Article 39.1 doesn’t work

Yesterday, many cried outrage. Ferrari, found guilty by the stewards of the German Grand Prix of instigating team orders, seemed to get away with it at the World Motorsport Council meeting in Paris. Many will say it is a case of the FIA supporting their favourite team, that if it had been McLaren, the book would well and truly have been thrown.

I will admit, I was a little incensed. I think even the most hardcore Ferrari fan will admit that Massa was given a coded instruction to let Fernando pass. One respected F1 journalist called the outraged “Ferrari anti-fans” – well I can tell you now I am not one. I found that term insulting. I am not against Ferrari, I respect every team in the sport. I am a racing fan, and in that Grand Prix, in that manoeuvre, there was no racing.

So we believe there were team orders, and obviously so do the stewards who imposed the fine. But can it be proved? No, and this is where Article 39.1 does not work.

All we have to go on, the evidence, is that Rob Smedley told Massa in a slightly abrupt and sarcastic tone that his team-mate was faster, and then called him a good lad, and apologised after Alonso had got by. There was no official call to move over. Ferrari can then say that they gave no such instruction, and it was the driver’s decision, not an order. Smedley’s lack of emotion can be described as being down to the fact his driver was slower, and wouldn’t last in the lead. Where exactly did Ferrari tell Massa to move over and let his team-mate pass?

Other team orders have been seen this season. In Turkey, McLaren drivers we told to save fuel, effectively ending their race and keeping them holding station. Why was there no outrage over this? Most likely because one driver was not asked to move over to let another driver take the position. I think this is where the onus is on Ferrari – they manipulated the result by having one driver take the place of another, not by telling them to hold station. There is still the belief that in Turkey, had it been Button leading from Hamilton, the same ‘fuel save’ order would have been given.

I’ll point to another instance of team orders going unpunished, again a blatant one, and again, ironically, involving Alonso. At Renault, in Canada one year, Fisichella was told to ‘have a go at the car in front, or let Fernando have a go instead’ – nothing was said about this, which is obviously an instruction to pass the guy in front or let your team-mate pass you. Another example of “Fernando is faster than you”.

So teams can still give coded orders, and claim it is up to the driver that they moved over. It is then up to the FIA to prove that an order was given, which is hard unless the specific ‘move over’ words are spoken. Even inconsistency in the lap times can be explained by the argument that it was the driver’s decision to slow down. Article 39.1 bans explicit team orders, but it cannot reasonably be enforced.

I am against team orders of any kind. I dislike it when a driver is told to hold station, not just let a team-mate pass. I wasn’t happy that McLaren did it in Turkey, I wasn’t happy when Brawn did it some times last year. I would love to see team orders banned. But as last night proved, the rule needs to be enforceable, and I think it will take a long time to find one that is. Perhaps that’s why the FIA have passed the question over to the F1 Working Group.

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