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%)

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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. It’s understandable given the relationship between Ferrari and Sauber that people think there’s foul play here, but where’s the evidence?

    We have a radio message that told Perez, “Be careful, we need this position, we need this position.”

    The language and timing of the message suggest that they were worried about losing a rostrum finish if Perez and Alonso clashed, or in the worst case scenario that Perez cost BOTH Sauber AND engine supplier Ferrari to lose the chance to win. It was a simple reminder to be cautious as he caught Alonso.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t cars powered by Ferrari engines pass another Ferrari car today? If Ferrari were using their leverage as an engine supplier then why not use it to avoid the embarrassment of having one car finish far outside the points and behind midfield teams that are using their engine? Surely that’s worse looking for them than having a Ferrari powered car take the win in an unpredictable race where the driver, set-up and strategy were bang on the money?

    I saw no evidence of Sauber kneeling to Ferrari today. I saw a young driver in their second season for a midfield team make a slight mistake that cost them their chance to challenge for what would have been a superb underdog triumph.

    F1 is political, we all now that. Why people feel the need to politicise this though, I don’t know. Supposing Sauber were trying not to tread on Ferrari’s toes, at least take comfort in the fact that if that’s true Perez had the integrity to do all he could to challenge Alonso.

  2. A great race and win by Alonso? More like a poor race by McLaren!! Superior team, superior car, superior drivers!!!!!! Ferrari don’t stand a chance this season unless they seriously sort out ‘The Thing’!!!!! By the way, what is the Force India’s front wing made of, razor blades????

  3. I, in no way, think that Sauber told Perez to back off because of pressure from Ferrari. Yes, they have Ferrari engines. Yes, Perez is in the young driver programme for Ferrari, but neither Perez, nor Sauber would throw away a win, if they thought it was possible.

    After watching Maldonado crashing out in Melbourne, and with how close the midfield battle is this year especially, the team wanted to remind their driver that second is still a great result, and 18 points would be ridiculous to throw away just to have a half-go at passing Alonso. So that is where the message came from.

    If you look back at the beginning of 2011, the podiums that Renault secured at the time gave them the jump on the other teams to give them that all important 5th place in the Constructors, and Sauber needed those points.

  4. It’s possible, but I seriously doubt it. To me that message didn’t sound like anything other than a reminder to Perez not to do anything stupid, particularly poignant given what happened to Maldonado last week. To Sauber (and anyone, for that matter) 18 points won are far better than 25 points lost through recklessly going for glory.

    When Perez went off I was really worried he’d gone and done exactly what his team were warning him not to do, and thrown it away. Fortunately he recovered, and I think his little off was nothing more than a mistake, rather than a deliberate attempt to throw the race.

    It’s easy to get the conspiracy theories going given the historical relationship between Sauber and Ferrari, but I think he would have been given the same instruction regardless of who was in front, and on this occasion it just so happened to be Alonso. Personally, if I’d been on the pit wall, I think I’d have given Perez the same message!

  5. Remember Belgium 2009? Fisichella had the pace but finishes second behind a Ferrari, only to join Ferrari the very next race. Imagine if Perez ends up joining Ferrari? The conspiracy theorists will love it.

  6. Some of the comments on here directed at @keithcollantine for having the audacity to write an article about something that people were talking about are ridiculous. It seems to be the same everytime anything is written that involves any perceived criticism that directly or indirectly involves either Alonso or Hamilton. This is a sport, enjoy it and don’t take it so personally!

    As people have said we don’t have the full context as to everything that was said and when, so it’s only speculation. I don’t think it’s unrealistic that Sauber were worried about a coming together. Monisha Kaltenborn said on Sky during the rain break that Perez was ‘temperamental’ (I think that was the word she used) so they obviously had some concerns about him. That they didn’t pit on the same lap as Alonso might also be a sign they were being conservative. I don’t think that there was any pressure from Ferrari – but it’s not impossible that there was, or that Sauber had a mind to the implications for their relationship should anything happen. It was a discussion point, and it was certainly worth Keith writing an article about it.

