Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Sabotage and Sacrifice at Ferrari

The inaugural United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, was steeped in drama before the red lights went out, as Ferrari announced their intention to instruct Felipe Massa to take a deliberate five place grid penalty in order to ensure Fernando Alonso started from the clean side of the track. Having originally qualified in ninth place on the clean side, the Championship contender was moved up to eighth place as a result of a gear box penalty for Romain Grosjean. Although gaining a grid spot, it was widely believed that the dirty side of the track, and not being on the racing line, would counteract that gain. Ferrari’s decision saw Alonso move onto the racing line in seventh, from where he made a fire bolt start ending up in fourth on the exit from Turn 1.

Alonso takes fourth place in Austin

 The team broke the seal on Massa's gearbox in order to incur the penalty, but they didn't break any rules. Teams have to do everything they can to win and as it transpired, this move helped Alonso keep his chances at a third drivers title alive. Fernando has been quoted as saying he has the best team around him and they lived up to his expectations in Austin. A team who will do anything to ensure he has the very best chances of winning, and a team mate who makes the sacrifices he is asked to without complaining publicly because ultimately, he is there to support the number one driver.

Making the decision to deliberately sabotage Massa's gearbox could have resulted in negative publicity for the team. Not being unfamiliar with making controversial decisions, Ferrari could have drawn on a wealth of experience to negate the negativity had it arisen. The now infamous "Fernando is faster than you" message given to Massa by his engineer, Rob Smedley, while leading the German Grand Prix in 2010, caused a backlash against the team for unsporting conduct. This message saw Massa gift the lead to his team mate and was the most bare faced use of team orders in the sport since they were banned in 2002 following another nefarious Ferrari incident.

In Austria 2002 Rubens Barrichello was ordered to slow down two laps from the end to enable Michael Schumacher to take the victory. This blatant race fixing turned into a farce when Schumacher revealed his guilt by giving Rubens the top step of the podium and the trophy.

If a controversial move to propel a driver further up the finishing positions is to be made, Ferrari are the team to do it. Like Michael Schumacher before him, Fernando is the man who benefits from these decisions and in the words of Lewis Hamilton on the grid in Texas, "Good on him."

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