Did Ferrari bring Formula 1 into disrepute?
Ferrari has graciously elected not to protest the result of the Brazilian Grand Prix. It had no cause for complaint, however that didn’t stop thousands of fans posting videos on YouTube and bombarding the Italian squad imploring it to lodge a protest.
Last Thursday the team confirmed it had sent a letter to the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, Formula One’s governing body. In it the team asked for clarification with regards to an overtaking move Sebastian Vettel made on Jean-Eric Vergne on lap four of the Brazilian race.
Rounding the third turn under yellows, Vettel pulled out and overtook Vergne, who failed to make the German’s task difficult; Vergne drives for Toro Rosso, of course Red Bull’s feeder team. It would not do to annoy the Austrian task masters.
Once Vettel completed the move a green flashing light was clearly evident. It was the first that Vettel has passed since rounding the third turn, which was under yellow flag conditions.
Under yellow flags drivers should proceed with caution, and be prepared to stop, with overtaking strictly prohibited.
What the footage didn’t show clearly was a marshal’s post on the inside of the circuit just beyond the exit of the third turn. The rather damp volunteer was brandishing a green flag.
For all its technology, flags still override lights and even dashboard signals to drivers. The FIA noted the fact during the race and correctly decided not to investigate the issue, a sentiment it reiterated to Ferrari when an envelope from the Italian marque arrived in the letter box.
Ferrari felt it owed its fans an explanation, and in face of video evidence – the green flag could be seen from onboard footage from Vettel’s car – chose to write to the governing body.
It was a move that achieved nothing in the context of the world championship or its potential outcome but it created days of uncertainty in the immediate aftermath of the championship.
Ferrari’s justification, that it owed an explanation to its fans, does not stand up. The team is not accountable to its fans; it is accountable to its board and owners.
In 1994 Ayrton Senna pleaded with his Williams team to protest against Michael Schumacher’s Benetton, alleging it carried an illegal traction control system. The team opted not to.
That season’s championship was controversial from start to finish but at no point did Williams feel the need to succumb to the will of the masses and question that which they had no evidence of.
That it’s come to light since that the Benetton computer did have a hidden traction control option is largely irrelevant.
In 2007 McLaren was thrown out of the constructors championship after one of its employees was found in possession of Ferrari intellectual property. The team was penalised for ‘bringing the sport in to disrepute’ rule and was slapped with a draconian fine, seen by many as a personal attack on Ron Dennis by then FIA President Max Mosley.
Without the debatable penalties McLaren would have won the constructors world championship that year, and with it pocketed millions upon millions of dollars in prizemoney. That it did not complain or protest won McLaren many admirers. It simply accepted the penalty without complaint and simply got on with things for 2008.
Ferrari has been less gracious. It has dragged the sports name through the mud without due cause, forming opinions and doubts in the minds of many over the legitimacy of Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull’s achievements, not to mention their credibility and reputation.
The problem is for the sport to punish Ferrari would likely make it guilty of bringing itself in to disrepute, so while the team has done the sport no favours and deserves to be severely wrapped over the knuckles, nothing will happen.
It will be quietly swept under the rug while Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel deal with the fall out of unfounded conspiracy theories.