MAY 13, 2002
The positive aspects of Austria
BY JOE SAWARD
THIS morning Formula 1 is being hammered from all sides by public opinion. But F1 is not dead as some might suggest.
Formula 1 - and Ferrari in particular - will have been surprised by the scale of the outcry, just as F1 was shocked by the scale of the reaction to Ayrton Senna's death in 1994. The response then was a positive one and it is important that the reaction now is the same. Knee-jerk changes are not what is needed.
What is clear is that the world does not think the tradition of team orders is good for the sport. The world wanted to see Rubens Barrichello win. He had beaten Michael Schumacher hands down and that was a cause for celebration but the celebration was stolen by the Ferrari decision. The world felt cheated.
Ferrari has a point. It wants to make sure it wins the World Championship. You cannot argue with that given the investment involved and Ross Brawn, in trying to justify the action, said that the team could have hidden what it was doing but chose not to do so because Rubens deserved the recognition for his achievement rather than being seen to fade back at the end of the race. There is no question that this is true and that it is, in effect, impossible to legislate against team orders. The FIA could come out with a ban but it would not be effective. The federation could attack Ferrari for bringing the sport into disrepute but if that were to happen it would be accused of trying to manipulate the World Championship. Ferrari did not break the rules.
So is there a solution to the problem?
Listening to Rubens Barrichello in the press conference which followed the race I could not help but be reminded of 1950s British racer Peter Collins. Barrichello said that he has time to win more races in the future. The lesson of Collins is one that Barrichello might like to learn. At Monza in 1956 Collins was on his way to the World Championship after his team mate Juan Manuel Fangio's car broke down. Collins decided that he would be embarrassed to win the title in such a way and handed his car over to the great Fangio. Collins said that he had plenty of time to win a title fairly and squarely.
But he didn't. Two years later he was dead. And as Takuma Sato showed in Austria there are times when there is nothing you can do about Fate.
The general public has forgotten Collins. Fangio is remembered only because it is his record that Schumacher is trying to beat at the moment. F1 does not believe in learning lessons from history.
But the lesson is there. If there is a chance for victory one should grab it because tomorrow it may not be there.
It struck me that the solution to the problem may come from the drivers. If they do not accept team orders, team orders would be meaningless. That is easy to say but when one is faced with the possibility of being fired if one does not do what one is told to do, it is not easy to stand up and be counted.
But what would happen if at Monaco the same situation occurred and this time Barrichello did not back off? Would Ferrari dare to fire him after the outcry in Austria? They would not because it would be a disastrous mistake and the negative publicity for the company would outweigh the value of the victory.
Patrick Head made a good point when he said that when Williams had a dominant car it allowed its drivers to race if only because it had a responsibility to the sport to provide racing for the fans. McLaren did the same in 1988.
What in effect these teams did is to have confidence enough to not try to control everything. Letting go is difficult to do but in F1 these days because there are so many pressures that team bosses want control over everything. This is understandable but the sport is being stifled. Team bosses do not want drivers speaking out; they want drivers to do as they are told; in some teams they are actually banned from having opinions. For the press this means that building up characters is difficult to do. Teams have gone further than that. Some now refuse to cooperate with journalists who criticize their actions. They want the press corps to write what they are told to write.
But life is not like that. By trying to control too much, Formula 1 has now created a monstrous storm around itself. It will fade, of course, but hopefully the team bosses will take on board the lessons that must be learned.
The world wants to see fair play and there is nothing wrong with that. The sport needs to listen to the voices out there - even if they do not like them. The answer cannot be one of legislation. It has to be one of common sense.
We all make mistakes in life, intelligent people learn from their mistakes.
...and Formula 1 will.
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