SEPTEMBER 9, 2010
A victory for common sense
The judging body of the World Motor Sport Council's decision to confirm Ferrari's $100,000 fine for a breach of article 39.1 of the sporting regulations but take no further action is a victory for common sense.
What Ferrari did in the German Grand Prix was no more nor less than has been done throughout motor sport history. The fact that it upset some of the viewing public is not the issue. The emphasis should be on fans educating themselves about the sport and not the sport changing its rules to suit uninformed spectators.
The biggest mistake made was to bring in the team orders ban in the first place, in response to Ferrari's cynicism during the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, when Rubens Barrichello was ordered to give up his win in race six to a Michael Schumacher who had won four of the first five races. Changing the rules was a clear case of tail wagging dog.
Jean Todt, then Ferrari's sporting director, was the architect of Ferrari's unnecessary actions that day but the fact was that he'd done nothing wrong, however unpalatable the decision seemed. But, reaction from fans and media alike was vehement.
Ferrari was widely held to have brought the sport into disrepute and you could see the argument. The only transgression they'd made though, was to disrupt the podium ceremony when the embarrassed Schumacher ushered Barrichello up onto the top step. That confused the trophy-presenting dignitaries, for which Ferrari was hit with a $1m fine, somewhat disproportionate to the offence...
Up until then, the rule had specified that teams should not do anything prejudicial to the interests of competition and that nothing that interfered with the result of a race would be tolerated. This was introduced post-Jerez '97 when there were suspicions of collusion between Williams and McLaren and a feeling that Sauber's Norberto Fontana had assisted Michael Schumacher.
A clarification, however, said that it was legitimate for a team to decide that one of its drivers was its championship contender and to act accordingly. That was over-ridden by the 2002 team orders ban and resulted in teams continuing to adopt team orders as they always did, but with a degree of subterfuge and subtlety.
The best example of it was the 2007 Brazilian Grand Prix when Felipe Massa, again, was moved aside to allow Ferrari team mate Kimi Raikkonen to win the race and the title. That was achieved via a slower in-lap/pit stop. But is that or any other way a team achieves the same result, better than allowing more obvious team orders?
The view of most in the paddock is that it was not, that properly policing the ban is impossible and that the sooner it is repealed, the better. However, Max Mosley, now a member of the FIA Senate, recently weighed in with the view that the Ferrari drivers should lose their points from Hockenheim.
Quite what the justification for that would have been, is hard to grasp. Alonso, patently, had done nothing wrong, and for Massa to do other than follow an 'order' would presumably have breached his conditions of employment, so you could argue that he had Hobson's choice.
Considering that, if further action was to have been taken it would have been far more sensible for it to have been loss of constructors points, as it was for McLaren over the spying issue, when a simultaneous drivers' penalty would have been much more appropriate.
It is good to see common sense prevail despite Mosley's proclamation. The news that "article 39.1 of the Sporting Regulations should be reviewed" and that the question has been referred to the Sporting Working Group comes not one moment before time.