Team orders - a sigh as Fernando Alonso was asked yet again on Thursday in Abu Dhabi: "Don't you think, Fernando, if you win the championship by less than seven points, it will be a tainted title?" In these situations he's quite amusing. As he sees the question coming - it's invariably from the British enclave - he will rest his chin on his hand, looking directly at his interrogator with a neutral expression and politely wait for the protracted, familiar sentence to finish, before saying: "No," and looking around for the next question.
Of course Fernando did not win the title, so the question never got to be asked yet again after the race. Sebastian Vettel triumphed partly because Ferrari couldn't cover the very different strategies of two title-contending Red Bulls. In other words, it was the fact that Red Bull had allowed its drivers to compete that tripped Ferrari at the final hurdle. There's a certain irony in that, you must agree.
That's not to say Ferrari's way is wrong. On the contrary, Alonso would have been even further behind in the points table without team orders. Red Bull ultimately prevailed because it had the fastest car. The way Ferrari operates its team almost overcame that.
The entity that is Ferrari needs to be led by a strong man in the driving seat. Not only because it's a relatively new group of people in the senior positions, but also because culturally it's always been like that. John Surtees, 1964 champ with Ferrari: "I found it with Moto Guzzi as well as Ferrari: you have to behave as a strong man, lead the team, then go out on the track and back it up. Then they respond to you." They've responded to Alonso, who could not have been wired-up better for that particular set of requirements.
Fernando Alonso © LAT
He only works one way - central to the whole operation, an intrinsic part of it. That's why it was a disaster at McLaren; he was still delivering on-track but the internal dynamics were a fiasco, intensified by Ron Dennis trying to treat him as a young kid employee whereas he went there as a fully formed double world champion expecting to be treated as a partner in success - much like he was at Renault and as he is now at Ferrari.
Ferrari operated that way during the Schumacher years when it steamrollered everyone aside for the first half of the last decade. But between the Schumacher era and the Alonso one, it briefly became a more egalitarian operation with no difference in the opportunities provided to Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa. It sort of worked - but not to the level nor with as much certainty as during the Schuey years. Alonso's arrival and his personality has allowed the team to revert to its more natural self.
Meantime Red Bull, the Austrian soft drinks company, now has the perfect world champion for its marketing aims. Sebastian Vettel is nonetheless a sensationally good racing driver who has been caught in the middle of the conflict between those aims and those of the racing team that represents it.
In both situations, Ferrari's and Red Bull's, it has left only a small space for the other driver. Not in terms of racing hardware or available resource, but in psychological terms. Neither can feel as wanted as the guy on the other side of the same garage.
With Massa it's difficult not to feel that this situation has damaged his performances, that it's been just one challenge too many as he has returned from his injury of last year. With Mark Webber it's as if feeling he's the underdog has brought out some of his greatest performances.
It leaves each of them in a difficult position as they look to the future. There would seem to be little prospect of them finding as competitive a car elsewhere as they have been enjoying. But equally there's no prospect of them staying on anything other than their existing terms. Another Ferrari driver Eddie Irvine withstood a similar situation for four seasons before concluding: "I couldn't continue being hit over the head with a cricket bat every day any more."
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