Formula One glamour team Ferrari were battling to salvage their reputation Sunday after being accused of using team orders to manufacture a German Grand Prix victory for Fernando Alonso.
The Italian giants were fined 100,000 dollars for breaching sporting regulations after double world champion Alonso was allowed by teammate Felipe Massa to pass 18 laps from the end despite the Brazilian having led since the start.
Although the FIA, the sport’s governing body, said the Ferrari 1-2 result will stand, the team must still appear before the World Motor Sport Council.
Team orders were banned eight years ago after the infamous incident at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix when Ferrari instructed race leader Rubens Barrichello to pull over and allow Michael Schumacher to pass and win the race.
On Sunday, Massa was effectively ordered by race engineer Rob Smedley to let Alonso through as the Spaniard was the quicker driver.
“Ok, Fernando is faster than you,” said Smedley. “Can you confirm you have understood this message?”
Following the controversial move, Smedley was again on the radio apologising to Massa.
“Good lad – just stick with it now, sorry,” he said.
Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali insisted that there were no team orders and that it was Massa’s decision to let Alonso past.
“We gave information to the driver and it was his decision to decide how to react” he said.
Domenicali added that Smedley’s apology was simply due to the fact that Massa’s car was not as fast as Alonso’s.
“You have to consider that fact that he gave the information to Felipe to help him, and was sorry that his car was not as fast.”
Massa clearly upset by the incident, bit his tongue and claimed that it was his decision.
“I didn’t have a good pace on the hard tyres and Fernando was quicker,” he said.
“It was my decision. I made the decision because Fernando was faster than me.”
Alonso said there were no team orders, but admitted that he was surprised to see Massa slow down and claimed he thought it was due to a gear problem.
“There are no team orders,” said Alonso.
“I was suprised when I saw Felipe having a problem – I thought it was a gear problem but after hearing Felipe, he was struggling with the hard tyres.”
Rival teams were not convinced by Ferrari’s explanation.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, whose driver Sebastian Vettel ahd been passed by the two Ferraris at the start where he had been in pole position; said: “I have to say that is the clearest team order I’ve ever seen.
“It’s wrong for the sport. The drivers should have been allowed to race. Massa did the better job. He was in the lead and the regulations are pretty clear – team orders are not allowed.”
Michael Schumacher himself took the opposing viewpoint, arguing that Ferrari, as they had done with him in 2002, were concentrating on the only important issue at stake – the drivers’ title.
“I understand 100 percent and I would do exactly the same – what are we here for? We’re fighting for the championship.”
Alonso’s win took him to within 34 points of drivers championship leader Lewis Hamilton, who has 157 points.
The controversy enlivened what had been a dull race which had virtually been decided by the double Ferrari surge past Vettel at the start.
Vettel held on to third spot with the two McLaren drivers, Hamilton and world champion Jenson Button, taking fourth and fifth.
Vettel’s Red Bull team-mate Australian Mark Webber was sixth, Pole Robert Kubica seventh for Renault ahead of Mercedes drivers and fellow Germans Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher with Russian Vitaly Petrov in the second Renault completing the top ten.
Button remains second in the championship with 143 points while Webber and Vettel are third equal with 136 points.