Ferrari at Hockenheim: what about Enzo?

July 26, 2010

Allegations of Ferrari team orders at last weekend’s German grand prix prompted immediate comparisons with Adelaide 2002, but you have to go back twenty years further to understand what the incident at Hockenheim means for the Scuderia.

The press loves a good story, and Ferrari provided one on Sunday when, exiting Hockenheim’s turn 6 at barely half throttle, Felipe Massa allowed teammate Fernando Alonso into the lead. Much has already been written about the incident, but for now it’s a story without an ending: the stewards’ decision to hand Ferrari a $100,000 fine and refer them to the WMSC means the final judgment on the matter won’t be passed for several weeks.

If the incident at Hockenheim is currently a story without an ending, then it’s also one with no clear beginning. For those who were outraged at the blatant use of team orders, which they felt made a mockery of the sport, comparisons were immediately made with Adelaide 2002. In that race, Schumacher’s last-lap pass on Barrichello exasperated fans worldwide, and team orders entered the public eye as a point of contention for the sport. While the sport’s disputes with team orders date  to 2002, for Ferrari the issue of team orders came to a head two decades earlier, at the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix.

Nigel Roebuck recalls the infamous race, in which Gilles Villeneuve led from Didier Pironi, the two Ferrari drivers comfortably clear of the rest of the field:

Victory should have been [Villeneuve’s], for Maranello team orders had always been that, as and when the cars became first and second, the driver ahead at the time should win. Villeneuve, whose integrity was absolute, had always played by these rules, most notably at Monza in 1979, where he sat behind team-mate Jody Scheckter, knowing all the while that if he passed him, he would likely win not only the race, but also the World Championship.

Familiar with Ferrari team orders, Villeneuve backed off to protect the car, assuming Pironi would fall into formation. Instead, Pironi passed Villeneuve, and was himself repassed, in what Villeneuve trustingly assumed was a performance for the crowd. After trading places several times, Pironi overtook on the final lap and stayed there, stealing what should have been a comfortable victory for Villeneuve.

The Canadian was furious. He felt he had been duped out of a victory he deserved, becoming incandescent with rage. When Villeneuve was killed in a qualifying accident at Zolder less than a fortnight later, many attributed the crash to his anger at Pironi’s pass. Formula 1’s dispute with team orders may only date back to Adelaide, but Ferrari found out long ago the friction they can create.

While there are obvious differences between what happened in 1982 and last weekend’s incident, there are clear similarities. Both races were Ferrari 1-2s. Both ended in controversies as a result of team orders. In both races, the driver who finished second deserved the win. Both resulted in allegations of dishonour being levelled at the winner. The key difference is that, this time, the team sided with the man who won. This shift in culture reflects broader trends in the sport, away from sportsmanship and towards a narrower, title-focused approach.

If Hockenheim signalled a low point for the sport, it also showed that Enzo Ferrari’s legacy no longer holds much weight in Mugello. His policy that the leading driver when the cars become first and second should win the race reflects a culture at Ferrari which no longer exists. What’s worse, many feel Massa was told to let Alonso pass for commercial reasons: the orders were given with an eye on the title, in the knowledge that a title victory would boost the sales of Ferrari’s road cars. To Enzo, the man who said selling road cars was a necessary evil to finance his motor racing, this would have been anathema.

None of which would grate so much if Ferrari hadn’t consciously played up their heritage in the lead up to the season. Neither of Ferrari’s most recent world champions were thoroughbred Scuderia men: for Schumacher, the opportunity to win titles was more important than decades of tradition, and neither he nor Raikkonen had a demeanour which reflected the Italian team’s passion. When Alonso arrived at Mugello, he was portrayed as a true Ferrari driver: a passionate Latin who placed the team before his own aspirations and held its rich history in reverence. Now, it seems that was all a marketing exercise. Stefano Domenicali was, if anything, more happy than Alonso after the race, suggesting the team’s shift in culture is led by the management, rather than the Spaniard.

Villeneuve, driving for Ferrari in 1982, was denied a win which he deserved by his teammate, setting in motion a chain of events which ended in his death. Last weekend, Ferrari themselves denied Felipe Massa a deserved win, the lessons of 1982 forgotten. Enzo must be turning in his grave.

One Response to “Ferrari at Hockenheim: what about Enzo?”

  1. dohacar said

    stating to like the diverse focus of your blog. I like reading blogs like this (more diversity wouldn’t hurt) but certainly I like this.

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