Ahead of today's potentially pivotal FIA World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) hearing into the Ferrari Hockenheim team orders furore, opinion is divided amongst the sport's experts as to what F1's governing body should do – with Eddie Jordan insisting the team 'must pay' for having treated the public 'like muppets', and Damon Hill conversely arguing that a hefty punishment would not 'fit this particular crime'.
Should the FIA come down hard on Ferrari and drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa – whose orchestrated switch of positions during the closing stages of the 2010 German Grand Prix in July was the catalyst for the whole team orders controversy to rear its ugly head again, following its official ban back in 2002 – it could well spell the end of the former's title challenge this year, particularly if the Spaniard is stripped of the points he gained for his engineered 'victory', which would leave him a full 66 markers adrift of the world championship lead with just six races left to run. Jordan reckons that would be no less than both driver and team deserve.
“It was very blatant,” the former team owner-turned-BBC F1
pundit told BBC Radio Five Live
. “I think they should get a bigger penalty. What happens if Alonso gets away scot-free and goes on to win [the title] by two points from whoever? It will always be seen to be a sham, where breaking the rules pays off, and that is something that can never be acceptable.
“What Ferrari did was they showed no respect to the public, they treated us all like muppets, they broke the rules and they have to pay the penalty.”
The Maranello-based outfit was fined $100,000 in the immediate aftermath of the race for the coded message given out by Massa's race engineer Rob Smedley, who twice informed the Brazilian over the pit-to-car radio that the following Alonso was faster than him – the clear inference being that he should move aside and let his team-mate through to take maximum points, in the light of their respective championship chances. Smedley later thanked Massa for having been so 'magnanimous'.
Whilst the Scuderia's
defence argument is likely to hinge upon the fact that no explicit order was given to Massa to let Alonso pass him, former FIA President Max Mosley has professed his opinion that the team orders ban he played a key role in imposing eight years ago should remain in-place and that 'both cars and both drivers should lose the points they achieved in the German Grand Prix' [see separate story – click here
Jordan claims the outcome of the WMSC reunion will reveal much about the Englishman's successor in the role, erstwhile Ferrari team principal Jean Todt. The Frenchman will not be chairing the hearing due to his old ties with the team, handing over the reins instead to his deputy president, London barrister Graham Stoker.
“Max Mosley didn't always attend these meetings, but his thought process was very much in evidence,” the Irishman explained. “[Todt's] decision will be embedded in that body of people.”
Another school of thought, meanwhile, is that the ban – brought in after Rubens Barrichello slowed dramatically just before the finish line to hand Ferrari team-mate Michael Schumacher the win in the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, thereby making very evident his displeasure with the instruction he had received from his team – is simply unworkable, with the common consensus being that the Prancing Horse now finds itself in the dock not for having transgressed that ban as rival teams have similarly undoubtedly done, but rather for the clumsy manner in which it did so and the persistent denials afterwards that it had done anything of the sort.
1996 F1 World Champion Hill subscribes to the belief that with the regulations being so vague and 'fundamentally flawed' on the whole issue of team orders, in this instance it would be wrong to 'throw the book' at Ferrari and that a points penalty or disqualification from the German Grand Prix results would be too harsh, favouring rather a complete clarification of the ruling to avoid such a gross insult to fans' intelligence taking place again.
“Flexing their muscles because they (the FIA) can is not necessarily wise,” the British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC) President is quoted as having said by The Daily Telegraph
, revealing that his suggestion would be to legalise team orders and also offer a means of protection for drivers who choose not to obey them. “I don't think a punishment that big would fit this particular crime.
“Teams say they are not implementing team orders, but we all suspect that what they are doing is indicating to the driver how they would like them to perform, which can't be construed as an order. It is an issue which has been creeping up for some time and has not been addressed, and I think Ferrari might get off because the rules aren't clear. This is where the sport doesn't do itself any favours. It needs a media circus to make the necessary changes. I mean, this is happening four days before the Italian Grand Prix.”
“I don't think the drivers will get a penalty,” added defending F1 World Champion Jenson Button. “If they do get another penalty it will be for the team, because it was an order from the team. Personally, I don't understand why they just don't swap the points around for those two, but you can't do that within the regulations.”