Felipe Massa Was Right to Ignore Williams Team Orders

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistMarch 30, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - MARCH 29:  Felipe Massa of Brazil and Williams drives during the final practice session prior to qualifying for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at the Sepang Circuit on March 29, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Williams' Felipe Massa was running in seventh place with a few laps to go of the 2014 Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix.

Having done an exceptionally good job of saving fuel, he was attempting to pass the McLaren of Jenson Button for sixth. Just behind and catching fast was Valtteri Bottas in the other Williams.

The team thought Bottas had a better chance of passing Button than Massa, so they asked the Brazilian to move over.

It's bad enough being asked to let a teammate by, but the language used can make it more or less bearable. Williams kept it nice and simple, and TV viewers around the world heard the team radio transmission loud and clear:

"Valtteri is faster than you."

If you had a quiet, slightly guilty chuckle as you heard those words, you're not alone. There's obvious comedy value in Massa's race engineer producing a near word-for-word repetition of the infamous "Fernando is faster than you" message which entered F1 folklore after the 2010 German Grand Prix.

But for those not inclined toward indulging in a spot of schadenfreude, it probably elicited a cringe.

And for Massa, it will have brought back memories of that victory he so famously gave away. Anger, resentment, humiliation, disappointment; pick any of those emotions, and he was probably feeling it.

But of course, that wasn't a one-off occurrence. Massa has a long history as a No. 2 driver and has spent most of his career in a position where, had he found himself ahead, he'd have be asked to let his teammate through.

Moving to Williams, he hoped he'd left all that behind.

So despite his race engineer repeating the message (in more tactful words), he ignored the team orders. Bottas, realising he wasn't going to be waved by, attackedbut Massa held him off and retained seventh.

After the race, Massa was unrepentant. He told James Galloway of Sky Sports F1:

We are fighting for the championship, we are in the second race. Definitely I tried the best I could and Valtteri couldn't pass me so it was going to be difficult to pass Jenson as well. So I don't think things would have been changed at the end.

I was there, I was fighting. It was not that we were on two completely [different] strategies. He was not in a different strategy to me, he stopped just after me and his tyre was slightly better, but not enough to pass me and not enough to pass Jenson as well. So what I did was the right thing.

Bottas, unsurprisingly, had a different view. When asked about what had happened, he told the same outlet:

I don't want to really comment [about] that. We should really speak in the team first what happened there and what messages they gave to Felipe.

I think there was a really good chance for me to get Jenson. I was approaching really quickly but, like I said, we need to speak with the team.

Should have been an interesting debrief at Williams, then.

Massa with former teammate Alonso.
Massa with former teammate Alonso.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

There's a strong argument that F1 is a team sport, and that drivers should always do what is best for the teameven if it means sacrificing a few points here and there.

Bottas definitely had the faster car at that stage of the race. And after his impressive attacking displays in Australia two weeks ago, there is good reason to think he had a better chance of getting past Button than Massa, who had already tried and failed.

That would have been two more points for Williams, and two fewer for McLaren. At the end of the season, that four-point swing could be enough to put one team ahead of the other.

But Massa was right to ignore the team orders.

The two Williams drivers are not just fighting with the other teams. They're also involved in a very close internal battle to gain the upper hand.

If Massa had given the place away, Bottas would be even further ahead in the championship standings. But more importantly it would have set a precedent and, in all likelihood, knocked Massa's confidence through the floor.

We've seen enough over the years to know that the Brazilian's emotional state significantly impacts on his driving.

So any blow to his morale, especially this early in the season, could be disastrous for his future.

And what better way to shatter a driver's motivationespecially one who's had a career like Massa'sthan to shunt him aside in only the second race of the year for the sake of two extra points?

Or rather, a chance of two extra points. Because there's no guarantee Bottas could have passed Button.

In ignoring the team orders, Massa has made it clear that he won't be pushed around as he was at Ferrari. He's also sent a message to Bottas: If you want to beat me, you'll have to do it yourself.

And that's exactly how it should be.


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