 18 laps to go at the moment of the overtaking the race results were uncertain, but the Judging Body of the WMSC noted that from lap 1 to lap 49 Mr Felipe Massa comfortably led the race, on lap 21 Mr Fernando Alonso [passed] Mr Felipe Massa only to be immediately repassed, and that Mr Fernando Alonso only eventually [passed] Mr Felipe Massa on lap 49 when Mr Felipe Massa unexpectedly slowed down after receiving the messages.

This clearly interfered with the results of the race, and with Mr Fernando Alonso standing on the podium for first place, when his team mate had slowed to allow him to pass, was in the Judging Body of the WMSC’s view prejudicial to the interest of the motor sport and contrary to article 151 (c) of the [International Sporting Code]. It is important for the FIA to act to protect the sporting integrity of the FIA Formula One world championship, and ensure the podium finish has been achieved by genuine on track racing.

It also pointed out that part of the reason why Alonso was faster than Massa in the lead-up to the change of positions was because he’d been told to turn his engine up:

The Reporter considers that Ferrari’s argument relating to the fact that Mr Fernando Alonso was faster than Mr Felipe Massa appears not to hold up. Indeed, a few laps prior to the contentious overtaking, Ferrari’s drivers reduced their engine speed at the request of their respective race engineers. Then Mr Fernando 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.

Read the full decision here

The World Motor Sport Council's verdict on Ferrari is...

  • Far too harsh (3%)
  • Slightly too harsh (1%)
  • About right (19%)
  • Slightly too soft (14%)
  • Far too soft (61%)
  • No opinion (2%)

Total Voters: 2,435

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Ferrari team orders in Germany

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167 comments on Full WMSC decision: Ferrari used team orders but shouldn’t be punished

  1. The comment about the rev-limit orders is crucial, and, to my mind, the most damning evidence there is against Ferrari. The team told them both to turn down the wick, then, a few laps before the crime, Alonso turned his engine up, all the while Smedley was berating Massa for not going faster. So while Massa was being told “you know the score,” i.e., the rule that if Alonso is on your tail let him by, the team were contriving to let Alonso catch him up by cheating against Massa. This is a tremendous indignity to Massa.

    I find this the most dastardly aspect of the event. When you think of the blow to Massa’s confidence of these events, you must consider this a great cruelty. Further, it is instructive for all the fans of Alonso to know the only reason why he was able to catch Massa again, was due to the team contriving to give Alonso more power. This also throws the RBR are catching us gambit out the window.

    As to the ruling itself and Ferrari’s sorry defenses, weak sauce. Ferrari couldnt resist using the words “Lewis Hamilton,” but citing past events is totally irrelevant because these events they name were not the subject of WMSC decisions defining the rule. The most relevant examples, like Monaco 2007 distinguish the facts badly against them, so there may be a reason they want to ignore actual precedent. And 151.c is not intended to apply to this situation? What does it apply to if not the open manipulation of the race result.

    Their patting the WMSC on the head, saying that letting them off was the only thing to do with such a hard rule to apply, was offensive. The WMSC crawling into Ferrari’s lap to have its ears thus stroked is also pretty profound. The excuse that the rules have not been enforced by stewards, or decided by the panel, consistenly in the past is totally irrelevant. Their job is to decide the case before them, not the ones that happened before—or the ones that never happened, but could of, if Ferrari were the stewards. If they are claiming that acquitting brings more consistency to the rule that is one thing, but they are only saying that justice requires that the judges throw their hands up. In this case, they should decline their next pay check and seek new work.

    • chemakal said on 10th September 2010, 21:48

      Great post, love your writing but it has been repeatedly said in posts here, that “save fuel orders” are considered “team strategy” and not “orders”, and that is perfectly comparable to limiting motors.

      Legally, there is something called law of precedent, based on past actions and decissions: if a case has not been investigated because it was legal without a doubt, my very same action can not be judged just because it didn’t look “morally correct(?)” no case there.
      Ferrari said they would have gone to ordinary courts in case of further punishments. That would have been a huge slap in the FIAs face after final veredict, no case.

      Finally, Ferrari did not walk away for free. Apart from the 100k paid (don’t know if it’s true, but Ive heard the race stewards can not fine over 50K, dodgy… Whiting in da house) Ferrari has received constant attacks from Britsh and German media, and this will continue as for many of them the WMSC veredict was “too soft”, further harm to Ferrari…

  2. Fer no.65 said on 9th September 2010, 19:35

    like it or not, they were far too soft with this…

    the result was interfered, yes. That the others did it doesn’t mean you’re also allowed to do it.

    They talk about Mclaren in 2008, Heikki being asked to leave the door open for Lewis…

    but in 2007, Mclaren was penalized in Hungary AT QUALIFING!… they didn’t score points as a team in the race, and penalized Alonso 5 places (or 10, i dont’ remember) for the starting grid…

    They should’ve done the same here… just remove the constructor points

  3. qUattrO said on 9th September 2010, 19:37

    Crime? Wow, that was strong word. Not that it was espionage or something like that…

  4. So….. the lunatic are running the asylum :(

  5. tharris19 said on 9th September 2010, 20:06

    Last week NASCAR collected 16 engines from several teams to put on the dynamo for testing. Heaven help anyone whose engines exceeds the specs.
    NASCAR is hard and fast with it’s rules and no amount of semantics is going to get you out of severe fines and points lost. Ask any driver, engineer or team owner, they all understand the rules and the consequences for braking them.
    It is a shame that FIA is no NASCAR.

    • tharris19 said on 9th September 2010, 20:12

      And fans appreciate the fact that they can depend on NASCAR to protect the integrity of the sport. They take it for granted that NASCAR will do it’s job.
      I’m not a big NASCAR fan but I appreciate the organization. It’s too bad we can expect the same from FIA.

