Along with millions of other race fans around the world, I was aghast when I heard Rob Smedley, Felipe Massa's engineer, passing on the thinly-veiled order to give way to Fernando Alonso at Hockenheim. My first thought was that Alonso, my favourite driver on the GP grid, would forever be tainted by this clumsily executed instruction, justt as Michael Schumacher was after "stealing" victory from Rubens Barrichello at the 2002 Austrian GP. But then I got to thinking...
Go back over five decades to the 1956 Italian GP at Monza. Peter Collins sportingly handed his Ferrari to Juan Manuel Fangio (in those days car swaps were allowed and the points shared), ruling himself out of the title battle and effectively handing the crown to the great Argentinian. His reasoning? Fangio was quicker and deserved the championship. No stigma was attached to Fangio and Collins was immortalised as the epitomy of the English sportsman.
Back to the present day: Alonso was quicker than Massa and would undoubtedly have led the race from the start had he not been almost squeezed into the wall by Sebastian Vettel (I think the stewards should have looked at that one!), which gave Massa a clear run around the outside. (Can you believe it, Eddie Jordan commented that Alonso lost the lead due to his own mistake... what was he smoking?) In addition, Alonso also has much higher points tally, effectively making him the bearer of Ferrari's tiitle hopes... And, finally, Vettel was bearing down on the Ferrari pair in the Hockenheim race and Alonso looked like showing the Red Bull a clean pair of exhausts if he could get past his team-mate.
This latest incident - for which Ferrari has been fined a piffling 100 000 euros, as well as the clashes between Vettel and Webber in Turkey and Silverstone and the less fateful contretemps between Hamilton and Button In Turkey serve to highlight the absurdity of the FIA's "no team orders" stance. As Alonso commented: "We got 42 points today, but Red Bull threw away a similar opportunity in Turkey".
Team orders were part and parcel of grand prix racing until Max Mosley lost his cool over Coulthard gifting victory in the 1998 Aussie GP to Mika Hakkinen and then came down hard on Ferrari over Austria 2002. Several incidents this season have highlighted the fact that lack of team discipline (as with Webber and Vettel) can seriously jeopardise a tean's campaign.
The sad thing about it all is that the drivers cannot say exactly what their motivations were, for fear of incurring the wrath of the stewards. Ferrari told Massa he was slower and he (in Ferrari's view) acted in the interest of the team. But Massa's negative body language and Smedley's tone in providing the information showed that it was an unwilling act, made under duress.Alonso should have been free to thank the Brazilian for his "magnaminity" (Rob Smedley's word!) instead of saying he did not know why Massa had slowed...
Oh for the days of team spirit and men like Peter Collins. Come to think of it, Mad Max has gone and Jean Todt, the man who imposed that infamous Ferrari team order in Austria in 2002, now heads up the FIA. Does this mean team orders might make a comeback?