Honda F1 website

MARCH 23, 2006

A mystery

The result of the Malaysian Grand Prix did not feature Ferrari to any great extent. After Michael Schumacher's impressive showing in Bahrain, the red cars faded out of the limelight in Kuala Lumpur, with engine troubles dumping Schumacher and Felipe Massa down the grid. The two men adopted different strategies to recover and both did well, without being startling. The Ferrari fastest laps were fifth and eighth on the list at the end of the race. Both men did score points with Massa fifth and Michael sixth. At the time we noted that Ferrari was not as competitive as expected and that the number two beat the number one. The implication of that was missed.

In the past Ferrari has always been inordinately keen to ensure that Schumacher collected every single point possible at the early races in the season, just in case they were needed later in the year when things got tighter in the World Championship. Team orders are banned if they "interfere with a race result" but that rule has more holes in it than a colander. It is, first of all, ambiguous as it does not explain whether it means the race result is the identity of the winner or whether any change in the order constitutes interference with the result. Whatever the case, teams have got around this problem by instructing drivers that whenever team orders are necessary they can explain them away by saying that they had a technical problem or voluntarily made the gesture in order to aid their team mate.

Neither explanation is against the rules.

As a result of such things Michael has never yet finished directly behind a team mate in a race this early in the season.

And thus the result in Malaysia is odd because Michael stayed behind Massa, even though Felipe had run a one-stop strategy and thus had tyres which were not as good as Schumacher's. The explanation for a change was there to be used - and yet it was not used.

The lap times reveal little but hint that Michael may have had a tiny advantage. On lap 45 Schumacher had his last stop and emerged just a second behind Felipe but there he stayed for 11 laps, sitting right on his team-mate's tail all the way to the flag. Massa, Michael said, had not made a mistake. The lap times reveal that Felipe's lap times were all within four-tenths of a second except on the last lap. His fastest lap during those laps was a 1m35.9s. Schumacher twice did a 1m35.8s.

If there was a perfectly good excuse for Ferrari to switch the two cars and thus gain Michael an extra point, one must ask the question as to why that did not happen.