In a statement issued in the wake of the team orders scandal being ruled by the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) – where the $100,000 fine to Ferrari was upheld without further penalty for forcing Felipe Massa to cede victory to Fernando Alonso – the FIA has confirmed that Ferrari did use team orders.
However, it added, it elected not to impose further penalties due to inconsistencies in the way the rules have been applied in the past. Its report of meeting suggested that the WMSC believed Ferrari to have exercised a team order, but that the situation governing the rules was too ambiguous as to impose a further penalty.
“It is undeniable that the race result would have been different had the contentious instruction not been issued to Mr Felipe Massa,” the statement reads.
However, it added the caveat: “There were many examples of what could have been said to be team orders in Formula 1 in recent years, and therefore there has been inconsistency in its application.
“Also its application to indirect team orders via messages where drivers raise no complaints is uncertain and difficult to detect and police,” it continued.
“The Judging Body of the WMSC accepted that this may well have influenced Ferrari’s approach, and Ferrari also had a legitimate concern to avoid collisions between team mates in close on track racing.”
Ferrari’s case was strengthened by letters submitted from the Williams and Sauber teams, who showed their support by pointing out the risks that stem from team-mates colliding while disputing track positions. Both teams have recently fallen victim to that scenario, and you can find plenty of examples in our “Top Ten Collisions with your Team-mate” feature on this site.
The FIA statement also notes that the judging panel was asked to consider the following penalties:
the $100,000 fine issued by the race stewards from the German Grand Prix;
a five-second time penalty for Alonso, which would relegate him to second place and promote Massa to the win; or
the stripping of the drivers’ and teams’ points earned from the race result, suspended for 2010 and given back if no similar event occurred for the remainder of the 2010 season.
The FIA also explained Ferrari’s defence: that no “order” had ever been issued by the team. The team was extremely keen to stress the distinction between a team order and the provision of information or request from a team that they would like their driver to acknowledge.
The two sound rather one and the same…
“In the view of Ferrari, Mr Felipe Massa was not ordered to allow Mr Fernando Alonso to pass; rather he was given relevant information, based on which he decided, for the benefit of the team, to allow Mr Fernando Alonso to pass,” the statement read.
“The relevant information was that Mr. Fernando Alonso was faster than him, and that Mr. Sebastian Vettel was closing the gap on both of them.
“Mr Felipe Massa realised that the best interests of the team and the drivers’ safety were going to be served by allowing Mr Fernando Alonso to pass, and acted accordingly.
“In the view of Ferrari, there is a clear distinction between ‘team orders’ on the one hand, and ‘team strategy and tactics’ on the other hand. The dispute communication should be considered as ‘team strategy and tactics.”
Interestingly, the report also revealed that some laps before the radio communication where Massa’s engineer Rob Smedley informed his charge that “Fernando is faster than you”, that both drivers had been instructed to turn their engines to a lower setting – only for the Spaniard to be told to turn his up again.
“Alonso increased his engine speed without Mr Felipe Massa’s being informed,” the document added. “Mr Fernando Alonso was therefore benefiting from a definite performance advantage over Mr Felipe Massa in the moments preceding the contentious overtaking [manoeuvre].”