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. U2F1 (@u2f1) said on 25th March 2012, 15:41

    everybody needs points – and more so midfield teams like sauber – the team was right to suggest to Perez to be careful
    I don’t see any malice in that – Perez did try hard and made a mistake. What if he’d spun out and crash like maldonado did in the last race (would have been really sad wouldn’t it)
    Let”s not take away any credit from both Alonso and Perez for the brilliant drive. The Sauber is certainly faster than Ferrari but both did a great job getting the first and 2nd position :)

  2. Odd how with less than 10 laps left, Sauber tell Perez over the radio that Alonsos tyres are older than his (a bit of a come-on..?), Perez then closes within a second of Alonso, only to be told to hold ‘we need this position…’

    The fact that Perez continued to push even after he went off, shows that either there was no intent to tell Perez to hold 2nd, or, Perez didnt ‘understand’ the message :]

  3. TitoB (@titob) said on 25th March 2012, 16:15

    Was Sauber’s radio message to Perez a team order to help Ferrari? or Is Keith being abducted by an evil being? ^^
    Come on Keith how you seriously think for a second that this could happend?
    Last season Sauber got 44 points in 19 races, this season 30 in just 2!! that is money for the team!!!
    Crazy races like this one we lived wont come to often with the favourite drivers off from points.
    The wall team knows how fast his driver is performing but also the risk he (and all the team) is taking, and a voice of calm down doesn´t mean any conspiration theory, only you just grab the points that we will take the money, thanks

    • This is F1, we’ve seen far more serious controversies than something like this.

      It does appear odd that Sauber waited and watched Perez close on Alonso lap after lap after lap, only to then tell him to take it easy that they need the points. If its true that they were content with second, why not look after the car, turn the engine down, land manage the gap to Hamilton in 3rd. They could see that he was catching Alonso quick-time, but waited until he was nearly all over his gearbox to tell him..

      • Postreader said on 25th March 2012, 16:25

        Teams talk to their drivers several times a lap. It’s very likely they said something similar before that moment. It’s just that the coverage loves to pick stuff out of context and then have people to make a fuss where there’s none out of passion instead of rationality.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 25th March 2012, 16:27

      @titob

      Come on Keith how you seriously think for a second that this could happend?

      As I think is pretty clear, I’ve not taken a side on this one (not yet, anyway).

      But this sort of thing is not unheard of in Formula 1 – particularly not with these teams, as explained in the article.

  4. fog627 (@fog627) said on 25th March 2012, 16:49

    In my opinion”yes”. Let’s wait and see how long it takes for Perez to switch to Ferrari…and how much they pay Sauber for him. I believe that there will have to be a proper amount of time before the switch…two or three more races. And I believe the payoff will be significant…perhaps the difference between first and second place money at Malaysia.

  5. Interesting theory Keith but I expect more balanced reporting from your site. There are loads of Alonso fans in the UK & this kind of reporting borders on the Xenophobic

    I’m fed up of this kind of anti-Alonso reporting & will being going elsewhere for my news.

    Not everyone in the UK loves JB & LH & Mclaren – wake up!

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 25th March 2012, 17:07

      JS – I think that’s completely over the top.

      You say you want a more “balanced” view. I’ve explained both sides of this and invited people to make their own mind up. So how would you like me to make this more balanced?

      I have no idea what your reference to the McLaren drivers is about as this doesn’t concern them in the slightest and they aren’t mentioned in the article.

      Accusing me of xenophobia is downright insulting. I have given you no cause for it whatsoever.

      I am just as ready to praise Alonso as I am any other driver.

      Last year I picked him as the second best driver of the season and I remember many objections from people saying I should have put Button ahead of him. Is that another example of my pernicious xenophobia?

      Today’s race report calls Alonso’s win “superb” – which it was. Is this another example of me hating people who aren’t from the same country as me?

      I’m perfectly happy to debate anyone on the facts. Hence this balanced article. Your claim that it is motivated by xenophobia is disgusting and totally unfounded.

