In the immediate aftermath of last weekend’s brouhaha over team orders I started writing a blog post entitled The dreary face of orchestration in which I fully intended to lambast the hideousness of it all. I never got around to finishing it; not because I’m a lazy git, but because I got caught up in a whole load of other work*, which gave me pause for sober reflection.
That Formula 1 is a business as well as a sport is a truism we all have to accept, since without the presence of global brands and their cash injections F1 simply wouldn’t be sustainable in its current form. That said, Sunday’s events perfectly illustrate the philosophical chasm that separates the insiders from the fans. Simply put, not one of the business people and team figures I’ve spoken to since Sunday saw anything wrong with what Ferrari did. Conversely, the fans – if you exclude the zealot types who’d have approved of it even if Fernando had run over half the queue for the school bus en route to the chequered flag – were outraged by the sheer cynicism of the manoeuvre.
From a purely pragmatic point of view, instructing Felipe Massa to let Fernando Alonso past had its merits. Alonso was 31 points ahead of Massa in the drivers’ championship and 47 behind Lewis Hamilton. Now put your calculators away and close down your spreadsheets. On an F1 pitwall, what matters is what works – now, not next week or next month. It doesn’t matter that Alonso may get run over by a bus (or, heaven forfend, actually be on a private plane that clips a building), thereby eliminating him from the rest of the season and causing Ferrari to rue the day they orchestrated the swap. In the heat of a grand prix, the future is another country. Possible championship permutations that may come about if three hens lay addled eggs? They may as well be in the horoscopes column.
So Ferrari made the choice. We all saw it coming, telegraphed well in advance like a ham-fisted soap opera twist. The FOM TV director knew it, bringing his camera to bear on the moist eyes and thoughtful mien of Rob Smedley as he prepared to push the button and deliver the instruction. This in itself was an act of pure opportunism in a dull grand prix that needed an injection of drama; they must have been whooping and high-fiving in the TV compound as the gift arrived…
The print media greeted it with a curious mix of outrage and glee: fury because most of them are, at heart, fans; joy because it brought something interesting to write about other than tyre degradation. The hunt for quotes began; as usual, Saint Martin of Whitmarsh delivered himself promptly to a microphone, but only to demur rather than condemn. He would, he said, speak privately to Ferrari about the matter, but make no public comment about it.
After all the posturing – including the absurd charade in which everyone from Ferrari continued to pretend that nothing untoward had happened – a number of insiders (Martin Brundle, Ross Brawn, David Coulthard, etc) have come out in support of team orders. Are they mad? Are they stupid? Are they corrupt? No, just so far ‘in’ that they’ve grown out of touch. They fail to appreciate that for the fans – the demographic these people deride for being naïve – Formula 1 is an emotional investment. You don’t choose a favourite team or driver as passionlessly as you might select a new fridge.
By the by, though, I wonder if they have a point. Perhaps teams should be allowed some leeway – not to use one or other of their drivers to block a rival, but at least to give one precedence over another when vital championship points are at stake. If they wish to do this – and if they don’t care what the fans think – then so be it. As my old English teacher, Mrs Lucock, was wont to say about essays handed in late: “It’s your funeral…”
For if teams don’t value your support – why should you give it to them? Invest your emotional capital elsewhere. Let ennui and ambivalence achieve what angry protest cannot.
*checking the facts and dates of a load of 1960s sportscar and non-championship F1 races in the LAT Archive for a future book project, although I had a brief diversion via a 1965 John Bolster article in AUTOSPORT entitled THINGS I HATE! Judging by the contents he hated rather a lot, since you ask..