A big test for Jean Todt as Hockenheim result remains in the balance

The Hockenheim team orders saga was far from over on Sunday, since the World Motor Sport Council has the power to change the result of the German GP.

Thus Fernando Alonso could yet lose his victory, and if that happens, Rob Smedley’s on-air apology to his driver will be the damning evidence.

In essence the stewards of the meeting could not levy a financial penalty greater than $100,000 on the day, and they preferred not to take the responsibility of a more controversial decision that changed the result in any way. However, in referring the matter to the WMSC they are in effect indicating that they believe there should be a much greater penalty.

That could involve a bigger fine, a change to the results (even though they were declared official on Sunday night), and/or possibly a form of suspended sentence, such a race ban for the team should it be found guilty of a similar offence. An WMSC hearing would also send out a signal to all the other teams.

Ferrari’s argument is obviously that it did not implement team orders, and that the team just gave Felipe Massa information of which he acted of his own accord. The debate will perhaps come to the fact that what is the difference between a driver being told to cede a place in a specific instance, or being party to a standard arrangement to the effect that when told the other driver is faster, he is expected to make the decision to move over.

One Ferrari man told me last night that Felipe understands the rules and if he doesn’t like it he can leave, just as someone else – Rubens Barrichello – did  a few years ago. He pointed out that just as Massa had helped Raikkonen in 2007 so Kimi had helped Felipe in 2008.

Both those incidents of course occurred in the last or next to last races of the season. When the team order rule was introduced by Max Mosley it was made clear that it would not apply in that situation, and everyone has always understood that. The whole point was to stop this sort of thing happening in the middle of the year. Massa was (and is) still in the title fight, albeit only mathematically.

In essence the evidence the radio messages that the viewing public at home also heard, although there was apparently some earlier traffic on the same subject that was not broadcast.

Rob Smedley initially told Massa, “Fernando is faster than you, can you confirm that you understand that message?”

Everyone in the paddock and watching at home had a pretty good idea of what those words implied, but Ferrari’s argument is that there nothing sinister behind them.

The big problem is that after the pass was made Smedley said, “Good lad, well done, sorry.”

With Rob saying that, and Felipe making his ceding of the lead oh so obvious (as Rubens did in Austria 2002), the pair have in effect dropped Ferrari in it. 

That apology clearly caught the attention of the stewards, and it’s going to be a key part of the investigation by the World Motor Sport Council. Indeed Smedley was called to see the stewards, along with the drivers, in order to explain what he meant when he apologised. We can guess that the only thing he could have told them that he was apologising for not providing a faster car…

One interesting aspect to the affair is that as far as I could tell, neither Alonso nor Stefano Domenicali majored on the fact that Vettel was not far behind –and that Massa in effect should have either got a move on or let Fernando past – by way of justification. It’ll be interesting if they try to use that now.

What happens next is the fascinating question, because in essence it is the role of FIA President Jean Todt to decide how and when the WMSC will deal with the matter. The next scheduled meeting in Como in early September, just before the Italian GP.

Clearly there will be some urgency to get it dealt with earlier, but it could prove hard for Todt to convene the WMSC in the August break when its various members will inevitably be on holiday. However he has already gained something of a reputation for wanting to resolve things quickly.

This is something of a step into the unknown for the Frenchman, as this is the first big F1 scandal to land in his lap, whereas such events had become a matter of routine for his predecessor Max Mosley.

Then of course there is the complication of his past involvement with Ferrari, his specific involvement in team orders that led to the implementation of Article 39.1 in the first place, and of course his personal relationship with Massa, who was first brought into the team by Todt.

He’s going to have to walk a tightrope as this affair unfolds. It’s going to be very hard for him to be seen as impartial, however honourable his intentions.

Earlier this year Todt lost his rag with me after I’d queried him at a press conference over the Stefan GP affair, based on the fact that his son Nicolas managed a driver who had the chance of being test driver for the team.

He didn’t like the suggestion that he had been influenced in any way by having an inside track on what was going on, even though I had actually made the point in print that he’d made the correct call in not allowing the team in.

Understandably he’s ultra sensitive to such scenarios, but given the many connections that he’s made during his long career, and his son’s own high profile involvement, it was inevitable that there would be perceived conflicts of interest.

Todt has made it clear that he will not play the sort of “hands-on” role that Mosley used to play, and once WMSC proceedings start, he will take a step back. But the fact is he is in the loop. Indeed he was apparently a visitor to the stewards’ room in Bahrain, Monaco and Silverstone this year, presumably having a good look at what was going on. Intriguingly the last two races also featured controversial incidents in which he took an interest.

The other fascinating aspect to all this is that it comes on the back of the safety car saga in Valencia and the drive through penalty that Alonso received in Silverstone. Ferrari made its displeasure with decisions in race control only too clear, and now for a third race in a row Fernando and the team have found themselves in the middle of controversy.

