JUNE 26, 2002
Crime and punishment
IN the days after the Austrian Grand Prix the world seemed scandalized by the action of the Ferrari team at the end of the race when Rubens Barrichello allowed Michael Schumacher to pass him and win the race. The outburst from the general public was spontaneous and vitriolic and the fans demanded that the FIA do something about what was seen as race-fixing. It was an interesting problem because the teams have a long tradition of being allowed to dictate what its drivers do and there was no regulation which Ferrari had broken, except the rather nebulous one that they had brought the sport into disrepute. There is no question that the sport was brought into disrepute but it was not Ferrari's intention to cause the outcry that followed Austria and so the FIA had to decide what best to do to be seen to be doing the right thing. The podium procedures were a mess thanks to Michael Schumacher's actions but there was limit to what the FIA could do in this respect without looking as though it was punishing one crime using another.
The World Council admitted in its release that it "deplored the manner in which team orders were given and executed at the Austrian GP" but found it "impossible to sanction the two drivers because they were both contractually bound to execute orders given by the team". The Council also recognized "the long-standing and traditional right of a team to decree the finishing order of its drivers in what it believes to be the best interest of its attempt to win both World Championships."
This is all well and good but the fact remains that the world felt cheated and a fine (which is small in F1 terms) is no real issue for the team or the drivers. It will not dissuade them from doing the same again if they think it is necessary and that means that the public could one day once again end up feel cheated by the racers, particularly those who have paid the large sums that are necessary to buy seats at races these days.
The interesting thing now will be to see if the Council will announce any new guidelines or proposals for changes to the sporting regulations this afternoon. There has been some speculation that the federation might insist that teams announce their intention to use team orders before a race, if that is what they intend to do. This would, in some ways, be a disadvantage because it would reduce the tension provided in the final laps of a race when spectators are watching a dominant situation and are wondering "will they, won't they?" impose the team orders.
Max Mosley is due to hold a press conference in less than three hours so we will update any interesting developments later this afternoon.
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