Ferrari CEO Luca di Montezemolo has urged driver Felipe Massa to get with the program and support team mate Fernando Alonso’s bid for this year’s driving title. At the recent Paris Motor Show, the Ferrari boss said, “I have waited for Felipe with great perseverance in the last four races. I want a strong Massa who will shave points off the rivals.”
Ferrari was at the heart of a controversy this year after the pit bosses instructed Massa to move over for Alonso at the German Grand Prix, granting Alonso the win. The team was fined $100,000 for breaking the rule banning team orders. The fine was seen as a slap on the wrist, but perhaps for good reason. Many in the paddock are calling for an end to the ban, and, indeed, the rule will be reviewed by the FIA at the end of the season.
The team orders rule isn’t the only thing that Ferrari seems to have broken. Felipe Massa’s spirit doesn’t seem to have survived the episode in good form, either. Although the team and Massa himself deny that he’s been relegated to number two status, his performances since Germany have been lackluster, as if, knowing that he won’t be allowed to finish ahead of Alonso, he’s not really trying.
In his publicized remarks, the Ferrari boss was quick to remind Massa that he is part of a team effort. “Those who race for Ferrari don’t race for themselves,” said di Montezemolo, “but for the Ferrari team colours. One who wants to race for himself will have to face his team.”
Di Montezemolo also defended the team’s use of team orders, and Alonso’s de facto number one status: “The decision to focus on Alonso has been proven to be right. He is extremely strong and very close to the team, and has been able to blend in well from day one despite the concerns of some.”
The fact is that, during Ferrari’s most successful years, i.e. during the Schumacher-Brawn years, the team always had a defacto pecking order, with Schumi as number one. While both of Schumi’s team mates during that decade, Eddie Irvine and Rubens Barrichello, bristled at having to play water carrier to the German ace, it was an efficient way to go about the job of winning championships. From his first year at Ferrari, in 1996, Schumacher galvanized the team around him, and from that point onwards the focus of the team was to help Schumi win titles.
After Schumacher and Brawn left the team, the situation became more nebulous. While many expected Kimi Raikkonen to assume the role of team leader, simply based on the assumption that he’d be quicker than Massa, the laconic Finn has no discernible leadership skills. In fact, the team complained he was practically mute. While he was able to win the title in 2007, he was helped in no small measure by the fact that the two McLaren drivers, Alonso and then-rookie Lewis Hamilton, were feuding and stealing points from one another. Had it not been for several rookie mistakes that Hamilton made that year, Kimi never would have won champion’s laurels.
During the next two years, Kimi’s star faded. Having won his title, he seemed to lose motivation, and he was regularly outpaced by Massa. The team was never really put in the position of having to impose a pecking order. Neither did they win any titles, however. While the drivers might have had equal status, based on performance it looked as though the status they shared was that of number two.
Replacing Kimi with Alonso seemed to be a coup. From day one, it looked as though Ferrari had a team leader again. Like Schumacher, Alonso is a leader by temperament, and will naturally try to assume thats role no matter which team he’s on. This, more than anything else, was the reason he found his position at McLaren so untenable. It wasn’t just that Hamilton was sometimes quicker than he was; it was the annoying fact that McLaren refused to make Alonso the focal point of the team.
When Alonso jumped back to Renault, he knew the situation would be different. Flavio Briatore would be more than happy make Alonso top dog again (to the extent of having the number two deliberately crash to bring out a safety car at Singapore!). And when Alonso moved on to Ferrari, the Spaniard knew that the atmsphere there would be just as congenial with respect to team orders. It’s the natural way at Ferrari.
Not that he wouldn’t have to earn number one status on merit. But as was the case during the Schumi decade at the Scuderia, once a driver has demonstrated a performance edge over his team mate, and has proven to be the more likely choice to be the standard bearer for the team, the other driver is expected to fall into line and play a supporting role. Perhaps more than any other team on the grid, Ferrari never loses sight of the fact that the World Championship can only be won by one driver at a time.