After perhaps saying too much in Valencia, Alonso has since tried to avoid stirring up trouble by blandly repeating a mantra along the lines of “the stewards are always right.”

I wonder if he really believes that today…

28 Comments

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28 responses to “A big test for Jean Todt as Hockenheim result remains in the balance

  1. Alonso should be banned from F1 racing, he’s nothing but a spoilt brat who throws his teddies out the cot if things aren’t going his way!!!

    The WMSC should treat this the same as they did the McLaren situation a few years back when they fined them €100m & wiped off their constructors points for cheating!

    I’ve a funny feeling though that Ferrari will get away with it yet again & that will make the sport look even more diabolical than it is now 😦

  2. K

    It’s funny how the people complaining now were very quiet when Jenson was not allowed to overtake Hamilton in Turkey. And it’s funny how people now say it should be handled more discreetly than what Ferrari did. But what’s the point of dressing it up? Then again most people maybe prefer theatre instead of the truth if the truth is ugly…

    • That’s the point, he did overtake Lewis – JB was racing. It then corrected itself and at that point both men accepted that there was no point in taking any risks. People have made comparisons with Spa 1998 (mainly to discredit Eddie Jordan) but again it’s not the same. Two drivers holding station is completely different from a guy in the lead fair and square being forced to move over. And rightly I think we focus much more on a change of lead than a lesser position because a GP win is supposed to be something special and hard won etc

      • grahamhillfan

        You seriously expect us to believe that “at that point both men accepted that there was no point in taking any risks”? Why? Weren’t those risks already there even before Jenson made that attempt? They were gifted the 1-2 win as a realization of such risks.

        No, that is just your spin. Team told both of them in no uncertain terms to stop monkeying around and Jenson pulled back. Those were the team orders in an “acceptable” form, I guess.

        I wonder – would you be as critical if Ferrari used the Red Bull/McLaren method of telling one driver to limit his revs to “preserve fuel”?

      • As I’ve said before, drivers holding station is logical and not the same as someone moving over half way through a championship when they are still mathematically in contention themselves. It’s up to the driver to be the one in front of his team mate when it becomes obvious that they shouldn’t be taking risks, and Massa did what he had to do…

      • EC

        “drivers holding station is logical and not the same as someone moving over half way through a championship when they are still mathematically in contention themselves”

        This remids me of Monaco 2007, when hostilities between Hamilton and Alonso began. The British media -and most certainly Anthony Hamilton- made a great fuss because young Lewis, who seemed to be taking unnecessary risks, had been told to hold station and secure the 1-2. They even prompted an investigation of McLaren’s team orders, and it meant the start of the Alonso-bashing trend in most british papers.

        Also, about the ‘contenders’, all the field are still mathematically in contention right now, which doesn’t mean they are in reality. Or would you say the likes of Bruno Senna are realistically in contention for the WDC?

        Apart from the poor acting, what is the difference between this shameful occasion and the one two years back at the same venue? Yes, Heikki is a better -and not as bitter- actor, his engineer wasn’t so stupid, and it was Hamilton who was handed the position -and eventually the win. No problem.

      • You call it ‘this shameful occasion’ and you sum it up right there.

        Was Heikki upset by the Heikki/Lewis thing? No. Was I? No. Were any Heikki or McLaren fans? No. Was anyone who cares about the future of this sport and how it is perceived by the outside world? No. Were you?

        That’s the difference…

      • grahamhillfan

        It’s quite a statement to speak so confidently in the name of “anyone who cares about the future of this sport and how it is perceived by the outside world”!

        I, for one, certainly disagree – it was no less shameful than what happened here. That 2008 German GP event was certainly the most rewarding F1 cheating episode since 2002 banning of team orders – it gave the 2008 F1 championship to Hamilton (1 point ahead of Massa).

        But, since the unbiased observers such as Lewis/Heikki/McLaren/their fans and you, were not upset by it – who cares!

    • K

      What if Ferrari, or indeed Massa, had done it so that it looked like a ‘normal’ overtaking move?

      Do we prefer the McLaren way of playing theatre with viewers, or the Ferrari (Massa – Smedley)way?

      The bottom line is why have rules that create these situations? The fact is that what hurts F1 more is not “team-orders”…but the fact that the drivers and teams can’t tell the truth if they don’t wanna be punished. This leads to the situations where they have to play theatre. And that’s when the viewer feels more cheated….when it’s obvious what they (are having to) say is complete BS….

      The only solution is to have a situation where drivers like in the old days could afford to ignore the teams and do whatever they pleased….

  3. thewizardweb

    I think the words of what Smedley said were nothing unusual, but it was the way he said it in staccato format. “Alonso. Is. Faster. Than. You.” He was very obviously saying something other than what was leaving his mouth.

