Sebastian Vettel is a slow learner. For the second race in a row, he failed to capitalize on his pole position. He is too focused on stopping the driver in position two from getting to the corner instead of on driving his own race.
Okay, he may not have been able to win the race given his fuel problems, but this is the fifth time he has failed to capitalize on his pole position this year.
Worse still, he has failed to maintain his advantage even into the first corner, being beaten to the corner by Red Bull teammate Mark Webber on two occasions—China and Great Britain—and by Fernando Alonso in Germany. Alonso also beat him to the first corner in China, but he started well before anyone else.
Vettel approaches the start of a race expecting to be beaten off the line. He sets his car up at an angle, and his first move is always an attempt to squeeze the second place starter into the wall. Rather than taking advantage of being on the high grip side of the track, he moves off the racing line to try to cover a corner that he hasn’t even reached.
The advantage that the clean side of the track affords a driver was emphasized by the brilliant drive off the line by Felipe Massa in Germany. Massa drove the track normally and passed both Alonso and Vettel before comfortably cruising around the first corner in the lead.
He even had time to do a bit of off-roading before driving himself into a team orders controversy that threatens to turn into another nasty FIA bun fight.
This brings us neatly to the other dumb move of the weekend and helps us neatly forget Vettel's incompetence.
Despite comfortably holding his lead, Massa was ordered to allow Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso to pass him and go on to win the race.
Massa, understandably, was somewhat unimpressed with the team’s orders and allowed the pass to occur in the most blatant way possible to guarantee Stefano Domenicali a date with the race stewards. He also earned his team a $100,000 fine for their troubles.
Ferrari, of course, insists that they have done nothing wrong. They always do. And there is some sympathy for the argument that a team should be able to promote the driver who is in the best position in the world championship.
Unfortunately, the FIA have some pretty clear and strict rules on applying team orders, and no matter how Stefano Domenicali tries to paint things differently, every F1 fan knows that Massa was given an order. That it was delivered in code doesn’t change that one, inexcusable fact.
Felipe Massa’s attitude after the race telegraphed his utter disgust at the decision, one that was made all the more heartless given the relevance of the day to Massa—it was exactly one year to the day since his near-fatal accident.
But there's no room for sentimentality in Formula One.
I suspect Ferrari would receive a lot more sympathy if Alonso had a snowflake's chance of securing the championship. But Alonso’s constant bleating about how ridiculous it was that Massa wouldn’t let him pass and his pathological desire to be the team’s No. 1 driver ended up putting Ferrari in the ridiculous position of having to invoke team orders.
Apart from annoying the hell out of non-Ferrari F1 fans the world over, Ferrari may yet be in even deeper trouble, as they have been referred to the World Motor Sport Council. There is no other sport on the planet that would tolerate fixing that is this obvious (there probably is, but there shouldn’t be). Hopefully the WMSC will take a dim view of this incident.
This story is far from over.