Will Gray

Gray Matter: Team orders will help decide 2010 title

Will Gray

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The decision on Ferrari's team orders scandal left more questions than answers over their use in Formula One - so as the title battle heads to the wire how will the teams and the FIA deal with it?

Team orders, tactics or strategy, call it what you will, it's all the same - and it was never in question that Ferrari had used it to give Fernando Alonso an advantage in Germany. What was more important was that the hearing brought into focus many past incidents where teams had taken similar but less blatant actions and got away with it.

From the day that the rule was created in 2002 it was clear it was going to be impossible to police and it seems that now, not a moment too soon, it is on its way out.

Officially, however, that is not until the start of next season, and the decision that Ferrari could 'not be punished further' due to a lack of clarity in the wording of the rule, coupled with the admission that other teams perhaps went unpunished for doing similar things in the past, now leaves things in a very difficult position.

As Red Bull boss Christian Horner openly admitted, it leaves the door open for teams in the title chase to practise blatant team tactics for the price of a few hundred thousand dollars, just pocket money in F1 terms. More than that, it gives them the green light to do it far more subtly and get away with it without even paying a fine.

It is perhaps a shame, then, that the FIA did not bite the bullet and open up a free-for-all on team orders in Paris on Thursday.

Whichever way you look at it, though, team orders have been happening year after year in Formula One, and at some point this season they will happen again. And they will decide the title - as they have done in many years gone by.

It makes sense, as it always has done, that if a team is running two cars it should favour the one that is most likely to give them most success. Right now, that means Hamilton at McLaren, Webber at Red Bull, and Alonso at Ferrari - and the decision as to if, when and how those drivers are favoured now sits firmly in the hands of the teams, whether they choose to be subtle or take the fine.

But if the FIA is to bring back team orders next year, they need to do it carefully because F1 is a team sport and relative performance between teams is very much dictated by the car, rather than the driver.

If the sport finds itself in a period of one-team dominance like it had with McLaren in late 1980s, Williams in the early 1990s and Ferrari in the early 2000s, the last thing it needs is a clear number one in the team being set free to dominate out the only interest at the front.

Which is probably why the FIA has decided to turn a blind eye to this ambiguity for the rest of the season before making a firm call on what it decides to do in the future.

The competition in F1 right now is so strong it can cope with veiled or blatant team orders (although if they are blatant they will need fining as there is now a precedent).

Ferrari have already set their stall out in favouring Alonso, with Massa now too far back to be a realistic challenger for the title. But for the other two frontrunners the tipping point is more delicate. After this weekend there will be 125 points left available. Right now there are 35 points between Hamilton and Button at McLaren and 28 points between Webber and Vettel at Red Bull.

But every point counts, and if there are teams running line-astern in Monza, no matter what is said publicly there will already be some tough decisions to make on pit wall...

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