Whether you approve of team orders or not, this championship is now all about them:
How much Ferrari can use them to help Fernando Alonso, and when McLaren and Red Bull are going to bow to the inevitable and back one of their drivers.
As long as McLaren and Red Bull continue to split their efforts, they will continue to throw points away – and maybe the championship too.
In the aftermath of the World Motor Sport Council’s decision not to take any points off Ferrari for using team orders in the German Grand Prix, it was clear McLaren and Red Bull would have to copy Ferrari’s tactics to minimise their disadvantage in the championship.
If McLaren and Red Bull were leaning towards to imposing team orders, the events of the last two races have only served to make that controversial call even more difficult.
At Monza and Singapore, their drivers who are trailing their team mates in the drivers’ standings brought home a greater haul of points.
Sebastian Vettel took seven off Mark Webber. And at McLaren there has been a massive 30-point swing from Lewis Hamilton to Jenson Button.
Thus Webber and Hamilton’s recent setbacks have hit them doubly hard because it has postponed the point at which their team mates might be required to ‘do a Massa’.
At Singapore Webber came home third behind Vettel. Had this been Alonso behind Massa we would surely have seen another Hockenheim-style switch. Those three points Webber missed could prove crucial in the final reckoning.
But the benefits to Ferrari of this approach extend far beyond having Massa pull over to let Alonso pass when needed. Luca di Montezemolo recently urged Massa to do more to get in the way of Alonso’s championship rivals:
I want a strong Massa who will shave points off the rivals.
Luca di Montezemolo
Then there’s the vital question of state of mind. Since Hockenheim, Alonso has been back to his best, driving better than at any time since winning his first two world championships with Renault in 2005 and 2006.
Alonso is clearly a driver who thrives in this kind of environment. He did not find it in his brief stint at McLaren. He did at Renault, where it was pushed to extraonrdinarily cynical extremes, but the car wasn’t fast enough.
Would Hamilton have felt the need to make such a risky move on the first lap at Monza had he known his team mate, leading the race, was working for him? These split-second decisions can decide world championships.
McLaren and Red Bull’s refusal so far to favour one driver is rightly lauded by many as good sportsmanship. It would certainly be to the benefit of Formula 1 if every team was required to adopt the same approach.
But when the governing body is selling points at $14,285 a pop, sportsmanship counts for nothing. It will only serve to cost them a world championship.