    1. Keith rightfully gives many other conspiracy theories a firm back of the hand, espeically those regarding McLaren. I would put this one in the same category.

  7. Nothing in it at all, I would be telling my driver the exact same thing in that situation. I see it as “ok your getting close to him, remember second is a fantastic result don’t throw it away chasing the win”. I find it hard to compare this to 97 really and I’m surprised everyone thinks it is. It’s exactly what I would have told him in that situation

  8. Either way, I question if Sauber really belong on the grid. It’s only the 2nd race of the season, they have a chance for an immortal victory that would give them more publicity (and opportunity for sponsorship) than a season-full of 9ths and 10ths… and they issue that directive. Utterly pathetic. As Brundle said, the same conservatism that caused then to leave Perez out for a lap too long and that cost him the win. I have a load of old Sauber gear I proudly won in a competition, may just stick it under the sink now.

  9. You’ve got to be stupid to believe that this was a coded message. How often do Sauber find themselves in the top 5, let alone the top 3? 18 points as a massive hault for a midfield team such as Sauber, and with this year’s midfield tighter than ever, featuring Mercedes, Lotus, Force India, Sauber, Williams, Toro Rosso and arguably Ferrari themselves, they cannot afford to throw away a points haul like this, this year. If they can grab big points like this in and out a couple of times this year, this result could contribute to a 4th or 5th place in the constructors championship, which equates to mega bucks in prize moenry at the end of the year. A small team like Sauber would kill for that sort of money!

    The front tyres were wearing away on Perez’s car, and following the spin and losing the heat, the tyres didnt have anything more to give to try and catch Alonso once more. I feel that had Perez not had a lapse in concentration and put his wheels on the white line he’d have passed Alonso in the following laps. His car was quicker, he was in great form and really gunning for it.

    People need to see this another way. Would Mclaren radio one of their drivers to ease off if Mercedes were in the lead? No. Furthermore, would Toro Rosso have ordered their drivers to ease off if they were chasing down a Ferrari. Hard to believe given their parent team fund them.

    People need to stop looking at an arguement which just isnt there. Sergio made a rookie mistake today. He believes he could have won today and has been quite honest about his version of events. He even admitted that after he almost binned it at turn 13 that the team were right, he should ease off a bit.

    He’ll win a race yet, today is just part of a steep learning curve he’s on.

  10. I wish Perez had won because we would have been talking about great driving of the two underdogs.

  11. Shame on people for even considering this !!

    This article takes away the greatness of Alonso, you don’t want anyone to rememeber this great win, only to remember this stupid article. Shame !

  12. Alonso (@alonsomanso)
    26th March 2012, 0:28

    When you made a “team order” the driver dont go off track
    this is the second year of Perez in F1 plus was the first time ever leading a Grand Prix.

  13. forget the consipracy theory, this only conclude one thing, perez (or sauber) dont deserve that win. wether it’s because ferarri order or not, if it’s ferarri order then shame on them (sauber & ferarri), if it’s only a “mistake” made by perez, then he didnt deserves the p1, or maybe perez (n sauber) never deserve a win… maybe they just lucky to have p2..

  14. Radio message to Perez was most probably what cost him the victory. He was in a very hot situation, and that message does make a driver insecure and he looses focus.
    Really sad, hes a driver and is there to win not to come home second. And we all want to see them race for victory.
    Strange that a team would not realize how to talk to the driver in a smarter way, he could have landed in the gravel, therefore i think there could be some involvement from the engine supplier Ferrari.

    1. I agree the radio messed him up just like Smedley messes Massa all the time.

  15. An improbable victory for Alonso, conspiracies abound!


  16. Ferrari pulled out from FOTA over cost dispute, later Sauber following same suit without any reason.

  17. Why in the world is everyone so up in arms about the idea of team orders? They are now, by the Sporting Regulations, legal. They have been used in racing of all venues not just F1. There are after all two championships going on there, drivers and constructors and to have the constructors looking out for their interests is perfectly understandable. Let’s not forget that F1 is no longer a gentleman’s sport but a cut throat multi-billion dollar business where team orders, spying and stealing data and intellectual property happen all the time. I say get over it and enjoy the spectacle that F1 had become. By the way I’ve been an F1 fan since the days of Sir Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio, and things are very different today, not better, just a lot different.

