On the eve of the F1 2011 World Championship curtain-raiser in Melbourne this weekend, double world champion Fernando Alonso has contentiously asserted that the abolition of the team orders ban in the top flight this season is 'useful for everyone'.
The ban was overturned after Ferrari blatantly orchestrated a switch-around of positions between Felipe Massa and Alonso in last summer's German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, obliquely instructing the Brazilian to surrender the lead to his pursuing team-mate in an effort to boost the Spaniard's title bid.
The Brazilian's face on the podium afterwards spoke volumes about just how 'willingly' he had given the victory up – and completely undermined his team's outrageous public defence that it had been Massa's decision alone – and the move drew condemnation from rivals and observers alike.
However, following a subsequent FIA World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) reunion to debate Ferrari's fate for its flagrant indiscretion and total disregard for fans' intelligence, rather than punishing the Scuderia
, the governing body elected to pin the blame upon a grey area in the regulations and consequently amended them so that the practice of team orders is now entirely legitimate. No bad thing, contends Alonso.
“It's useful for everyone,” the 29-year-old told BBC Sport
. “Last year they were playing with some manettinos
(a switch that allows the driver maximum efficiency and speed in controlling the car's various functions); this year, they don't need to do that.”
Alonso's argument, however, received short shrift from fellow title-winner Jenson Button, who last year boldly claimed that should team orders be legalised, he 'wouldn't be interested in racing any more'. The McLaren-Mercedes star has now added, pointedly, that 'if you're not capable of beating your team-mate fair-and-square, you've got to look at yourself'.
“I don't think so at all,” the 31-year-old responded, when asked if he believed the rule alteration was in the sport's interest. “I don't think there will be that many teams that will be using team orders from the word 'go', or I hope not anyway, because I think it's unfair – every driver has fought so hard to get to the position they're in, and to be told that they have to give a place up to their team-mate is tough.
“Also, being on the other side of it – we all want to win, but we all... well, I want to win fairly, and I think most drivers do. Having the same equipment as your team-mate is good enough. You should be able to do it yourself; if you're not capable of beating your team-mate fair-and-square, you've got to look at yourself.”
Meanwhile, with McLaren having languished woefully shy of the leading pace during pre-season testing only to implement some dramatic changes to its hitherto uncompetitive MP4-26 that appear to have transformed its performance, Button has offered some insight as to the reasons behind the Woking-based outfit's ongoing success in F1.
“We didn't come here last year with the fastest car, and we were fighting for the championship for a lot of the season,” he explained to BBC Sport
. “I'm not frustrated, because we win and we lose as a team, and that's the way it always is – but we're working very, very hard to make sure that we are competitive. We love winning, we love competing with the top guys and that's exactly where we want to be.
“I think our approach has possibly been reasonably risky for this race, but that's exactly why McLaren have won so many world championships – because they do take the risks. They don't want to be fighting around and picking up the smaller points; they want to be fighting for wins.”