Missed Chance: FIA Let Ferrari Off the Hook at Team Orders Hearing
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Today saw Ferrari escape further sanctions from the FIA over the "team orders" incident at the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim in July.
Many suggestions were made over potential punishments. These ranged from a lenient slap on the wrist, to a strong points penalty, and even the absurd suggestion of throwing the team out of the championship. In the end, Ferrari were only made to pay the legal fees for the hearing.
Let's start with some background to the story.
At the start of the German Grand Prix, Felipe Massa jumped pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso. After a couple of failed overtaking attempts, Alonso dropped back from the Brazilian.
Following the stops, at about two-thirds distance, Massa received a radio communication from Rob Smedley, his race engineer. He told Massa, "Fernando is faster than you. Can you confirm you understood that message?" Soon after this message was received, Massa mysteriously slowed on the exit of the hairpin, allowing teammate Alonso to overtake him.
After this occurred, Massa received another message from Smedley, saying "Good boy, sorry."
Alonso would take victory, with Massa finishing 4.2 seconds behind.
The stewards were puzzled at these messages that Massa had received, with the last message in particular catching their eye. While Smedley claimed that he was saying sorry about being overtaken, the FIA stewards had deemed that the Ferrari team had breached Article 39.1 of the FIA Sporting Regulations, and also Article 151c of the FIA International Sporting Code. These refer to a ban on team orders and bringing the sport into disrepute, respectively. They were subsequently fined $100,000, with the matter referred to the FIA World Motor Sport Council.
Ever since the Grand Prix, many opinions have been thrown around the paddock.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner called it "the most blatant team order ever." Mercedes GP CEO Nick Fry said, "[Massa] was putting in a great performance. It doesn't seem fair regardless." Former Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher, now at Mercedes, commented that "Massa is way behind Alonso and Ferrari felt Alonso needed to win the championship."
This is not the first time Ferrari have been in the spotlight, with the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix being the other high-profile incident the Prancing Horse have been involved in.
Two Grands Prix and one court case later, the decision has been made to not further punish Ferrari over the controversy. Furthermore, the FIA has said it will review the rule regarding a ban on team orders, and possibly scrap it altogether.
Personally, I think the FIA have made a bad move.
Yes, the team orders rule is flawed, but they have been a part of Formula One since the beginning. Many have questioned the implication of it, with opinions on this becoming more vocal since the German Grand Prix.
However, a rule is a rule, with Nick Fry telling Autosport magazine, "I think the first thing is that we all have to obey the rules. Whether you like it or not the stewards and the FIA have the final say."
The German Grand Prix controversy was a chance for the FIA to put this and other demons to rest. Not only could they have backed up implementing the rule in the first place, they could have also lost their reputation of being "Ferrari International Assistance."
Instead, the FIA are left further embarrassed, and the critics are more vocal than ever. BBC Formula One anchor Jake Humphrey tweeted, "Ferrari International Assistance is trending on Twitter and the messages flooding in to me aren't positive." It's a view shared across the whole community.
The rule looks set to be removed for next year, meaning that it has had no use in the eight seasons it has been "enforced." The fans feel cheated. They feel their sport is being made a mockery of by its governing body. They were robbed of a popular winner in Massa, but as has been proved with the events of recent weeks, Formula One doesn't do sentiment.
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