Sergio Perez, Sauber, Sepang, 2012

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

2012 Malaysian Grand PrixPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

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

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. Yeah, FOM…or should I say Bernie? They usually broadcast some message in not-synced time in order to make controversy. Do you remember “Destroy his race ” from Smedley last year?

      1. I do indeed @eggry That only came out on the FOM edit didn’t it?

  4. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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”.

        1. 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.

      2. VERY well said, Keith.

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

  6. “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”. :)

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. matthewf1 (@)
    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.

  10. 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.

  11. Dont dare say anything to your driver, because you never know what the media might read into it. Unfortunately race control have the power to paint what ever picture they want to by showing the audience out of context and delayed broadcasts of team radio.

    To me it was a very simple “be careful because points like these don’t come every day”.

  12. Well this one is really easy, yes it was.

    Does it matter? Not to me. if what we saw after the message was Perez ‘maintaining the gap’ than I hope he tries to maintain the gap more often. If not for his mistake I’m certain he would have at least tried to go past Alonso after start/finish.

  13. I think it was a wise or prudent sugestion from the team, but i don´t think Perez was listening at all as he made the mistake because he was pushing really hard to catch Alonso. Perez said after the race that he thought it was possible for him to pass Alonso and i believe him, he was much quicker than Alonso.
    As you may know radio messages aren´t live so we don´t know when it happened in real time, what we know is that that radio message came when Perez was all over Alonso and then went wide and lost a bunch of time.
    Finnaly, it was all over sauber´s engineers what happened to Maldonado in Australia, so for them was more important the second place but for Perez it was the win and he went to far trying hopefully everything went ok in the end.
    I´m more horried about those problems that afected Vettel at the end of the race ” STOP THE CAR”…………” NO WAIT”……………..”STOP THE CAR”

    1. We also only got a small part of the message. We got the little snippet which is often completely out of context.

  14. One simple word: nonsense!

    No self-respecting sports team would ever sacrifice a win to help a rivaling team. It’s one thing to be used to block other cars and a completely different one to give up a win. I doubt that the message threw him off since we musn’t forget that those calls have a delay between being made and appearing on TV and I’d openly guess he was told before, it’s not like we need to listen to the same call three or four times. Perez simply made a little mistake, he’s still a young gun and stuff like that happens.
    Sadly, some people need a conspiracy just for the sake of having one – it was the same after Heinz-Harald Frentzen didn’t made life hard for Schumacher in Indianapolis 2003, the same rumours, that time completely ignoring the fact that he didn’t made it hard for Räikkönen either in order to ensure the podium spot.

    To say it perfectly honestly, I think this article and the ensuing discussion is a waste of your precious server space and our precious time.

    1. No self-respecting sports team would ever sacrifice a win to help a rivaling team.

      Although it’s been fairly well established that Williams and McLaren had some sort of arrangement at Jerez in 1997 – McLaren wouldn’t interfere with Villeneuve’s attempt to win the WDC and in return McLaren would be allowed to win the race…

      1. Well, that is true. I should have made that clear, that I am talking about those teams that rarely win – of course you’d easily be inclined to surrender a win if it means taking the big one. But Sauber wouldn’t have let their first win slip by.

      2. @TimG…I think you are making it sound like before the race Williams told Mac they could have the win, like Williams had control over that or something. I believe the only talk between Williams and Mac before the race was to do as Max Mosley had asked the teams to do anyway…nobody interfere with the WDC battle between MS and JV.

        But then once MS whacked JV and damaged his car, JV found himself having to limp the car home…he could speed up and be ok but the rad damage made for a risk of overheating and so JV had to slow down at times to ensure he would at least finish the race high enough up to seal the WDC.

        So it wasn’t until JV’s car was damaged, (otherwise he was on pace to take the win) that Mac gave DC an order to let MH past, and then Williams told Mac that they would not give MH a hard time if he could catch up to JV…and with a damaged car JV didn’t want to race anybody and risk a dnf from overheating the car or from an off just for the sake of a race win when I believe it was 6th place that would have been good enough for the WDC.

  15. I wish one of the options in the poll was “I don’t know.” ;-) I did think the message was strangely worded, I’ll admit. However, Perez didn’t look like a guy who was intentionally staying in 2nd place after he received that message. He looked like a guy who was trying like H*** to get to 1st place and then slipped up in the process.

    Either way, great drive from Perez! Feel-good story of the day (for me, anyway)!

  16. TheGreatTeflonso
    25th March 2012, 14:55

    It just seems to me that there are always unhappy people around. Sauber’s message wasn’t suspicious at all, when Maldonado was chasing Alonso in Australia the commentators where I watched (Asia) voiced that Maldonado would be wiser to ease off as Williams would have wanted the points. Seconds later, he was off, and Williams had nothing.