      • jurrabi said on 25th March 2012, 19:18

        The mere idea of writing the article is a little yellow, in my opinion. I, personaly, don’t think there’s doubt about Perez’s behaviour.

        But what I, for sure, won’t ever like is gratuitous accusations like JS’. Good replay Keith!

        I don´t like the article but I do like your style.

    • Please. The possibility of (inter-)team orders was the first thing many people thought of when FOM chose to broadcast that radio transmission, as I’m sure FOM knew would happen when they did it (they seem to enjoy encouraging controversies like this one). Keith did not make all this up; people were already talking about it. All Keith did was present both sides and give us a forum in which to debate it ourselves. That’s not “tabloid” or “anti-Alonso” or “xenophobic” or any of the other over-the-top inaccurate adjectives I’ve seen used in the comments on this post.

  6. IDR (@idr) said on 25th March 2012, 16:55

    I think it was a Sauber Team mistake. To be so nervous up to the point to contact the Driver who was driving the race of his life, fully concentrated, and comment to him how important was to arrive to the end. What the team has done is to provoke Sergio Perez loose his concentration and suddenly realize how important was not only for him but for the team also, to finish the race.

    I think Sergio has just not been able to cope with the pressure, he lost his concentration and make a mistake. Full stop.

    I’m pretty sure is Sauber Team the responsible of not having today an extraordinary win today.

    • Slowhands (@slowhands) said on 25th March 2012, 19:15

      I agree with you. See below (sorry, didn’t scroll to the last page to read all comments before posting!)

    • jurrabi said on 25th March 2012, 19:18

      I don’t.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 26th March 2012, 7:45

      That occured to me as well @idr, although I think it might have been given when he was only starting to do thos blistering laps to haul Alonso back in. Still even then it could have helped some uncertainty to nip into him.

      Great to see he still went for it and even after that slip-up catched the car and got back going at Alonso.

  7. Rush said on 25th March 2012, 17:18

    No, i don’t think so, great drive by Sergio anyway congrats for his first podium

  8. Sangeen Khan said on 25th March 2012, 17:37

    This sort of topic is expected by a ‘troll’ or a ‘hater’ in forums.I really didn’t expect this on f1fanatic.No such topic was created in melbourne when the Torro Rosso let the RBR through at once but then held Alonso when getting lapped.Or in Abu Dhabi 2010.

  9. TheGreatTeflonso said on 25th March 2012, 17:38

    I don’t think there was anything wrong with the topic but, this blog has always been very informative, and I think one has to realize that most F1 fans, particularly vocal ones, haven’t necessarily been watching F1 for that long of a time. Some of the comments are absurd in terms of anyone that has watched this sport for more than a decade would know.

    I think it was fine bringing this up, but it should have been put into proper context, such as past instances and possibilities. Instead the example was Ferrari in 1997, so it comes off a llittle slanted. There are surely other examples, considering the only point of contention was part of a radio message out of context. Peter Sauber has already responded to this and explained, logically. Some of the comments are bordering on illogical.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 25th March 2012, 22:43

      Instead the example was Ferrari in 1997, so it comes off a llittle slanted.

      I think given the teams (potentially) involved, you couldn’t ask for a more pertinent example.

      But I take your point that there might have been value in mentioning there are other examples of collusion between multiple teams in the past in F1.

  10. Michael Brown (@) said on 25th March 2012, 17:47

    In short: No.

    In long: Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

  11. Xenon2 (@xenon2) said on 25th March 2012, 17:55

    6 laps to go: Alonso is a sitting duck with Perez within DRS range and the engineer tells him to be careful?

