Michael Schumacher says he can fully understand why Ferrari acted in the manner it did in the German Grand Prix – and says he would have done the same thing in the team's situation.
The seven-time champion was caught up in the storm that surrounded the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix after team-mate Rubens Barrichello was told to allow the German past to secure victory, which he did just metres before the line.
That led to widespread condemnation of Ferrari at the time given Schumacher's already healthy lead in the championship, and led to the FIA bringing in a ban on team orders.
However, the situation has now returned to haunt the team after the incident that occurred at Hockenheim, when Felipe Massa was asked to move over and led Fernando Alonso through to take victory.
Ferrari has been fined $100,000 and summoned to appear before the World Motor Sport Council over what happened on track – although the result currently stands – but Schumacher said he could understand why the decision to swap the two drivers round had been taken.
“Obviously, being in the car, I didn't have as nice a view as you guys, but occasionally on the big screen I could see Felipe in first position,” he told television reporters following the race. “I felt happy obviously because he is a friend of mine. Then hearing that Alonso had won the race, I was wondering what kind of strategy was that?
“I have been criticised in the past for exactly that. I have to say that I understand 100 per cent and I would do exactly the same if I was in their situation. At the end of the day, what are we here for? We are fighting for a championship and there is only one driver that can win the championship. At the end of the year, if you think you have lost the championship for that point, you will ask yourself – and not only yourself but the fans, the TV and the journalists – why didn't you do it.
“If you go back to other years in other teams in other situations, in the last race for example, there has been clear team orders – and everyone accepts that. It's the last race, it's normal and so on. Whether it is the last race, the second-to-last race or even earlier, what is the point in criticising?”
Schumacher did however admit that there were ways and means for teams to elect to use team orders in the sport.
“I can see that in the years when we did it, we were leading by so much and people thought it was unnecessary,” he said. “I can agree on that one in one way, but in principle, I cannot. In principle, I fully accept and agree with what has gone on.
“You have to do it in a way that is maybe nice and not too obvious. Make it a nice fight but there is only target, and that is winning the championship.”