    Sauber’s financial woes are well known, so the points would have been vital here. The truth is while I have thought highly of Perez for a long time, he simply didn’t perform as well as Alonso. I believe that the Sauber is able to race at about the same pace as the current Ferrari, but it takes care of its tires significantly better. All we saw was Perez performing very well in a car that was faster than the Ferrari. He should have won, and should have won so easily. He didn’t because of his own mistake, which he made even after the cautionary message that we heard. Sauber would in all likelihood not have another chance to finish 2nd for the rest of the year, so would a team that needs money risk everything for 1st? I believe they simply told him don’t make any risky manouveres when overtaking. Unfortunately its a moot point because Perez simply made a mistake and the opportunity is gone. There was one driver that didn’t make a single mistake this weekend, and he was in my opinion driving the fifth or sixth fastest race car to victory. To the ‘fans’ that choose to think that there is something under-handed going on, you can’t really be fans for long, because I firmly believe we have more transparency now than before, and things go on (without being broadcast) for decades in this sport. When you find a sport that is so pure that there is not even some unhappy party voicing an allegation, let me know. Good luck :)

  17. I am really shocked that Keith posted this…he has gone down a lot in my estimation. I am simply too shocked for words.

    1. I don’t see what you’re objecting to. When it happened during the race there was a lot of questions about it in the live blog and loads more in my Twitter feed. It was clearly one of the biggest talking points after the race.

      I’ve put forward both sides of the argument – I haven’t taken a side myself – and I’ve invited you to offer your own opinion. What’s wrong with that?

      1. I got my new tablet PC from my daughter last week. Obviously, I now get tabloid contents :-)

        Now, seriously… Keith, I think it is clear that EVERYBODY admires your journalism (why do we log in otherwise??) but when you get this amount of criticism, do not over-defend…

        1. @astonished I always stand up for myself and justify what I have to say. If you don’t do that, you can’t expect anyone else to do it for you.

          That’s part of the whole reason why I have comments on articles. I often read articles on other sites which aren’t comment-enabled and find myself thinking “no way would someone make that claim if they didn’t have to justify it to their readers in the comments”.

          1. Well, this is entirely up to you. In fact, I do not have any legitimacy to give you any advise…

            If (big IF) I were in your shoes I would be happy the less I would have to chip in after writing the article itself, because it would mean that it my position has been expressed in full and without ambiguity.

          2. @astonished And that is the case sometimes.

            But not everyone comprehends everything fully every single time. And sometimes they choose not to, to push their point of view.

            With something controversial like this you always have people, usually hiding behind anonymity (this is not aimed at you!), using any spurious means available to attack you.

            These range from the outright crazy (calling me a xenophobe) to less unsubtle approaches like rejecting the premise or misrepresenting a contrary opinion in order to discredit it.

            On top of that I have to factor in that some people will just read a headline and then head to the comments, and then usually post comments that are already answered by the article.

    2. He went up in my estimation (not that he cares or should care). It takes a somewhat brave individual to open the subject of race fixing. Ferrari are famous for their influence, and Alonso is known to have benefitted by winning thanks to his team fixing the race, as another poster mentions below.

      1. Bit of a massive over-reaction there.It’s a perfectly legitimate question seeing as it was discussed in the commentary. Read Keith’s response above, he is presenting it objectively. It would be bad journalism not to mention it.

      2. Sorry, should have been a reply to Aditya :)

  18. Said it on another thread as well. This isn’t anything more than a tabloid subject.

    If you look at what Maldonado did in Australia it’s quite easy to understand why the team got cold feet and asked Perez to be careful and not risk 18 points for 7 more, especially since he was starting to lose grip. He made a small mistake and drove a bit more careful afterwards. It was obvious then that closing the 5 second gap to Alonso and passing him all in just 5 laps was an unrealistic scenario. He got a well deserved second place and that’s all there is to it.

    I think it’s safe to say if it weren’t for his off, he would have pushed, passed Alonso and won the race, regardless of what the team told him.

    As for the radio comm arriving at the wrong time…a bit of a 2011 Hamilton-esque excuse, innit?

  19. A lot of the responses shooting down the theory (and, that’s all it is at this time) very much remind me of the responses around the time of ‘Crashgate’ in Singapore…

    1. I couldn’t agree more.

      1. Thirded.

  20. No way was it a conspiracy with ferrari. I am sure Sauber were thinking of Maldanado last week and how he lost everything for the team.

    As an aside as I said else where I think the distraction of the radio caused Perez to break rhythm and concentration causing him to crash. The team made a bad call, Perez was a second a lap quicker than Alonso and with DRS would have easily without risk passed Alonso.

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