JULY 26, 2010
How Stefano Domenicali went through Hockenheim team orders charade
In 2002 Ferrari's Jean Todt made a decision that was roundly condemned when Rubens Barrichello was ordered to move over for Ferrari team mate Michael Schumacher to win on the last lap of the Austrian Grand Prix. No team was remotely near Ferrari's level of competitiveness in the championship and Austria was round six in May, with Schumacher having won the first five races...
Fans and media alike were outraged and it was the catalyst for the FIA introducing a ban on team orders. It was this that forced the unfortunate Stefano Domenicali, Ferrari's current team principal and by all evidence a reasonable and fair man, to have to pretend to the world's media that the message given to Felipe Massa was information only and not a team order. Then, with deep irony, Ferrari was fined $100,000 by the sport's governing body, which Todt now presides over, and faces further investigation by the World Motor Sports Council.
This is how Domenicali's post-race encounter with the international media played out:
Q: Could you explain the rules of team orders and how they work in Formula 1 and why this wasn't team orders?
Domenicali: I don't want to say what is team orders because honestly I think that what I can say is if you are referring to the situation you have in mind it is that we gave information to Felipe on what the situation was and how it was evolving and because we had already seen in the past that certain situations would not give the best result for the team, that was the information that we wanted to give. We leave the drivers to understand and take notice of it in order to ensure that the team, in terms of the result, does the best.
Q: How is this different from Austria 2002?
Domenicali: Honestly I don't know. What we said to him today was information about the situation that was behind. That's what we said today.
Q: In 2006 in Monza Fernando Alonso said the sport is not the same anymore. We all have the same feelings now. It was quite obvious that it was a call to Felipe to let Fernando pass...
Domenicali: That's what you say, I didn't say that. But I have to repeat what I said. It was a shame that in a situation today with a great performance everyone is focused on these things. We always consider the team interest first and that's what I can say.
Q: After so much tension can you honestly feel happy at a 1-2?
Domenicali: For sure I'm happy. I understand your comment and of course I'm not happy about the outcome of this great performance because of the pressure we have from the outside on this specific element. For sure it is something that is part of what I am living now but I need to keep up the priority that the team has done a great job and recovered a very difficult situation after three very, very heavy grands prix.
Q: Is it clear now that you have a No1 and No2 driver for the rest of this season?
Domenicali: Because otherwise I'd have said yes...
Q: After today, does Felipe still have a chance to fight for the world championship and if every time they are together in the same situation will Felipe have to give way?
Domenicali: No, I can answer that first of all I'm very happy with the performance Felipe did and its consequent to the question just asked the fact that Felipe gave up the chance and for sure for the team he will push for the championship and there is no number one and two.
Q: There will be controversy and bad feeling around the 1-2, so is there a way you could have handled it better?
Domenicali: I don't think so. We were trying to make sure we didn't have a difficult situation between the drivers because that's not what we want.
Q: As a human being, was it the hardest race you had to watch?
Domenicali: I have seen a lot of races and have seen a lot and as a human I was much more emotionally involved where we had a situation like with Felipe last year.
Q: You just mentioned last year. Did you give any consideration to the human side of that on the anniversary and what the win would have meant to Felipe?
Domenicali: We know it is important for Felipe and I'm sure he will deserve a victory very soon because he has shown that he is keeping up.
Q: This has rather overshadowed the front wing controversy. What is your situation with flexible front wings and have you received any communication from the FIA?
Domenicali: No. I've seen some pictures that were distributed but it's easy to see that they were taken from very different angles. Honestly I don't have anything to say because I think that is part of the pressure that is part of this game.
Q: Felipe said the reason why the pass happened was that he was struggling on the hard tyres, so how do you explain that after struggling while they were cold he pulled a gap of 3.5s?
Domenicali: Because we wanted to control the race. We'd given them certain targets to control those behind without any risk. When we saw Vettel was coming up we were informing both of our drivers and also having laps that weren't the same for both drivers in terms of saving the engines.
Q: This is very different from Austria 2002 because then you were dominant and there was no reason to do it, but here you're catching up and you obviously make those decisions. Do you think it's silly to have to go through this charade when everyone knows what happened and is it better to allow, like in the past, teams to do what they want with their own drivers?
Domenicali: Difficult question. I understand what you are saying and I think at the end of the day there is always a merit and a logic for both scenarios. First of all, on one side there is a clear inclination to make sure that every driver can do whatever they can on a level playing field but on the other side you have to consider that the two drivers are part of a team and that's really the key factor. But I think it's a matter for consideration to make sure that there is no discussion.
Q: What would be different today as Ferrari team principal if you had let Massa beat Alonso?
Domenicali: I didn't do anything, just inform Felipe about the situation and that's it. From the team perspective the next chance that we have, Felipe will be faster, let's be sure about it.
Q: I'm sure you're aware that there were radio messages. Why did Rob Smedley apologise to Felipe after he had let Alonso past?
Domenicali: You have to consider the fact, and you can check with his communication several times in the past, that Rob Smedley has a very good connection with Felipe, which is the key to their success, and you saw what happened. He was not happy at the situation with the car being slower than the other one. That's all I can say.
Q: Can you explain why you would need to tell a driver who was leading that the one behind was faster?
Domenicali: As I said, for team interest I wanted to avoid any difficult situation arising. We have seen that happen to others this year at other grands prix.