The Ferrari team orders scandal is the best news that rival team Red Bull has received all year, as for once the Milton Keynes team is not the one trying to shy away from the scathing media spotlight.
This time it’s Ferrari doing the dodging of the spotlight – and the questions, one might add – after their ham-fisted management of the German Grand Prix in which Felipe Massa ceded a potentially popular win to his team-mate Fernando Alonso.
The post-race press conference made for very interesting viewing, with the media getting well and truly stuck into Alonso and team. Some reporters suggested that the Spaniard risked winning a “dirty” championship, and went as far as to compare yesterday’s race victory with that of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, the source of the ‘Crashgate’ scandal.
“That’s your opinion,” the double World Champion retorted.
That being said, the concept of team orders has existed since the birth of modern-era Formula 1, and it wasn’t uncommon to see number-two drivers ceding their cars to senior team-mates mid-race if the lead driver’s car broke down.
Within the F1 paddock, key figures were equally critical – often an easy thing to do when the spotlight isn’t on you.
While not wanting to be drawn on the matter, McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh admitted that the position switch “was not a new approach from Ferrari, was it?”
Lotus’ Technical Director, Mike Gascoyne, concurred. “This was just handled very badly,” he said.
Perhaps those who should know better in the Red Bull camp – Christian Horner and Helmut Marko – might have been wiser to keep their opinions to themselves given the recent allegations thrown their way, but Horner added: “I think that it’s wrong for the sport. The drivers should’ve been allowed to race.”
hypocritically added: “It is unbelievable how awkwardly they demonstrated who is their number one. The FIA must react with a drastic punishment.”
Mercedes GP CEO Nick Fry also offered his two cents, and urged for all teams to consider the good of the sport ahead of individual ambitions.
“This is sport and the fans out there want to see the drivers fighting,” he said. “While the teams think it is a teams’ championship, most of the fans – possibly with the exception of Ferrari – support the drivers who happen to drive for a team.”
The press was the most divided, and unsurprisingly this was split along national lines – sections of the Spanish and Italian press supported the team’s actions, while sections of the British and Brazilian press were probably the most critical.
The Sunday Express called Alonso and Ferrari “dirty, thieving cheats”, while The Swiss wrote: “There are different ways for Alonso to return to the throne. Lying and cheating should not be one of them.”
But while Spain’s Marca complained that “the English press showed no mercy” to Alonso, the usually partisan AS paper was more balanced, arguing: “Alonso deserved to win the German grand prix, but not like this. Domenicali has confirmed his true ineptitude by giving Massa obvious team orders that are prohibited by the rules.”
In Italy, the press set about defending its national team, with Il Tempo arguing that Ferrari “did the right thing in the wrong way”, the Corriere dello Sport added: “It is fair to recognise that the problem is in the regulations.”
Italy’s Autosprint remarked that Ferrari was “fined for teamwork!”.
Crossing the Atlantic to Brazil, the media there was both outraged at the betrayal of Massa, but equally laid the blame at the Brazilian’s door.
Perhaps it is the French papers who summed it up best?
“Ferrari is a team unlike another; when not undermined by political intrigue, they shoot themselves in the foot,” dryly wrote Liberation.
La Libre queried the impartiality of the FIA and the World Motor Sport Council, when it asked: “Would [former Ferrari Team Principal and current FIA President] Jean Todt dare punish his old team for a practice he applied himself? We honestly doubt it.”
One thing’s for certain: expect the rumbling to continue into Hungary.
[Original image via Sutton Images]