After you-gate

How many something-gate scandals can we have in F1 this year? There’s been a lot more off-track action in 2010 than any other season I can remember.

The latest, of course, is the incident on lap 48 of the German Grand Prix. Despite all their protests of innocence, it is hard to see how Rob Smedley’s message was not coded team orders. It seems too coincidental that Smedley told Massa that Alonso was faster than him, in a very clear, slow and concise way, then asked if he understood that message, then a couple of laps later Felipe slowed on a straight and Alonso whizzed past. It also seems strange that after holding him off for so long, and battling to keep the lead earlier in the race, he should decide to hand over a victory just like that. Massa could most likely see Alonso was faster earlier in the race, so why did he shut the door firmly after the pit stops?

There are a lot of people crying out that Massa was cheated out of a victory. A year after his life threatening accident just rubs salt into those wounds. But was he? Personally, I believe Alonso would have passed him before the end of the race.

However, Fernando has said that it was better that way, than they crash and get nothing. This to me adds fuel to the team orders fire. The Spaniard is not a slow driver, and not exactly the least talented on the planet. Neither is Massa. I am certain they could have executed an overtaking manoeuvre that was fair while still racing. In that comment, Alonso sells himself short. If we look at Turkey, and the McLaren pair, they diced for position fairly, gave room where they could, and although they barged wheels, it wasn’t a hard whack that ended a race. I firmly believe the Ferrari pair are on that level. To say they could have crashed is nonsense.

So would Massa have won? Probably not. However F1 fans were denied the opportunity to see the two best drivers of the day battling for the lead of the race. Instead, the German GP was processional, and controversial.

Of course, the matter will be looked at by the World MotorSport Council. On this panel will be one Jean Todt, the President of the FIA and former Ferrari team manager. This will be an interesting case to watch. Before he was elected, many (myself included) were worried that Todt would continue the Mosely era, and show some empathy toward Ferrari, as it appeared the FIA had in the past. I have since held my hands up, and admitted my thoughts were wrong. Todt has been very fair in his role, and the FIA more open.

However, all those who have the 2002 F1 Season Review on video, will know about the Austrian GP of that year, and the camera focusing on the former Ferrari Team Manager as he says over the radio “Rubens, let Michael pass for the championship. Let Michael pass for the championship Rubens please.”

Now the man who delivered the most famous public team order in modern F1 must sit and help judge whether his former team were wrong for doing what he once did. To make it worse, the current rule they must debate over was brought in after the actions of Todt and the Ferrari team in that race.

Whatever happens, Ferrari were very wrong in Germany. Wrong to make the order, wrong to believe they needed to, wrong to prevent fans seeing a true battle for the lead, and wrong to insist afterward that they didn’t hand out a team order, and that they wouldn’t.

For the drivers, they are just the innocent party in this. Massa must have realised, as Rubens once did, that his place in the team would be in serious jeopardy if he didn’t comply. For Fernando, he couldn’t exactly slow and crawl behind his team-mate. Mike Gascoyne of Lotus suggested today that Ferrari lose their points from the race, but the drivers keep theirs. That I feel is the fairest penalty of all.

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