Was Sauber’s radio message to Perez a team order to help Ferrari?

2012 Malaysian Grand Prix

Sergio Perez, Sauber, Sepang, 2012Sergio Perez drove a superb race in the Malaysian Grand Prix to challenge for victory, ultimately finishing second.

But Sauber’s late instruction to their driver, as he caught Fernando Alonso, telling him to ensure they finished second, aroused suspicion.

Perez was told, “Checo, be careful, we need this position, we need this position,” as he reduced Alonso’s lead from seven seconds to less than one in the closing stages of the race.

On the face of it Sauber may have been prudent to tell Perez not to risk throwing away 18 points for second place.

But the nagging question remains: Why did they wait until he’d caught Alonso before telling him to back off?

If Sauber were happy to settle for second, why did they not instruct him earlier to look after the gap to Lewis Hamilton – who he was comfortably ahead of – and not go chasing after the Ferrari?

It’s doubtful whether Perez paid any heed to the message. He made an error at turn 13 while pushing to pass the Ferrari shortly afterwards and admitted, “the win was possible”.

There are obvious links between the two teams. Sauber are Ferrari engine customers and Perez is a member of Ferrari’s driver development programme. He has been tipped to take Felipe Massa’s place at the team.

Ferrari have allegedly used Sauber to interfere in races in the past. Former Sauber driver Norberto Fontana has said he was told by Ferrari team principal Jean Todt to assist Michael Schumacher during the 1997 European Grand Prix, when Schumacher was racing Jacques Villeneuve for the world championship.

Whatever happened today, it shouldn’t detract from a marvellous performance by both drivers. Nor is it realistic to suggest Perez’s late mistake at turn 13 was him ‘throwing’ the race – when the less risky option of simply backing off was available to him.

Was the radio message another example of Ferrari leaning on Sauber to get a better result in a race?

Or was this Sauber racing conservatively and settling for their first podium finish as an independent team since Heinz-Harald Frentzen finished third at Indianapolis in 2003?

Cast your vote below and have your say in the comments.

Was Perez's radio message a team order to help Ferrari?

  • Yes (27%)
  • No (65%)
  • No opinion (8%)

Total Voters: 671

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173 comments on Was Sauber’s radio message to Perez a team order to help Ferrari?

  1. carbon_fibre (@carbon_fibre) said on 25th March 2012, 12:44

    That radio message was totally reasonable to me.Sauber is a small team that aims to finish in the points ,not to win!

  2. Slr (@slr) said on 25th March 2012, 12:44

    No – If Sauber wanted to help Ferrari, Perez would have just slowed down rather than risk a puncture by going off.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 25th March 2012, 13:07

      @slr The two aren’t necessarily related, as I wrote in the article:

      Nor is it realistic to suggest Perez’s late mistake at turn 13 was him ‘throwing’ the race – when the less risky option of simply backing off was available to him.

      • Atticus (@atticus-2) said on 25th March 2012, 14:19

        I agree with Keith on Perez’s mistake. But I do think there was a team order to have Perez back off – and I say this as a Ferrari and Alonso fan. It was suspicious and Keith’s arguments make sense. Perez could have gone off because he was disturbed by the message, I don’t know.

        I guess we will never know the truth. But despite this being a rare occasion to celebrate the best position for fans like me, it has a bitter aftertaste.

  3. HoolyF1 (@hoolyf1) said on 25th March 2012, 12:50

    The cynic in me wud say yes and I would not put it past Ferrari but i doubt it…Perez seemed to ignore it anyway

  4. Funkyf1 (@funkyf1) said on 25th March 2012, 12:51

    Ridiculous to even ask the question in my opinion, the team would be ecstatic to finish 3rd let alone 2nd. Great drive by Perez.

  5. F.Q8 said on 25th March 2012, 12:53

    Do not be wicked Alonso won deservedly

  6. hey (@hey) said on 25th March 2012, 13:13

    Very possibly, but while there’s no evidence against it being a normal instruction we have to assume that it was innocent.
    Without the broadcast radio, all it would ever be is a simple mistake from Perez, and we’d get on with it. And even with the broadcast, it all fits that it was exactly that: a young driver getting a bit excited and making a mistake.
    On the other hand, it also “all fits” that it was a stitch-up, the delayed pitstop supporting that.

