Monday 24 July 2017

F1: 'Team orders' debacle spoils Alonso victory

Tom Cary at Hockenheim

FORMULA One was engulfed in a fresh 'team orders' row last night after Ferrari were found guilty of bringing the sport into disrepute by ordering Felipe Massa to stand aside and let Fernando Alonso win yesterday's German Grand Prix.

The Italian team were fined $100,000 on the spot, with the matter also referred to the FIA's World Motor Sport Council "for further consideration" under Article 151c of its Sporting Code, which basically gives the governing body carte blanche to sanction Ferrari as it sees fit.

Punishments could range from a slap on the wrist to possible exclusion from the championship, with a hearing not expected to take place until after this weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix, during the sport's August break.

The guilty verdict capped off a controversial day in Germany, when the stewards also mulled over the legality of the front wings on the Ferrari and Red Bull cars following a number of enquiries from rival teams, although these were later cleared.

It was a hollow victory for Ferrari who should have been celebrating their return to the championship fray and their first one-two since the season-opening race in Bahrain. But it should have been Massa celebrating his first win since Brazil in 2008.

Miserable

The Brazilian's dejection at the end -- he barely hugged Alonso and looked utterly miserable in the post-race press conference -- was all the more poignant for the fact that yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of his near-fatal accident in Budapest when he was hit flush on the helmet by a metal spring and spent the best part of thee days in an induced coma.

Capitalising on Sebastian Vettel's poor start from pole and the German's subsequent preoccupation with Alonso, Massa, starting third, passed the pair almost unnoticed up the outside and led the race going into the first corner.

Although Alonso generally had the better pace, and, indeed, caught up and briefly passed Massa on lap 21, the Spaniard could not make the move stick and voiced his frustrations to the pit wall, and the wider world, when he said: "This is ridiculous."

Ferrari were faced with a difficult decision and eventually decided to back Alonso, who led Massa by 31 points going into the race.

On lap 47 Massa's race engineer Rob Smedley came on the radio to deliver the crushing news: "OK Felipe, Fernando is faster than you.

"Can you confirm you understood that message?"

The whole world understood it. Two laps later Massa allowed the Spaniard through on the exit to Turn Six two, whereupon a sympathetic Smedley came on again: "Good lad. Just stick with him now. Sorry."

It may not have been as blatant a case of team orders as the incident at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix when Rubens Barrichello pulled over on the finish straight to allow Michael Schumacher past, but it was fooling no one. Eddie Jordan, commenting on the BBC, described the incident as "theft.".

"Ferrari should be ashamed. For me, it is cheating and these two cars should be excluded."

Red Bull's team principal Christian Horner was similarly scathing. "The regulations are pretty clear," he said. "Team orders are not allowed."

The FIA's Sporting Regulations clearly state: "Team orders, which interfere with the race result, will be prohibited."

Both Ferrari and Massa later tried to claim, half-heartedly in the case of the Brazilian, that the idea had been the driver's. "I'm very professional and I've showed in today how professional I am," Massa pleaded during a heated press conference. "You have your job to do and I have mine." His words elicited great sympathy although you wonder whether Mark Webber would have been as compliant as the Brazilian.

Alonso, by contrast, was unapologetic. Asked baldly if he ranked this result up there with Singapore 2008, the infamous race in which Renault's Nelson Piquet Jnr crashed his car in order to help his then team-mate win. "I think you have a very strong result from Ferrari today and if the final thought of the weekend is your question, it's because maybe you didn't see the whole practice, qualifying and the race," he suggested.

Not good enough. Pressed on whether he could understand why some fans might feel cheated, Alonso referred to Red Bull's episode in Turkey when their drivers crashed into one another while fighting for the race lead. "Today Ferrari has 42 in their pocket, so I think it's what we are here for," he noted.

The end justifies the means, in other words. It did not wash with his audience, many of whom booed, and clearly it did not wash with the stewards either.

It was not supposed to happen like this. Vettel, the darling of the thousands of German fans choked on the start line again and finished third, thereby going level on points with his team-mate Webber in the standings.

Instead it was another spot of plundering in Spain's bountiful sporting summer. Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon, the footballers in South Africa, Alberto Contador in the Tour de France and now Alonso, back in the F1 hunt. The sport needed him back. But not like this. (© Daily, Telegraph, London)

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