BBC - Andrew Benson: Courageous FIA does the right thing on team orders
Andrew Benson | 20:52 UK time, Wednesday, 8 September 2010
Formula 1's governing body, the FIA, will undoubtedly be criticised for its decision not to punish Ferrari further for apparently breaking the rule banning team orders during July's German Grand Prix.
And its announcement that it will review the rule itself - which basically means it is almost certain to be removed from the statute book before next season - will also come under fire.
Ferrari, some will say, have got away with manipulating the world championship - giving Fernando Alonso seven points more than he deserves by allowing him to win a race that his team-mate Felipe Massa was leading.
Some will argue Ferrari have cheated the sport's fans by denying them the chance to watch a race to the flag in Hockenheim.
And, it will probably be claimed, the FIA is betraying the sport it is charged with protecting by removing a rule that is intended to stop teams doing what some have described as 'fixing' races.
The FIA will release the full reasons behind its decision on Thursday, at which point it may also become a little clearer why Ferrari handled the situation in Germany so clumsily.
But already, on Twitter and other social network sites, these criticisms - and others - have been widely disseminated. And they will doubtless get a further airing in other forms of media over the next few days.
They are all valid points of view. The problem is, they don't stand up to the reality of F1.
In an ideal world, of course team orders would be outlawed. All sports fans want to watch a grand prix in which the drivers are all competing equally for victory.
But, realistically, they are an inherent and intrinsic part of F1. Team orders are an inevitable, unavoidable and unpreventable result of the fact that only one man can win the world championship, and there are two drivers in each team.
Sooner or later, when drivers from more than one team are disputing the title, those teams have to make a call to ask their other driver to do what he can to help the man better placed in the championship to prevail over his rival from another team.
That was the position Ferrari, who had not won since the first race of the season in Bahrain, found themselves in at Hockenheim.
Alonso passes Massa for German GP lead (UK users only)
Mathematically, Massa still had a chance of the championship - it was, after all, only the 11th of 19 races this season. Realistically, though, even by then Alonso was Ferrari's only title contender.
Ferrari had not won since the first race of the season in Bahrain and here they were looking at a one-two at a time when Alonso, after some appalling luck in the previous two races, needed a leg up to revive his title challenge.
As such, the German Grand Prix was the point of this season at which Ferrari had to make the call to back one driver over the other and ask Massa to support Alonso's campaign - hence making it clear to Massa, who had taken the lead at the start as Alonso fought to pass the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel, that he should let his faster team-mate by.
Red Bull and McLaren - whose drivers have been more evenly matched and are both in the title race - haven't got to that place yet. But they probably will soon.
Will it be more acceptable for coming later in the season? Some will say so. There is, though, no logic in that argument - you get the same 25 points for winning the first race as you do the last.
Some teams have been arguing in recent weeks to keep the team orders rule, but not because they don't think they will be imposing team orders themselves in the future.
No one in F1 believes team orders can be eradicated. After all, if a team want to order their drivers to finish in a particular order, there are plenty of ways of doing so without it ever becoming public.
But some do believe that if teams are to employ them, they should do so in a way that is more subtle than Ferrari managed at Hockenheim - so they do not upset those parts of the audience who do not understand a) that team orders have been part of grand prix racing since it started more than 100 years ago; and b) that a rule banning them is unenforcable.
There is, though, an important philosophical question here for F1 - one that goes to the root of how it will conduct itself in the future, on all issues, not just this one.
Does it want to be a sport that deceives its public, or one that is open with it? Because for as long as it has a rule banning team orders, it will always be the first.
As far as the watching public is concerned, which is worse? To know that a driver has let his team-mate past to win in the interests of his title chances? Or to believe you have watched a race when in fact you have not?
Arguing to keep the rule but letting teams go on covertly breaking it is effectively saying you don't mind being lied to as long as you don't know about it. And that doesn't alter the fact that, even if teams do it covertly, they have still broken the rules.
And don't be under the misconception that only Ferrari are guilty of employing team orders.
As David Coulthard said after the German race: "Every team in this pit lane gives team orders and anyone who says they don't is lying."
The rule that has caused so much controversy was introduced during the reign of the previous FIA president, Max Mosley, following the uproar after the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, when then Ferrari team principal Jean Todt ordered Rubens Barrichello to hand victory to Michael Schumacher.
In that case, the criticisms were understandable, for several reasons: it was only the sixth race of a season that Ferrari were already dominating and would clearly go on doing; Schumacher already had a substantial championship lead and didn't need the extra points; it was one of the rare occasions when Barrichello was faster than Schumacher all weekend.
Todt is now the FIA president and - aware of the possible conflict of interest, and of the fact that some would say he was favouring Ferrari - he did not take part in Wednesday's hearing, handing the reins to his deputy, Graham Stoker.
The decision was - as with other matters in this controversy - more to do with perception than reality.
It looked good, but it was unnecessary. Firstly, because Todt and Ferrari did not part on good terms, so he had no reason to want to help them out. But also because, as one of the more astute political operators in F1, it is hardly beyond Todt's wit to tell Stoker what he wanted to happen, should that have been his desire.
As it turned out, clearly Todt and the FIA were able to look at this important decision with the dispassionate approach it required.
So far, Todt has been a very different FIA president from Mosley, whose 18 years at the top of motorsport ended last year when he was effectively forced out by the F1 teams, who had grown tired of what they had come to see as his autocratic and arbitrary governance.
Todt, by contrast, has taken a low-key, conciliatory, inclusive approach. As the first major F1 disciplinary hearing of his tenure, Wednesday's events were being watched with interest to see whether that continued. Now, it seems clear that will be the hallmark of the Todt presidency.
Mosley, incidentally, made his position in this matter clear a couple of weeks ago, when he told the German newspaper Die Welt that he thought the Ferrari drivers should be docked their points.
If Todt had wanted to send a message that his is a new, independent regime, he could not have made it clearer.
He - and the FIA - should be applauded for recognising the rule banning team orders was not only unenforceable, but also a betrayal of the history of the sport. And for having the courage to do the right thing.