    It’s either one or the other anyway, and there’s no point speculating. This is Formula1, and even inter-team orders are sometimes part of the game. It’s all moot and what happened happened.

  7. magon4 (@magon4) said on 25th March 2012, 13:21

    sorry, but this is an absurd theory. they were just telling him not to risk too much. they wanted the win s much as perez, and they did let him get close, but wanted to calm him down so that no high risks were to be involved. everything ok from my point of view.

  8. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 25th March 2012, 13:23

    No way. I think it’s a fair question to ask, but absolutely not.

    For a start we don’t know how much of a delay there was on that radio broadcast and also, from what I remember, Perez was still eating away at Alonso’s time. A second place for Perez is arguably better than what they could have achieved together during a more typical race so in that respect it was sensible to look after those 18 points.

  9. Jacaru said on 25th March 2012, 13:24

    This type of articles need not to be written. We need to centre on the sport unless the is really something to back up that really makes it deserving being talked about. Unless if course we want to contribute to make F1 the circus it has sometimes seemed to be.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 25th March 2012, 15:27

      On the contrary, the sporting element in F1 is exactly why articles like this do need to be written. It is essential to have transparency and know that when a driver has won a race they have deserved it.

      • Terry said on 25th March 2012, 16:06

        A great article to provoke discussion. Just think though to be fair a brief paragraph explaining how frequently drivers communicate with the team and how only a few of those messages are actually broadcasted would have been nice. They are usually delayed as well and so there is a good enough chance this was a “make a clean pass” message as opposed to “back off”.

        • BasCB (@bascb) said on 26th March 2012, 7:35

          I rather think it might have been a “cool down and just make it to the finish” when he was about 4 seconds behind after his pitstop but starting to catch back up.
          The team probably saw a dream result going down the drain from a hotheaded driver asking for too much on a slippery track.

      • Horacio said on 25th March 2012, 19:14

        VERY well said, Keith.

  10. David-A (@david-a) said on 25th March 2012, 13:37

    Absolutely not. Look what happened to the guy who was chasing Alonso last week.

  11. Trent (@perf) said on 25th March 2012, 13:42

    “If Sauber were happy to settle for second, why did they not instruct him earlier”

    Maybe they did – we don’t hear all radio communications (and what we do hear, we hear with a delay, as AndrewTanner rightly pointed out above).

    I understood that message as “Sergio baby, stay cool and don’t redbull into him”. :)

  12. vishy (@vishy) said on 25th March 2012, 13:49

    Absolutely it was a team order. Although like you mentioned Keith Perez didn’t care one bit about it. He made a genuine mistake, or else we would have seen Perez on top step. This win was very important for Ferrari because of all the flak they have been taking in press.

    On a side note we might see Perez move over to replace Massa pretty soon. Alonso 35pts and leading and Massa 0. Really i feel sorry for Massa but i think he will go.

  13. Snafu (@snafu) said on 25th March 2012, 14:19

    NO it wasn’t

    they simply told him to be careful when overtaking (they knew he is going to eventually)…considering Perez, only in his second season AND a very aggressive driver when overtaking, they thought he is high on adrenaline behind Alonso and he might do something stupid resulting in a further penalty!

  14. matthewf1 (@) said on 25th March 2012, 14:33

    Well I watched an amazing race this morning. Now this afternoon I decide to log on and remind myself about it, expecting to see the headline ‘Brilliant Perez pushes Alonso all the way’, but instead I have to read about this apparent conspiracy. It was a brilliant race, I am so pleased that someone other than Red Bull and McLaren won, so why can’t you report on that rather than lower the tone with this.

  15. brum55 said on 25th March 2012, 14:33

    Very controversial piece here Keith. Good way to take away all the gloss from great performances by Alonso and Perez ;)

    It isn’t out of the question, but I really hope not. Perez’s reaction from getting out the car wasn’t one who had a win taken from him. He seemed generally elated and knew had he not gone off than he’d have a great chance of winning. Compare this to Massa’s reaction in Germany 2010 or Barrichello 04. Plus as had been mentioned Maldonado threw away great points in the last race by pushing too hard. Perez almost did today, thankfully he didn’t as he really deserved that 2nd and probably even 1st.

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