Ferrari has had to hose down reports of increased tensions between its drivers, following Felipe Massa’s refusal to obey a direct team order to let Fernando Alonso by during Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.
The Brazilian – who will leave the team at the end of the season to make way for Kimi Räikkönen – had outqualified and was running ahead of the Spaniard in the first half of the race at Suzuka, only to be told by his engineer, Rob Smedley, to let the Spaniard past.
“Multi-function strategy A. Now, please,” Smedley was heard calling out to the Brazilian over the radio, which Massa seemingly refused to respond to.
Alonso was then forced to do it the hard way, passing the Brazilian in a close wheel-to-wheel battle down the start/finish straight a several laps later.
Alonso went on to finish fourth to keep himself mathematically in contention for the Drivers’ Championship at the upcoming Indian Grand Prix, while Massa finished tenth after serving a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane.
After the race, Massa admitted that the ‘Multi-function strategy A’ statement was a coded command to let Alonso by, but that he had chosen to ignore it.
“It was an instruction,” he said during the post-race open press call. “We’re never happy with instructions.
“Whatever happened in the race was not over any instruction; he overtook me on the track.”
“I have said several times now that I do not make presents. And I’ve said that I am racing for me – I am doing my races,” he was quoted as saying by Speed Week.
While Massa’s intransigence may have irked some of the powers-that-be in Ferrari, no one was going to publically admit that this was the case.
“I can understand his feeling,” Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenical said, when asked about Massa’s defiance.
“The team will totally support him until the end of the season, no problem.”
Massa also had support from Alonso, who added: “We cannot make a big thing about it.
“Sometimes it’s difficult, especially when you are fighting for seventh, eighth place.”
The Spaniard also cheekily hinted that Sebastian Vettel’s win at Suzuka came courtesy of a manipulation of the strategy of teammate Mark Webber, who was switched to a three-stop strategy that effectively took him out of contention for the win.
“It would be nice to go back to the old days in Ferrari, fighting for first and second and deciding who wins the races, like Red Bull does.”