The FIA’s World Motor Sport Council met today in Paris to decide on whether further punishment would be handed out to Ferrari for violating the team orders ban earlier this season. At the German Grand Prix, the team ordered Felipe Massa to move over for team mate Fernando Alonso, which ultimately allowed Alonso to win the race.
As a result of this action, Ferrari was fined $100,000 by the Nurburgring race stewards. It was thought that the FIA, upon review of the case, might actually heap additional punishment on the Maranello squad, but in what might be an omen of a change in attitude towards the team orders ban in general, the FIA let the current punishment stand, without adding to it.
It had been thought that, at a minimum, both Ferrari drivers might be stripped of the points won at the German venue, and at at maximum, that Ferrari might lose all of this season’s points.
While most paddock pundits seem to concur that Ferrari was at the very least guilty as charged, many or most of those who are willing to go on the record also seemed to think that the current team orders ban, which was instituted during Michael Schumacher’s heyday at Ferrari, in 2002, is outmoded and should be junked.
During that season, at the Austrian Grand Prix, Schumi’s team mate Rubens Barrichello was ordered by Ross Brawn to move over for the German ace. Barrichello deliberately made the move in the most obvious way possible, causing fans to jeer. Schumi won the race, but appeared to have egg on his face afterward, and Rubinho has been whining about the incident ever since.
But many have concluded that the ban is contrived, mere window dressing to appease the fans. The fact is, teams are able to control the relative performance of their drivers in a host of different ways without resorting to the type of obvious tactics employed by Ferrari in Austria in 2002 — and in Germany this year. That being the case, many are calling for the repeal of the rule.
But it looks as though a repeal might be on the horizon. Along with the decision to limit Ferrari’s current punishment to the already levied $100,000 fine, the FIA also released this statement: “The judging body has also acknowledged that article 39.1 of the sporting regulations should be reviewed and has decided to refer this question to the Formula 1 Sporting Working Group.”
Prior to the 2002 ban, team orders had been used freely in Formula 1 since the beginning of the sport’s modern era in 1950. It seems absurd to structure a sport on the basis of organized teams, and then forbid those teams to issue orders to their players while on the playing field. Imagine this happening in football or baseball.
My own prediction is that the ban will be overturned. Avid Formula 1 fans are a technically sophisticated bunch, as far as sports fans go, and I think most of them realize a true ban is almost impossible to police, and is really antithetical to the nature of the sport. F1 teams currently use every tool at their disposal when putting together their race strategies, and team orders should be one of those tools, without restriction, as long as collusion between ostensibly rival teams does not occur.
I also think that, assuming the ban is repealed, it will be no coincidence that it will happen under the stewardship of the relatively new FIA president, Jean Todt, who, after all, used to be the team principal at Ferrari during the Schumacher-Brawn era.