Ferrari’s chief opponents in this year’s fight for the Formula One drivers’ championship had no serious objections to the Italians’ pragmatic decision to incur a deliberate gearbox penalty for Felipe Massa ahead of Sunday’s United States Grand Prix.
Briton Lewis Hamilton won the race for McLaren ahead of defending champion and current series leader Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull with Fernando Alonso finishing third for Ferrari, thanks largely to starting from seventh on the grid after qualifying ninth.
His promotion was due to the five-place grid penalties given to both Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Lotus and, on Sunday morning, Brazilian Massa for gearbox irregularities — in the latter’s case a deliberate breaking of his gearbox seal to incur a penalty.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said: “It is within the regulations, and it was a tactical move. They obviously made that decision to get Fernando on to the right hand side of the grid and it worked well for them.”
When asked if Red Bull considered doing something similar for Mark Webber, which would have put Alonso back on to the dirty side of the grid, Horner replied: “Well then someone else would do it, and before you know it Fernando would start on the front row. We never considered it.”
The Maranello-based outfit was concerned about having Alonso start on the slippery left side.
Their decision enabled the switch of Alonso to the clean side and cruise round the outside of the field to take fourth place in the first corner.
His podium finish kept alive his dream of a third drivers title and took the championship down to the wire in Brazil where he has to overhaul a 13-points deficit on Sunday.
The move led to some questions about sporting ethics.
McLaren chief Martin Whitmarsh, unaffected by the move, said Ferrari’s tactic was exactly the kind of policy that his outfit was reluctant to use — and was the cause of Alonso’s displeasure during their ill-fated 2007 season together.
“Teams and team principals can decide how they run their programs. It was tough, but it is very clear that they are very focused on Fernando.
“I think the toughest thing is that it put a number of people onto the slow side of the grid.
“If I had qualified on to the right side of the grid and that had put me on to the slow side I would have been very pissed off.”
Ferrari chief Stefano Domenicali had no doubts about ethics.
“I prefer to be totally transparent, because with something like that you can easily simulate something if you want, but I felt it was more correct to say the truth. This is our style, my style.
“When you work for the Ferrari team you know that the team is the centre of the decisions and the drivers respect it. I have to thank Felipe for that.”
One of the affected teams, Force India, was firmly behind Domenicali.
“At the end of the day the regulations are what they are, Ferrari took them to the limit, and that’s what we do in Formula One,” deputy principal Bob Fernley told Press Association Sport.
“I would absolutely have done the same. We’re not here to try to make friends, we’re here to win.”