  12. Ash356 (@ash356) said on 25th March 2012, 18:03

    Personally, I’m somewhat intrigued by it.
    I’d definitely say it’s a possibility, and I would more than likely angle more to that possibility, but I’m not totally denouncing the idea that it wasn’t team orders.
    I mean, Ferrari have quite the history of pulling stunts like this, and in all fairness, remember how many people were claiming Glock let Hamilton past all those years ago at Brazil, despite Glock being on the incorrect set of tyres?
    Sure, I’m biased against Ferrari… never liked them that much, probably never will. But by the sounds of people congratulating Alonso on his ‘fantastic win’, I ‘d say I’m not the only biased person here.
    I mean, it was a good race, but there was nothing terribly remarkable about Alonso’s win. He basically got gifted it on a silver platter after Mclaren buggered up Hamiltons pit-stop.
    But a massive well done to Sergio! Drove his heart out today, regardless of this controversy :)

  13. Jack said on 25th March 2012, 18:50

    @Magnificent_Geoffrey
    Congrats!! You must be very happy!!

    Regarding the doubt in hand… the answer is NO… Although Perez is of the Ferrari Academy, it would´ve been his first ever F1 victory!! I would´ve cared less which car was in front… I would´ve gunned it and try to go for it! Perez ran a true race! It was so unfair he made his mistake! I was really “dropping” some bricks when I saw he was catching up and it would´ve been very close but I guess Alonso was a bit luckier! All in all, a GREAT race!! We need more of these!! Heck… even Hamilton seemed Happy with his third! It´s funny how he was smiling this time in the podium!! And it was awesome seeing him playing around with Alonso with the champagne!! Seems both drivers have really matured a lot!

  14. Slowhands (@slowhands) said on 25th March 2012, 18:58

    It could well have been a coded message to not attack Ferrari, but possibly for the reason that Sauber didn’t want their young, talented and fiercely competitive driver, presented with his first chance to fight for a Grand Prix win, to somehow overextend himself in the heat of things and “take out” Alonso, an exponentially worse result than throwing himself off or embarrassing “big brother” by leaving him in the dust. I agree with Keith that a “manage the gap” message much earlier would have been a more natural expression of a true intent simply to be happy with a P2 result. The timing is definitely worthy of suspicion.

    On another note, I believe that what the message did do was throw off the youngster’s rhythm. To my eye, Perez was clearly in the “zone,” throwing down fastest laps one after the other, reeling in one of the fastest pure drivers on the grid. He was fast, precise, smooth, and relentless. It takes a lot of mental and body control to to be able to downshift successfully to a slower, mistake-free rhythm when forced to back off unwillingly from the “zone” like that, even for the greats and usually acquired after much experience. It’s because the body and car have become seamless in the new rhythm, which “flows” out of the body because there is no interference from the conscious mind. When told to slow down, suddenly the brain has to interrupt a now-natural rhythm and try to find a new, unnatural-feeling consciously-altered one. This puts the body into a state of awkward internal communication which very frequently leads to mistakes, and I am convinced that Perez’s loss of control almost immediately after the radio transmission was the result of it. It is exactly what happened to Ayrton Senna at Monaco in 1988 when he was 46 seconds or so up on the rest of the field and driving in the zone. The team told him to slow down, that his lead was safe, but when he did, he said that he lost concentration, got out of rhythm, and put it into the wall. In his mind, as he told one of his coaches some time later, he was already thinking about the podium ceremony. This phenomenon has happened to others. Luckily, there was paved runoff where Perez went off, or he might have been sitting in a gravel trap like Grosjean and, as David Hobbs likes to put it, “it would all have ended in tears.”

  15. geekracer2000 (@geekracer2000) said on 25th March 2012, 19:56

    Of course it was. We’ve seen some clean DRS overtaking’s on straight line, what risks would there be to collect that first place when he was a sec faster without DRS.
    Full name of team is Sauber Ferrari, as they use Ferrari engines and Sergio is i Ferrari driver academy isn’t he?
    There is no doubt in my mind that this was team order which is sad because it means there are now three driver (Massa, Perez and Kobayashi)out there who aren’t allowed to win if Alonso is in front or one place behind probably.

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