Following team orders: To be, or not to be. That is the question, as we head into the penultimate race of the 2010 Formula One season.
The Formula One title race has seen a dramatic change of fortunes ever since that day in Hockenheim when race leader Felipe Massa allowed his Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso to pass by, following a dubious team order from Ferrari stating that Alonso was faster than he is.
The credulous little chap that he is, Massa was only too happy to comply as the Spaniard took the lead and went on to win the race.
This little shenanigan from Ferrari turned out to be just the boost Alonso needed, whose title challenge was disintegrating prior to Hockenheim, after which the Spaniard went on to get six podium finishes out of a possible seven, including four wins.
However, Ferrari were subject to heavy criticism following the incident, and were hit with a $100,000 fine.
Team orders may be a taboo topic in the F1 circle, but may well come into the picture in the remaining two races, more so in Brazil as we still have four drivers with a real chance of winning the title.
It will be interesting to see how the three leading teams strategize with their drivers, especially with each team having its own internal issues to deal with.
Red Bull go into the race as favourites, despite Mark Webber conceding the title lead to Fernando Alonso in Korea.
The Interlagos circuit, or Autódromo José Carlos Pace as it is now known as, demands a lot of power. It is not built on a flat terrain, and follows the ups and downs of a hilly ground, which makes it harder to drive and demands more power from the car's engines.
The Red Bulls tend to be good over bumps, and the Interlagos circuit provides many. Webber won the race in 2009, and will be favourite to win it again this year.
However, the Red Bull camp has been hit by allegations of preferential treatment, with Webber himself claiming that his teammate Sebastian Vettel is favoured by the team as he is the younger of the two.
Webber also went on to say that his lead over Vettel in the championship is turning out to be an “inconvenience” for the team.
Red Bull were pretty firm with their non-preferential policy prior to Korea. However, the double failure at Yeongam has forced team principal Christian Horner to reconsider.
Ideally, any team strategy should favour Webber, as he is closest to leader Fernando Alonso, trailing by 11 points.
Vettel, on the other hand, lies 25 points behind Alonso and has quite a long shot at winning the title.
The evident unrest in the Red Bull camp couldn’t come at a worse time, with just two races to go. However, the two Red Bulls topped both the Friday Practice timesheets, and should be strong contenders for the race.
Ferrari have always enjoyed racing in Brazil, winning the race consecutively from 2006 to 2008. Felipe Massa won in 2006 and 2008, and would have won in 2007 too, had it not been for yet another team order.
Massa was asked to slow down to let teammate Kimi Raikkonen through, and the maneuver allowed the Finn to clinch the title by a point.
There were also reports stating that Massa had deliberately lost two seconds on the final sector of his in-lap in the Korean GP so that he wouldn't leapfrog Fernando Alonso in the pit-stops, thanks to the errant wheel nut on Alonso's tyre stop.
Had Felipe not dallied by an extra two seconds in what was only a 20-second sector, then both he and Hamilton would have been in front of Alonso.
In spite of these incidents, Massa still chooses to remain defiant in support of his teammate and boldly stated that he WOULD help Alonso again, if need be.
A Brazilian prosecutor has even gone on to warn Massa that he could be arrested and sentenced to six years in prison if he takes team orders to help Alonso win the title.
Alonso appears to be unperturbed by the whole bedlam, saying that the only issue that even remotely ruffled his feathers in the past couple of days was the offside goal scored by AC Milan against his favourite Real Madrid!
Alonso added to his nonchalance, saying that a Massa win in the remaining two races would only delight him, as it would take valuable points off the other title contenders. There’s some Spanish intellect for you!
It is to be noted that Alonso can lift the trophy if he wins Sunday's race, provided Webber finishes fifth or worse.
Alonso can also clinch the title if he finishes second and Webber places eighth or worse, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton is fourth or worse, and Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel is second or worse.
However, the Spaniard’s comments would do wonders to a passionate Brazilian crowd, who hope to see local hero Massa back on the podium after he missed last year’s race due to his head injury. Regardless of what happens, it’s a master stroke to begin with from Alonso.
The picture is a shade clearer for the McLaren team, with Jenson Button all but out of the title race, languishing 42 points behind Alonso.
Lewis Hamilton has more of a chance, being 21 points off the top, and the Brit is apparently enjoying the chase. Hamilton will be banking on a mistake from the Red Bulls and the Ferraris, with an Alonso retirement being at the top of the wish list.
McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh admitted that rival teams Red Bull and Ferrari will be quick, but insisted that the unpredictable nature of the Interlagos track means McLaren have every chance of being competitive.
However, he also admitted that if push comes to shove, Button might have to make way for Hamilton. This comes after an earlier statement which said that Button would be given every chance to go for the title.
Unity and hypocrisy are the words that will define the Brazilian Grand Prix, with team orders almost certain to come into play.
How the teams will cope with internal egos, a bumpy track, a passionate Brazilian crowd and even the possibility of another wet race will have to be seen come race day.
Ready for some Samba?
This article was first published on http://www.isport.in