MAY 28, 2007
The FIA to investigate McLaren
The FIA has announced that it has launched an investigation into incidents involving the McLaren Mercedes team at the 2007 Monaco Grand Prix, in light of a possible breach of the International Sporting Code. This is based on suspicions that the team played its race strategy in such a way as to help Fernando Alonso to win the race, rather than Lewis Hamilton.
The FIA will now review all the available evidence, including any radio calls between the cars and the pits and whatever other data is available. The FIA says it is simply doing its job and if that makes it unpopular that is an unfortunate part of the role of being the regulator. The FIA says that the rules were changed in 2002 after the mess in Austria when Rubens Barrichello backed off to allow Michael Schumacher to win the race.
Team orders have always been a part of the sport and in August 1998 the FIA said that "it is perfectly legitimate for a team to decide that one of its drivers is its World Championship contender and that the other will suppport him". In 1999 Eddie Irvine finished second in the World Championship for Ferrari largely because he was helped by his team mates.
Then came 2002 and the mess in Austria and after lengthy discussion the World Council decided that there was nothing it could do. It admitted in its press release that it "deplored the manner in which team orders were given and executed at the Austrian GP" but found "with some reluctance" that was "impossible to sanction the two drivers because they were both contractually bound to execute orders given by the team". The Council also recognised "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."
Mosley himself said: "It is easy to vote through a regulation to say that team orders are prohibited, but how do we enforce it?" and admitted to being amazed at the reaction there had been. In November 2002 the F1 Commission banned team orders saying that "any team orders which interfere with the race result are prohibited". This was suitably vague and meant that manipulations could be employed if they were not obvious.
However, no-one has yet been pulled up on this ruling, despite the fact that in Turkey in 2005 Giancarlo Fisichella was radioed by Renault and told that Fernando Alonso, who was behind him, was quicker. Fisichella's reaction was such that it appeared that the radio call had been understood as an order rather than a suggestion. No investigation was launched.
There have since been several occasions in which drivers have "voluntarily" decided to help their team mates.
It is common practice for teams to have their drivers hold station after the final pit stops. This avoids the risk of collisions and over-stressing the cars for no purpose.
It is a shame that what is a cracking good season in F1 could be tainted by rules which are so vague as to be useless - unless someone wants to use them.
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