HOCKENHEIM // A victory by Felipe Massa, his first of the Formula One season, would have created a pleasing symmetry. On the first anniversary of an accident that left him with serious head injuries, the Brazilian threaded his Ferrari into the lead at the start of the German Grand Prix and rarely looked threatened thereafter.
At least, he didn't until Ferrari gave him a thinly coded radio message to give way to Fernando Alonso, his teammate. There has rarely been much scope for sentiment in motor racing. Sebastian Vettel's hopes of a home victory were extinguished within moments of the start. The Red Bull-Renault driver felt his car bog down slightly, and his temporary loss of momentum allowed Alonso to draw alongside.
Vettel mounted a robust defence, edging the Spaniard most of the way towards the pit wall. Alonso squeezed through the gap, but Massa swept outside both of them to take the lead. He looked in complete control during the race's first stint, on Bridgestone's super-soft tyre, opening up a 1.5-second lead before Alonso made his mandatory pit stop on lap 13. Massa came in next time around and remained 0.7secs clear of the Spaniard.
They remained in the same order until the 49th of 67 laps, when Massa backed off as he exited the hairpin and allowed Alonso to move ahead. The Brazilian made his move shortly after receiving the following message from race engineer Rob Smedley: "Alonso is faster than you. Can you confirm you understand?" Once the cars had swapped places, Smedley came back on the radio. "Good lad. Just stick with it now. Sorry."
In the race's aftermath, with Alonso having crossed the line more than four seconds to the good, Smedley added: "That was very, very magnanimous - you won't know what that means, but I'll explain it to you later." Neither driver looked particularly happy during the press conference that followed - largely because they were barraged with accusations of blatant team orders, which the sport's regulations forbid. Ferrari vehemently denied having done anything wrong.
"We felt Fernando was quicker at that stage of the race," said Stefano Domenicali, the Ferrari sporting director, "and simply passed the information on to Felipe. After that it is up to the drivers to decide what is best for the team." Both drivers were subsequently summoned by the stewards, however, and Ferrari was found guilty of breaching Article 39.1 of the 2010 sporting regulations ("team orders that interfere with a race result are prohibited") and Article 151c of the 2010 international sporting code ("any act prejudicial to the interests of competition or the interests of motorsport generally").
The result stands for now, but the matter has been referred to governing body the FIA's World Motorsport Council, for further consideration. Ferrari have also been fined US$100,000 (Dh367,000). Asked whether he thought this was a tainted victory, Alonso said: "Not at all. The championship is over 19 races. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, but the important thing today is that we won - and I think we deserved it. We've had a competitive car for the past two races, but didn't score any points. Winning a race is always special, but there's no point getting too excited. There's a long way to go in the championship and we need to stay focused, because five days from now we will be back on the track in Hungary."
The afternoon began with talk about concern by rival teams over the legality of the front wings used by Red Bull and Ferrari, but the post-race controversy swamped everything else - and masked the fact that this was one of the season's most straightforward races. Vettel ran third all afternoon, while Lewis Hamilton passed Mark Webber on the opening lap to take fourth - a position he, too, held to the end. Jenson Button was one of the few drivers to make progress: a long first stint enabled him to vault Webber after the pit stops, after which he chased Hamilton, his teammate, to the flag.
"I think Lewis and I got the maximum out of the car today," he said, "but it isn't quite quick enough at the moment." Their problems, though, were relatively minor. In his first German GP since 2006, Michael Schumacher, the local hero, finished ninth, one lap in arrears. firstname.lastname@example.org