x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Ferrari tactics at United States Grand Prix justified

Ferrari's albeit Machiavellian manoeuvre was to help Fernando Alonso get as close as possible to winning the F1 drivers' title. What is wrong with that?

Our correspondent agrees with Ferrari's decision to have Massa break the seal on his car's gearbox to earn a penalty for the sake of Alonso. Srdjan Suki / EPA
Our correspondent agrees with Ferrari's decision to have Massa break the seal on his car's gearbox to earn a penalty for the sake of Alonso. Srdjan Suki / EPA

The regulations are clear and the Italian manufacturers exploited them astutely in Austin, Texas on Sunday. They deserve congratulations rather than condemnation.

Formula One is a team sport and so it should have come as little surprise when, ahead of the United States Grand Prix and with their star performer Fernando Alonso starting in eighth position, and on the slippery, dirty side of the track, Ferrari utilised Felipe Massa to the advantage of the team.

The Brazilian has proven time and again that he is a team player and extended his contract with the Maranello marque only last month, just days after being ordered to back off from Alonso in the Korean Grand Prix. He knows his role for the remainder of this season and does not demand sympathy.

The tactical decision to voluntarily break the seal on Massa's gearbox saw him handed a five-place grid penalty and relegated from the sixth position to 11th.

In doing so, Massa moved behind Alonso, who in turn was not only promoted up one position but also to the clean side of the track. It was a Machiavellian manoeuvre no doubt, but it was also a fine example of ruthlessly clever cunning.

Alonso, from seventh, capitalised on his new grid position to immediately jump to fourth before the end of the first lap and went on to finish third, behind Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. Massa, meanwhile, climbed through the field to finish fourth.

Ask Ferrari whether they are happy with their decision and they will laugh at the ridiculousness of the question.

Critics argue that the act was outside the spirit of the sport's rules. Not true. The rules are created to explicitly enforce a certain equality and govern conduct. Ferrari did not break the rules, nor did they act dishonestly. They found a loophole, a way of gaining advantage, and acknowledged before the race exactly why they had made the decision.

The counter argument appears to be that Red Bull Racing, the team Ferrari were out to catch, employed similarly devious strategy in Abu Dhabi when they decided to start Vettel from the pit lane rather than the back of the grid after being disqualified from qualifying.

The decision allowed the constructors' champions the opportunity to set up Vettel's car differently and improve his chances of overtaking.

While the two scenarios are, at their cores, similar, Red Bull's decision affected nobody else's race while Ferrari were directly responsible for Massa losing five places and Nico Hulkenberg, Romain Grosjean and Bruno Senna all finding themselves one place higher on the grid but starting on the slippery side.

That is the only reason Ferrari's decision leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. But each of these drivers would expect their team to make the same call were they fighting for the title.

Stefano Domenicali, the Ferrari team principal, conceded he had shown no consideration for the drivers who had finished behind Massa and were affected by the penalty. But why would he? His team did not break the rules, they maximised their potential through a scheming strategy.

It is naive to think drivers who show such ruthlessness behind the wheel would not have a team of similarly minded people behind them. As Alonso often says: "This is motorsport." Whether you like it or not.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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