JULY 25, 2010

Ferrari fined $100,000 and faces World Motor Sports Council

Ferrari has been fined $100,000 for being in breach of the FIA international sporting code with regard to team orders during their 1-2 finish in the German Grand Prix. The matter will also be referred to the FIA World Motor Sports Council for further consideration.

It is not inconceivable, therefore, that Ferrari could face further sanction, including loss of both drivers and/or constructors championship points.

Ironically, the ban on team orders was introduced in 2002 after Ferrari rather cynically ordered Rubens Barrichello to move over and hand victory to Michael Schumacher. At the time the decision enraged a number of fans and was made when Schumacher was dominating the championship and Ferrari faced no threat from anyone. It was viewed as wholly unnecessary and bad for the sport's image.

Team orders have been a part of motor racing's fabric since the championship began, however, and the 2002 ruling has done little to stop them, only necessitated that they are conducted with more subtlety.

On the surface, there is not a lot wrong with what Ferrari did at Hockenheim. Unlike 2002, the team is playing catch-up in the world championship, we are into the second half of the season and one of its drivers, Alonso, has a realistic chance of re-launching a championship bid, whereas Massa went into the German race 78 points behind series leader Lewis Hamilton. On top of that, Alonso had been quicker than Massa all weekend and was only behind his team mate because he started from the dirty side of the grid and was then almost driven into the pit wall by Sebastian Vettel.

Unfortunately though, the existence of the team orders rule meant that the world's media had to go through the charade of Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali claiming that no order had been issued and that the team had merely informed Massa that Alonso was faster and left any further action up to the driver.

It was obvious to all and sundry what was going on as soon as Massa's engineer Rob Smedley came on the radio with 21 laps to go and said, slowly and pointedly, "Fernando is faster than you. Can you confirm you understood that message?" Shortly afterwards, without any subtlety at all, Massa did not pick up full throttle out of the Turn 6 hairpin and Alonso swept by into the lead. Smedley then came back on the radio to Massa, and said, "Good lad. Sorry..."

Then, after the race, on the slowdown lap, Smedley added: "very, very magnanimous. You won't know what that means but I will explain it to you later..."

It is easy to understand the disappointment from the Massa side of the Ferrari pit. It was a year to the day since Massa suffered his head injury when hit by a rogue Brawn spring in qualifying for the Hungarian GP and it would have made a fine human story for him to win his first race since on the very anniversary day.

On the other hand, Alonso has suffered extreme bad fortune in the last three grands prix and was the quicker Ferrari driver at Hockenheim. What the team did made total sense in terms of their championship challenge. But will they be made to pay any more than the $100,000 they are currently down?