      • US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 9th September 2010, 20:19

        It’s too bad that NASCAR is a boring sport. Maybe we can recruit its governing body to take over the FIA.

        • xabregas said on 9th September 2010, 22:32

          Is it a boring sport????
          Than what´s F1?? Painfull sport!!, and i´m a big F1 fan. ( don´t loose a F1 race since 1983 ).
          You should try to watch it some time, i would be a happy F1 fan if F1 had 20% of the excitment and unlikely that nascar races usually have.

  6. US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 9th September 2010, 20:31

    I’ve been trying to get on FIA.com now for hours to read the Thursday press conference, but FIA.com won’t load. Angry fans inundating their site to find a contact email address?

  7. Most sports fans support 1 team/athlete/player etc. It is hard to remove oneself from such loyalties, but it is largely pointless to conduct a debate about the generalities of a sport in general if you are unable to do so.

    However, is F1 truly a sport in the way that tennis is? The massive reliance on technology is leading it to become largely a measure of technical prowess.

    Keith, it would be interesting to look at the fundamentals of what we really want F1 to be. I primarily follow one driver rather than a team, but have teams I am fond of. There are other drivers I follow & find the technology fascinating. I almost enjoy the Friday sessions more than the race…

    If we want a sport that is purely about driver prowess, then we need something more like A1GP (?) with same engines, chassis etc etc.

    Whilst none of this tension justifies ‘cheating’ or manipulating rules I think we will always have conflicts between the commercial needs of business that invest in running a team, the indivuality skills of drivers & what fans think or want the sport to be.

  8. Ian 4tw said on 9th September 2010, 21:33

    In reality, team orders on this occasion resulted in us as the viewer being robbed of a chance to watch a hot headed Alonso have to make an over taking manoeuvre on Massa, whilst taking on the possible risk of (I can’t over take without carnage) Vettel joining the battle from behind. In a sport where over taking has become even less common, our right to view were manipulated in such a blunt and obvious way (nice one Rob Smeadley, we needed to know) that further action needed to be taken, or the rules change; but let’s face it, we are talking about Ferrari here, nothing was really going to ever happen, was it?

  9. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 9th September 2010, 22:03

    Seems fair I guess.

    Opens a can of worms really doesn’t it? And the last thing they want is a media circus by trying to be all ethical about it.

  10. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 9th September 2010, 22:06

    Just caught this update where they finally mention 151c.

    As I’ve been told elsewhere, breaking 151c hasn’t always resulted in punishment. McLaren didn;t have one for the first Spygate hearing (not enough evidence at the time, it was said), and Renault didn’t for doing the same thing McLaren were fined $100million for (I don’t recall the reasoning). So conviction doesn’t always equal punishment.

    But note the reasoning for the McLaren case: not enough evidence. At the time, there wasn’t enough evidence to suggest it was McLaren at fault rather than an employee. McLaren were at fault for having the guy, but that was it. So the precedent is that if there’s enough evidence that the team or its principals was complicit, there’s a punishment.

    In this case the evidence is watertight, as per the WMSC’s own interpretation. So I’d really like to know what exactly more they needed to give a punishment for 151c, rather than simply find a breach.

    So today we’ve learned that Ferrari manipulated a race (Massa’s engine) so that it could be manipulated further (to make him move over), then lied to the stewards, but that’s not enough to make the sport look bad. In 2007, the mainstream public only really got bothered when the actual final proceedings came around (not that I’m implying that’s any kind of defence). In this case, the public were mad at the time of the event. And yet F1 didn’t look as bad with the latter occurrence than it did with the former? Absolute madness.

  11. Mark my words. This will come back to bite Ferrari. I can only assume that after Felipe has left Ferrari he will no longer be restricted to voice such controversy.

    Personal opinion:
    The punishment was an embarrassment. $100,000 is cheaper then a Ferrari car and if you asked Ferrari if they would like a race win for Fernando for a measly $100k thats spare change talk. It will only encourage more race fixing and less enjoyable races/championships.

    What needs to be done is a strongly enforced rule that is along the lines of “under any circumstances that team orders that ultimately influenced the result of the race are believed to be used then points should be deducted from both drivers. A protest will cost $100,000, if the decision is changed then the $100,000 is returned”

  12. Toby Bushby said on 10th September 2010, 0:59

    This case just proves the theory that Flav tested – The FIA is not in charge. They are a redundant Gentleman’s Club.

    F1 itself (ie. it’s owners) should create a rulebook so anyone competing must abide by it or get kicked from the sport. The referee’s decision is final. A race review panel could act as an after-the-fact court, but the sanctions would be enforceable without fear of teams/drivers running to the law to bail them out.

    Lose the FIA = F1 is a sport again.

    • US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 10th September 2010, 2:43

      So you’re saying Bernie should have full control over everything? That sounds like a great idea! We’d have shortcuts, new races every year, and a new formula once a month or so depending on his mood.

  13. wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 10th September 2010, 3:52

    Why did Ferrari bought up the battle of Mclaren in Turkey? They fought for their position! They should look at their eggs other then counting how have bad eggs do Mclaren have.

    One thing which we all learn from this is TEAM ORDER isn’t ban, so any team like Mclaren & Red Bull can use it.

  14. So basically, yes it was illegal on two counts
    – use of team orders wich interfere with the race result
    – discredited the sport by having a podium which did not reflect on track racing

    Conclusion: no punishement

    The mind boggles.

  15. Shubham said on 10th September 2010, 5:25

    Shame on FIA. Todt being old Ferrari president how one can expect harsh decision. Ultimately F1 is looser. By this way Ferrari not going to win title.

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