COMMENT: FIA lets Ferrari make another farce of F1
9 September 2010
It would have been nice to have been surprised, in truth. Okay, so maybe nobody really expected the FIA to come down on Ferrari like the proverbial ton of bricks over the Hockenheim team orders furore, but this observer like doubtless many others still secretly had a small ray of hope inside that justice would be served in front of the World Motor Sport Council in Paris on Wednesday. Sadly – and mirroring so many other of the governing body's decisions in recent years – it wasn't.
It was not so much, even, the fact that the Scuderia broke the rules in the German Grand Prix a month-and-a-half ago that caused people's blood to boil – McLaren-Mercedes arguably did the same in the Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul earlier on in the campaign, albeit with infinitely more subtlety, by instructing Jenson Button to hold station behind team-mate Lewis Hamilton when the defending F1 World Champion palpably wanted to go on the attack – but more the manner in which they did so, betraying a blatant disregard both for fans' intelligence and for the sport's reputation. That was what was so unforgivable.
The ban on team orders was implemented in the first place, lest we forget, due to an incident orchestrated by Ferrari. When Rubens Barrichello was told by his team to move aside to let title-chasing team-mate Michael Schumacher through to artificially 'triumph' in the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, the Brazilian made evident his distaste for the request by pulling over virtually on the finish line so that all-and-sundry could understand the situation. Clearly embarrassed himself, Schumacher's clumsy attempt to push 'Rubinho' up onto the top step of the podium afterwards was only met with boos and jeers from the crowd. From that moment onwards, team orders in F1 were outlawed.
So the WMSC upheld the initial $100,000 fine the Prancing Horse had been meted out for 'bringing the sport into disrepute'. Whoopie-do. What is $100,000 to a front-running F1 team at the end of the day? Pocket money, small change, a drop in the ocean. Perhaps Messrs. Alonso, Massa and Domenicali will have to do without their morning espresso for the next few grands prix. No great shakes. Just ask McLaren how $100,000 compares to the $100 million they were fined for the 'Spygate' row of 2007.
And that brings us neatly onto another point. Would any other team have had such an easy ride or got away so lightly for such a flagrant transgression of the regulations? Ferrari certainly seems able to stretch the rules further than most without paying the price for it, and whilst Max Mosley may now be gone, paddock whispers that the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile is actually a cover-up moniker for 'Ferrari International Assistance' remain as strong as ever, and that undoubtedly damages the sport. The fact that Mosley's successor Jean Todt is an ex-team principal at Maranello will only serve to fuel the rumours, regardless of the Frenchman's absence from the WMSC reunion.
Even more laughably, for what had been described as a 'disciplinary' hearing, the only villain in the final reckoning was deemed to be the regulations, which to all intents and purposes means the FIA was less averse to criticising its own creation than it was to condemning Ferrari. Again, the whispers rise up – mustn't blame Ferrari, blame anyone but Ferrari.
Yes, F1 is a team game at the end of the day, and yes, for the big manufacturers and independent outfits that invest millions upon millions of pounds into it every year, it is the constructors' standing that matters the most, but what the billions of fans and TV spectators all around the world want to see is wheel-to-wheel duels between the sport's warriors, and genuine overtaking rather than one driver simply slowing down and waving another one through in a gentlemanly fashion. Besides, if Fernando Alonso is genuinely as good as most people believe him to be, then surely he should have been capable of passing his lesser-rated – and far lesser-paid – team-mate Felipe Massa of his own doing, rather than needing to resort to team tactics. He seemed to have little trouble in muscling his way by on the entry to the pit-lane in Shanghai, remember...
Ultimately, the general consensus inside the F1 paddock is that Ferrari got out-of-jail – again – this week, and that the FIA missed a golden opportunity to clamp down on rule-breakers. What we got on Wednesday was not a judgement, it was a cop-out, and for all that the ruling has kept Alonso's title chances this year just about intact, if the Spaniard does go on to add a third drivers' crown to his impressive career CV come season's end by less than the seven points he unjustly inherited from Massa on that mid-summer's day in Germany, you can't help but feel that his achievement will forever be tarnished.