Ferrari let off the hook after team orders scandal

By Gareth Llewellyn
ferrari flag

ferrari flag

The FIA’s decision not to impose further sanctions on Ferrari after the team orders affair at this year’s German Grand Prix once again shows just how inept the governing body can be.

We know that other teams have, albeit more subtlety, deployed team orders to get the result they wanted, but it is the manner in which Ferrari did it, then having the arrogance to deny it and continue to deny it after the World Motor Sport Council hearing last week that is most disappointing.

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh recently talked about how badly F1 is marketed for a brand and product of its kind – the sport is all too often driven by greed and an unwavering desire to succeed at all costs. As we have seen in recent years with the Spygate and Crashgate scandals, there is no limit to how low some in the sport will stoop to achieve the success they crave.

F1 has always been rife with infighting, dirty tactics, and teams who put their own interests ahead of the integrity of the sport in which they compete, be it for personal success, or to appease or attract new sponsors and therefore more money.

Let us not forget that team orders were introduced after Jean Todt blatantly told Rubens Barrichello to allow team-mate Michael Schumacher to pass him at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix. A most unsatisfactory move that upset Barrichello, embarrassed Schumacher, and failed to endear many fans to Ferrari for issuing an order that should not have been made.

This was the first major incident from any sport during Jean Todt’s reign as FIA president, and while he was not involved in the disciplinary hearing against his former team, the old adage that FIA stands for ‘Ferrari International Assistance’ appears still to ring true.

Todt came out after the meeting to state that there was not enough evidence against Ferrari, yet the FIA confirmed the decision by race stewards at Hockenheim to fine Ferrari £65,000 for an infringement of article 39.1.

At what point does it stop? Race officials and the FIA need to start disciplining all teams for infringements.

So they believed also that Ferrari were guilty of breaching article 39.1. By finding them guilty, it allowed the FIA to hand down further punishment as it deems appropriate or in the best interests of the sport, but it failed to do so.

What is £65,000 to a team with Ferrari’s budget? Merely loose change. Even if there was no money left in the F1 team’s budget, there are more than enough funds kicking around in the coffers of the Fiat Group to finance that fine, and it is barely a drop in the ocean compared to the $100m fine meted out to McLaren in the wake of the Spygate scandal of 2007.

Ferrari regularly got away with stretching the letter of the law during Max Mosley’s tenure as FIA president, and strangely enough Mosley was one of the stronger voices in calling for the Scuderia to be punished this time, but it appears that the team still receive better treatment than any other side in the sport, and that moniker will stick even more now a former Ferrari team boss is FIA president.

We’ve seen a number of infringements this year which the FIA has failed to do anything about – each time they have cited that the regulations are the problem. Confusion over etiquette under the safety car, several times, interpretations of regulations to parts on the cars, and now there’s a problem over team orders – the same regulation that has been in place since 2002 is suddenly a problem? It’s embarrassing.

While teams and drivers have been penalised for speeding under the safety car, overtaking under the safety car, and even overtaking the safety car in Lewis Hamilton’s case, each time it was determined that the regulations should be looked at.

Last week’s disciplinary hearing was far from what it was billed as – more an opportunity for Ferrari to say ‘we don’t like this rule, so can we blame that, and have it changed please?’

At what point does it stop? Race officials and the FIA need to start disciplining all teams for infringements. If race stewards have limited powers to fine, perhaps that should be changed.

Ferrari were ordered to pay the cost of the investigation, which no doubt would have been an expensive affair. The same investigation could have been done by race stewards at the track, and settled there and then, instead of dragging on for two months.

But perhaps the FIA and F1 likes to have these long-drawn-out sagas that play out across the world’s media.

Once again, Ferrari got out of a potentially tricky situation unscathed – no points lost, no suspended ban. It’s a bad start to Jean Todt’s regime. His disciplinary panel had the opportunity to clamp down on rule breakers, but they didn’t.

It was a far cry from a disciplinary hearing, there was no judgement, they bottled it because the Ferrari spin machine threatened to take civil action if they deemed the punishment too harsh.

Should Alonso claim the drivers’ championship this year by less than the additional points he took from Massa in Germany, only Ferrari and loyal Spaniards will celebrate arguably the most undeserved victory in the history of the sport.

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