Most people will already know about the way Ferarri managed the Hockenheim Formula 1 race yesterday. They had the two fastest cars and so they deserved first and second places in the race. Felippe Massa was winning and Fernando Alonso was second. There were times when Alonso was faster than Massa, and there were times when Massa was faster than Alonso. When Alonso was faster he was still unable to get past Massa. This obviously frustrated Alonso, but that’s just the way it is in racing sometimes.
It used to be the case that the teams could order their drivers to let their team member pass them so they could maximise the result. This was banned a long time ago after notable incidents involving Schumacher/Barrichello in 2002 and Coulthard/Hakkinen artificially deciding the outcome of the race in 1998.
At around 15 laps from the end of the race Rob Smedley gave Massa the following message: “Ok, so, Fernando is faster … than you. Can you confirm you understand that message?”
By itself that message doesn’t explicitly tell Massa to give up his position to Alonso, but a couple of laps later Alonso passed Massa without any challenge or difficulty. Something he couldn’t manage over several laps earlier on in the race. Quite obviously the message was sent as a way of instructing Massa to let Alonso pass.
Rule 39.1 of the sporting regulations for Formula 1 states the following:
39.1 Team orders which interfere with a race result are prohibited.
After the passing manoeuvre Rob Smedley came back on the radio and said “Good lad. Just stick with it now. Sorry.”
Once the farce of the trophy presentation was over it was easy to see how dejected Massa was, and how uncomfortable the entire ordeal was for everyone but Sebastian Vettel who finished third. The press conference and conversations with Smedley and Stefano Domenicali were ridiculous. They kept going on about how it’s a job, and Ferarri is their employer, so they have a duty to the team. How about their duty to the millions of fans who fund the sport?
Let’s get this straight once and for all. Formula 1 is a motorsport. Motorsport makes its money from advertising and ticket sales. Advertising money comes from companies who want to get their products in the minds of people who view the races. This money pays for the teams and the sport to exist. Without the public there would be no advertisers. Without the advertising it wouldn’t be worth it for the teams to compete. It is in the interest of the teams to give the people what they want. When it comes to motorsport the people want a race! Specifically, a fair race according the the agreed-upon regulations.
I believe that Massa could have held Alonso to the end of the race as he was doing earlier on, but sadly we will never know. Happily, I didn’t place any money on the result, but a lot of other people did bet on Massa to win. All of these people have been cheated out of not only a race, but also their potential winnings. Some betting shops are offering refunds to people who bet on Massa, which is very nice of them, but the people who bet on Massa should have won money, not merely failed to lose it.
The maximum $100,000 fine imposed on Ferarri is a pittance. Ferarri supposedly receive around $100,000,000 (one hundred million dollars) a year from Philip Morris (they own Marlboro cigarettes) for advertising on their car. Ferarri could fix the result of every single race and pay the maximum fine and still profit from advertising. In fact, the increased coverage given to the team would probably increase the exposure and therefore the value of the advertising. Since Ferarri appear to have the fastest car it might actually be in their interest to continue flouting the regulations. They could win the championship and make the advertising space even more valuable. The only people to lose out would be the several million people who fund the sport, but Ferarri don’t really care about them. Their duty is to the team, after all.