    For me, the worst thing is that Ferrari seem to assume the fans are fools. They have an arrogance that says “We tell you what happens, your opinion is not required”. This is evident not just regarding the on-track matters but the way they dealt with the issue of the Marlboro logo’s. It seems to be their coping mechanism. Some very obvious things happen, they insist it’s not the case, make themselves look like idiots and then dig as deep a hole as possible.

    In that way, Alonso is very much at home there. I don’t know of any fan that believes his version of crash-gate and he comes across as sneaky and less than truthful. The consequence being that anything he does is questioned. He needs to learn and deal with why he’s perceived that way. If not he’ll be a statistic in the history of F1 and not a respected driver like his hero Senna.

    Top Gear showed a feature on Senna last night and what struck me was whilst Ayrton had his faults – he crashed to win and was generally ruthless, he was always honest about it. He always did things himself. If he was behind another car, even if it was his team-mate, he knew it was up to him to make the pass. Schumacher was halfway there. He is honest about how he goes about winning, but has still relied too much on team orders. Alonso is even further from that, he doesn’t come across as honest and too often whines to the team about his team-mate. If I was the team-manager I’d tell him to get on with it and prove he’s a great driver. Not just once but every time he gets behind the wheel. Like Ayrton.

    • Steven Roy

      Senna was not remotely honest about his faults. At the race after he rammed Prost off the track which was the first race of the following season he was shown a video of the incident in an interview and his reply was “That is a lie. That is not how it happened.” He was so convinced his view of reality was right he believed that the video had been doctored to make him look guilty.

  4. DiegoP

    I can’t believe the level of clumsiness and dishonor that Ferrari management is reaching. Shame on them. And, of course, shame on Alonso and the sponsor that bought his seat and presses to see him win no matter what.

    I hope that WMSC take a severe reprimand and gave the team (I don’t think this radio-gate could reach the drivers) the punishment that deserves

  5. F1 Kitteh

    The teflon on Teflonso must be wearing thin.. the crap is starting to stick!

  6. Eric

    Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo

    “I simply reaffirm what I have always maintained, which is that our drivers are very well aware, and it is something they have to stick to, that if one races for Ferrari, then the interests of the team come before those of the individual.

    Luca di Montezemolo has told Formula 1 fans that he has ‘no interest’ in the furore that has been caused by his outfit using team orders to help Fernando Alonso win the German Grand Prix.

    well considering you Mr Luca di Montezemolo dont think we the Fans are worth the effort, i hope they knock Ferrari completely out that race, plus fine you even more for not thinking we are part of the deal that F1 is.

  7. Prisoner Monkeys

    If I were Todt, I’d let the Hockenheim race results stand. I’d even let them keep all their points.

    I would, however, give them a three-race ban. Let’s see how enthusiastic they are about issuing team orders when it gets them banned from the Italian Grand Prix. And just to be absolutely clear, we let the tifosi know that Ferrari’s failure to race is a direct result of their own actions.

    • Mattw

      Well, if the hearing is on the week before the Italian GP… then a one race ban would be for the Italian GP.

      However I cannot see it going that far.
      My predection is that the FIA will decide it was the ‘team’ in the wrong rather than the ‘drivers’, so I predict they will take the constrctors points from the Greman GP away, but not touch the driver points.

      • I’m sure that they won’t change the order of the drivers so that sounds like a possible outcome…

      • Prisoner Monkeys

        Matt, the problem with that theory is that Ferrari did it to improve Alonso’s standing in the championship, even if it was a team decision. If it were a team decision, they wouldn’t have needed to get the drivers to swap places since they would have scored the same number of points.

        I think that the action to be taken should effectively put Ferrari out of the running – or at least make them a mathematical outsider – for the drivers’ championship. That’s why they made the decision in the first place, and the consequences need to reflect that.

  8. Steven Roy

    I still don’t understand how a points penalty was not given on Sunday. The stewards either lack common sense or backbone. Ferrari will quite happily pay $100k to get the result they want.

    It is also worth considering that if the stewards had decided to believe Ferrari then they could have applied a penalty to Massa for conduct prejudicial to fair racing or whatever they call it for making the decision to give the lead away.

    Ferrari seem confused about the story. Half the time they are saying there were no team orders while at others they are saying the team is more important than the individual.

    One thing that has really annoyed me since Sunday is the number of people saying this is a bad rule so breaking it is not a good deal. The rule has been in place for years so all those who are now against it have had plenty of time to raise the point.

    • Prisoner Monkeys

      Actually, if I were the stewards, I would have done exactly the same thing. The WMSC has more authority than the stewards themselves in this case. If the stewards had stripped them of their points, Ferrari could have appealed the verdict, and that verdict could have been overturned. While Ferrari can still appeal any punishment handed down by the WMSC, the WMSC as a governing body has a greater scope for dealing with these things. The stewards really deal with in-race incidents like passing under yellows and blocking in qualifying; the WMSC deals with more-serious charges like bringing the sport into disrepute.

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