Massa reopens team orders can of worms

2012-09-15 20:00

Controversial practice back in the spotlight after Italian Grand Prix

Did Felipe Massa deliberately let his Ferrari team-mate, Fernando Alonso, overtake him at the Monza Grand Prix race in Italy last week?

This incident has once more opened a can of worms, where drivers allow their team-mates to overtake them in order to get more points to put them in good stead for the Championship.

This usually happens by order from the team. The most notorious incident was at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, where Rubens Barrichello was ordered to allow Ferrari team-mate Michael Schumacher to pass to win the race.

This received huge amounts of negative attention from fans and media all over the world.

At the US Grand Prix that year, there was further controversy as the Ferrari drivers allegedly manipulated the race result by switching positions in the final few metres of the race, giving Barrichello the win while Schumacher had largely dominated the race.

Some suggested that he was returning the favour to Barrichello for forfeiting the Austrian win.

After the 2002 season, team orders that could influence the outcome of a race were banned, although they are sometimes still implemented discreetly.

But at the 2010 German Grand Prix, Ferrari again caused controversy when Massa’s race engineer was heard to say to his driver: “Fernando (Alonso) is faster than you. Can you confirm you understand that message?”

Moments later, Massa visibly eased back and allowed Alonso to pass him.

As team orders were banned, the team was fined $100 000 (R830 000), but the FIA conceded that the rule needed to be reviewed.

As of 2011, the team-orders rule no longer appears in the regulations, but it is still controversial as seen last week at the Italian Grand Prix with Massa and Alonso both of Ferrari.

Alonso leads the championship for Ferrari with a total of 179 points from three victories, with MacLaren’s Lewis Hamilton the closest challenger with the same number of victories.

Kimi Räikkönen, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber complete the top five.

It is obvious that Massa and Jenson Button of McLaren will now take a vastly different approach to the remaining races of the 2012 season.

This because their respective team-mates, Alonso and Hamilton, look set to tussle it out for the biggest crown in motorsport.

Button admitted after last Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix that his title hopes were all but over, but he still wanted to win races.

He is 78 points behind championship leader Alonso, with seven races to go, while Hamilton is still right in the thick of the fight.

Massa’s hopes of winning the championship were over even before the month-long break began.

He is now fighting to keep his seat at Ferrari amid speculation that Sergio Perez, who came second in Monza, may replace him.

Massa also let Alonso pass him at Monza to maximise the championship leader’s points tally, and vowed to do it again if possible between Singapore and the remaining races.

In Formula 1, team orders is a motorsport term for the practice of teams issuing instructions to drivers to deviate from the normal practice of racing against each other as they would against other teams’ drivers.

» Follow me on Twitter @zwelethunondumo


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