Ferrari ruling clouds team orders debate

The World Motor Sport Council’s ruling on the Hockenheim team orders controversy saw Ferrari and Fernando Alonso walk away unbloodied, and left the rest of the Formula 1 paddock scratching its collective head.

The WMSC found Ferrari was guilty of breaching Article 39.1 of the Sporting Regulations, which states: “Team orders which interfere with a race result are prohibited.”

However, rather than offer any further punishment, the WMSC decided to uphold the original decision of the German Grand Prix race stewards and maintain a $100,000 fine. This was despite a clear recommendation in a lengthy report from FIA investigator Lars Osterlind that the result be changed to give Felipe Massa the win, and that the team and its drivers lose their points on a suspended basis, pending any further infringements.

The WMSC appeared to think this was a case of double jeopardy, and that Ferrari had already been punished. But the race stewards only gave a fine and referred it to a higher authority in essence because they felt that changing the result was too big a call for them to make on the day.

Sources said that had they done nothing the FIA would itself have appealed the decision, and the ensuing process would have been held at the Court of Appeal, not a WMSC hearing. Had they changed the result, a Ferrari appeal would have led to the same process.

Ferrari successfully convinced the WMSC that the rule, in place without creating any controversy since 2002, was ambiguous. At the WMSC’s behest, Article 39.1’s future was due to be discussed by the FIA Sporting Working Group in Singapore. The consensus is that if the rule is dropped, cases that cause a public outcry could still be punished under the well-used Article 151c of the Sporting Code – bringing the sport into disrepute – but that is not likely to have an official impact in 2010.

Nobody is quite sure what will happen the next time a team transgresses the rule. It is not clear whether there is now a ‘fixed penalty’ of $100,000, or whether future cases will be dealt with more harshly – or if indeed stewards will just shrug their shoulders and agree that the rule is unworkable.

“It would be great to have some clarification as to what the rules are, and I think that’s quite important going into the last few races,” Red Bull team boss Christian Horner told Motor Sport. “At the moment it’s not totally clear. We thought that team orders are disallowed, and from the ruling the FIA made it look like they still are disallowed, although the punishment was a fiscal one rather than a sporting one.

“We have to decide whether we allow the drivers to race, or whether team orders are part of the sport and therefore the rule should be scrapped. The worst thing is something in between. They should either be disallowed and the rule rigorously enforced, or the rule should be abolished. You can’t be half-pregnant!

“The most important thing is that it’s transparent to the teams, and to the fans. There’s nothing worse than the charade that Ferrari went through when everybody in the world knew what had happened. If it can’t be effectively policed, then perhaps it should be removed. The teams need to sit down with the FIA and come up with something that’s clear and concise, transparent.”