Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “an institution is the lengthened shadow of one man,” and there are few institutions where the shadow was cast longer than at Ferrari, undoubtedly the most famous name in motor sport. Its founder, Enzo Ferrari was the giant figure who created the marque after a modest driving career, and then presided over the growth of a name which became synonymous with the romance, passion and tragedy of motor racing. In so doing, he created a sporting organisation which regarded itself naturally more highly than any of its competitors, and one which has often given the impression that it feels itself to be above the rules which everyone else must adhere to.
Formula 1 is a different beast now from its 1960s heyday of glamour and danger (as memorably captured in John Frankenheimer’s 1966 film Grand Prix) but one constant remains: Ferrari. Ferrari have seen the other great names come and go (Cooper, Vanwall, Brabham, Lotus*, Mercedes*, Tyrell) and survived to become the most successful team in Formula 1 history. But little else about the sport is recognisable from those days.
Whereas in the fifties and sixties Grand Prix racing was the preserve of wealthy enthusiasts, whose drivers regularly risked their lives for the thrill of racing, modern Formula 1 is a massive global industry in which very little is left to chance. The team budgets are huge (the larger outfits will spend in excess of $400m a year putting two cars on the circuit) and the ‘product’ is now carefully marketed on behalf of its sponsors for consumption by a global audience.
It has always been said that the presence and competitiveness of the Ferrari team are crucial to this success, and this has often led people to believe that the sporting integrity of motor racing had, at times, been compromised to ensure that F1’s biggest name always remained in contention. Over the years I’ve been watching the sport events on the track have often been accompanied by rumours of rule-bending, illegal traction control systems and blatant disregard for the sport’s regulations, and there has always been the perception that Ferrari have been afforded special treatment over the other teams.
Now Ferrari have once again found themselves in controversial territory after being referred to F1’s Motor Sport Council and fined a laughable $100,000 for the crude application of team orders in yesterday’s German Grand Prix at Hockenheim. As a result of Ferrari’s previous arrogance with staged finishes at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, team orders are against the current rules in F1, and the FIA’s response to yesterday’s events – presided over by Jean Todt, former Ferrari Team Principal – will be keenly awaited by observers.
Team orders are nothing new in Formula 1, of course. Many people forget that it is a team sport, often requiring drivers to ‘adjust their strategies’ to suit the team’s Championship aspirations, and this is perhaps understandable at the sharp end of a season. Yesterday was different because both Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso are still technically in the title hunt with eight races to go. It should also be remembered that, as a result of the shenanigans in Austria in 2002, Rule 39.1 of the FIA’s code states: “Team orders which interfere with a race result are prohibited”. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of team orders, Ferrari clearly, blatantly broke the rules yesterday and they must surely be properly held to account as a result. Enzo probably wouldn’t see it that way though.
(*Lotus and Mercedes both returned to F1 as manufacturers this year.)