    1. “Why in the world is everyone so up in arms about the idea of team orders?”

      Simply because they mean that drivers and teams do not win through merit, but through some other mechanism that is not sport. Team orders discredit F1 as a sport and if a driver can’t win a race without the benefit of team orders, they don’t deserve to be part of F1.

      It may not be cheating (any more) but it is not ‘sporting’ by any stretch of the word.

      1. How is it not sporting? It’s a team sport, the team issues instructions that are to its benefit vs other teams. That’s how team sports work.

        1. @psynrg As far as rules enforcement goes, I think it would be helpful if we distinguish between two different kinds of team orders:

          ‘Hockenheim 2010-style’ team orders, where one team manipulates the result between its drivers (Ferrari ordering Massa to give up his win for Alonso).

          ‘Jerez 1997-style’ team orders, where two teams collude to influence the result somehow (that one race alone gives yield Ferrari/Sauber and McLaren/Williams as possible examples).

          Now, I happen to think both are wrong and shouldn’t be allowed, but that’s besides the point.

          ‘Hockenheim 2010’-style team orders were legalised at the end of 2010. But at the time ban was lifted there was a lot of talk that ‘Jerez 1997’-style team orders would not be tolerated. The assumption was it would fall under the celebrated article 151(c) on “bringing the sporting into disrepute”.

          But it remains to be seen if the FIA has any more appetite for enforcing it than it did the previous ban on team orders.

          There is a wider significance, too. There is much discussion about reviving customer cars in some form, but that could lead to further opportunities for, and accusations of, collusion between teams.

  18. Alonso drove a great race, and took full advantage when the race shook down in the end. I take nothing away from him, aside from those gawd-awful sunglasses!

    I think the reason that there was suspicion raised, is because Ferrari have a long and sad history of cheating and and issuing (often illegal) team orders, to the massive discredit of themselves and the sport. Is it any wonder no-one believes the Prancing Ponies to be clear-cut?

  19. Just because other teams use inter-team politics to throw hookey results doesn’t get away from the fact that it’s CHEATING!! This is why Briatore was banned from F1. I’m hoping it doesn’t become any more evident that Whitmarsh is scuppering Hamilton (there’s circumstantial evidence for this already – if it’s the lead car that gets first pitstop- which they made such a fuss about in Aus – why wasn’t Lewis brought in first in sepang). We know about Red Bull and Webber.Inter-team orders to save losing points is one thing, but if it means fans getting excited that history is going to be made, when a smaller team is probably going to win, but there’s actually no political way it can happen – that’s fundamentally NOT racing. Ferrari should be big enough to say – we got a good result today – there’s no saying Perez would’ve def passed Fernando. If they lost they should be broad shouldered enough to say – yes, and make no mistake Sauber are actually an extremely talented organisation that went with their racing acumen before their business acumen and hail them for it!!! Doesn’t bode well for future upsets like this that F1 is so well known and loved for.

    1. Hey Sam Hain, I think you may find all your answers here: The Truth

  20. Yes, Sergio is a very racy driver, and has done some exceptional things in F1 so far, but lets us not forget the guy he was chasing down kept the invincable Michael Shumacher behind him for a win wqhen Michael was driving for Ferrari and Fernando was driving for Renault. Catching FA is one thing, getting past him is another thing entirely.

    1. Agreed, but not with DRS and absurd rules that mean you cannot adequately defend an attack. Never mind speculative team order scenarios. The aforementioned is fact.

      Watching Nige (Mansell) on the Sky F1 Heroes series the other day when he was recalling the outrageous battle he had with Senna at Monaco and how it is without a doubt one the greatest or most memorable moments in F1 history. But also that it probably wouldn’t be allowed today because Senna would have been black flagged for blocking tactics.

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