MAY 15, 2001

Todt unapologetic in row over team orders - and could he be right?

FERRARI sporting director Jean Todt has indicated he has no regrets about the stance he took in Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix, making the point that he is employed to deliver victories for his team.

FERRARI sporting director Jean Todt has indicated he has no regrets about the stance he took in Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix, making the point that he is employed to deliver victories for his team.

The Frenchman could be right. He could point to many instances down the years where team orders have been invoked to help another driver - although, in the case of the Ferrari team, he has re-written the traditionalist's rule book in a manner which will offend the diehard fans.

In 1958, Phil Hill was asked to drop back to third place behind Mike Hawthorn in the Moroccan Grand Prix at Casablanca to enable the British driver to clinch the Championship. Six years later, Lorenzo Bandini dropped back behind John Surtees in the Mexican Grand Prix to help the former motor cycle ace win the title crown.

Yet what Todt certainly has done is turn Enzo Ferrari's long-standing conventions on their head. When the Commendatore was alive there was only a single abiding convention which governed the relationship between his F1 drivers. That simply required them to hold station in the event of finding themselves running in 1-2 formation with the man who first went into the lead in such situations not to be challenged by his team-mate.

It was the breaching of this rule by Didier Pironi on the last lap of the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix, where he overtook Gilles Villeneuve to win the race in defiance of these standing orders, that moved Ferrari to come out with a public expression of sympathy for Villeneuve. Two weeks later Villeneuve was killed when he crashed practising for the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder.

The problem with the current Ferrari situation is that there has been a certain ambiguity in public about Barrichello's role. Earlier in the year Rubens claimed that there was nothing to stop him trying to win races, a sentiment which tended towards suggesting that he was not a supplicant number two in the same mold as Eddie Irvine had been for the previous four years.

Of course, if that is a clear-cut reality, then there is absolutely nothing wrong with the situation. Think about Carlos Reutemann's explanation of what happened after he won the 1981 Brazilian Grand Prix against team orders ahead of his Williams team-mate Alan Jones.

"When I signed my contract with Frank there was a 'seven second' clause in it," he recalled many years later. "If I was leading the race by seven seconds, then I could win; if Jones was closer than seven seconds, then I had to let Alan past.

"We started the race in Brazil, in the rain, and to be honest I never drove particularly hard. Frank just showed me the pit signals to the third place man and believe me, I never thought Jones was running so close behind. About three or four laps from the lead, Frank put out a sign signalling me that we would reverse the order. I was obviously very upset."

Reutemann couldn't bring himself to do so. Williams didn't pay him the money due for the win - and Reutemann was clever enough never to mention it. As Sheridan Thynne, the team's commercial director at the time, mentioned; "The fact that Reutemann never queried the absence of payment was an indication of how exceptionally clever he was. Very clever people never fight battles they are going to lose."

Five years later, Williams was again in trouble on the team orders front when Nelson Piquet, who believed that he was team leader, found himself being forced to race team-mate Nigel Mansell with as much ferocity as he was directing at rivals from other teams. "I didn't join Williams to have my team-mate use the knowledge that I contributed in order to beat me," he said firmly.

Williams added; "What Nelson thought he was being guaranteed was a repeat of the Reutemann fiasco of 1981 when we controlled - or tried to control - the second driver. Whereas what in fact we discussed was that, in a classic case of one driver leading the championship and needing every bit of support, then we would obviously control his team-mate.

"But he was not given unconditional priority over the second driver. We took the view that they were both running for the Championship and would have to fight it out between them."

All of which explains just why Ron Dennis and Sir Frank Williams have a subtly different style than Jean Todt and his cohorts at Ferrari. Todt pooh-poohs the notion that everybody in F1 is thinking about the sporting dimension. They are simply there to win.

He may be right. But it will be a sad day for F1 if he is proved right in the long term. The sporting aspect of Grand Prix racing has been under assault for too long. From too many side.