NOVEMBER 25, 2008

The truth will out

For years there have been indications that Rubens Barrichello was forced to hand over victory to Michael Schumacher in the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix at the A1 Ring. Ferrari wanted Schumacher to win the race and collect the maximum points for the Drivers' World Championship but he could not beat Barrichello and only won the race when Rubens let him at the finish line. This upset the spectators and in response to the jeers of the crowd, Schumacher insisted that Barrichello take the top step on the podium. Schumacher took the trophy for first place from the Austrian chancellor and gave it to Barrichello then took the second place trophy for himself.

The FIA later ruled that it "deplored the manner in which team orders were given and executed" but did not punish the drivers because they were both contractually bound to execute orders given by the team. Although the FIA could not punish the drivers for the staged finish, it did fine Ferrari and the drivers $500,000 for abuse of the podium ceremony.

Team orders were not illegal at that time. At the time Schumacher said that he had been told to win and did not have much time to think about it but Todt said that the drivers were told as early as lap 63 - eight laps from home - that they needed to switch places. Barrichello has confirmed Todt's story but told the Brazilian TV show Fantastico that he only backed off because he was being threatened by the team.

Barrichello said that he was radioed and told that it was "important for the championship" and that on the last lap he was given an ultimatum.

"I was told to think about my contract," Barrichello said. "For me that was an order: it is better for you to lift your foot, otherwise you are going to be going home".

Barrichello said that Schumacher knew all about what was going.