TONY DODGINS

“Pranc­ing Horse to Gift Horse”

Motor Sport News - - Racing News -

Red Bull’s guru Hel­mut Marko told Aus­trian TV that Se­bas­tian Vet­tel had been favourite to win this year’s cham­pi­onship, but Seb and Fer­rari made too many er­rors.

Hel­mut’s right. And there’s been a switch around in the way Fer­rari and Mercedes han­dle team or­ders.

Merc suf­fered a me­dia back­lash for not switch­ing around Hamil­ton and Bot­tas in the clos­ing stages at Sochi af­ter Valt­teri had been told to move over and pro­tect Lewis from Vet­tel.

Last year, in Hun­gary, Bot­tas was asked to move over to al­low Hamil­ton to at­tack the Fer­raris. When Lewis found that he couldn’t, he slowed down on the last lap to al­low Valt­teri back past de­spite be­ing 7s ahead – but added that he wouldn’t be best pleased if he ended up los­ing the ti­tle by three points or less…

Mercedes used to poo-poo Fer­rari’s num­ber one driver bias and took the mo­ral high ground. They were ‘rac­ers’ and more ‘sport­ing’. But Toto Wolff took Lewis’s words on­board.

Each case is dif­fer­ent but Fer­rari al­ways took things to ex­tremes. Wit­ness Aus­tria 2002 when Rubens Bar­richello was or­dered to let Michael Schumacher by in round six of the cham­pi­onship de­spite Michael hav­ing won four of the first five and Fer­rari hav­ing no op­po­si­tion! The out­cry was jus­ti­fied.

There was an­other one at Hock­en­heim in 2010 (team or­ders were banned at the time) af­ter Rob Smed­ley’s fa­mous, “Fer­nando is faster than you – do you un­der­stand the mes­sage?” to Felipe Massa.

De­spite the fuss, that was a no-brainer: Alonso had qual­i­fied three thou­sandths be­hind Vet­tel’s Red Bull with Massa half a sec­ond away and Felipe was only ahead be­cause his P3 grid slot had more grip than Fer­nando’s P2. The is­sue was more the unim­pressed Smed­ley think­ing that if his man was go­ing to have to play sec­ond fid­dle, it should have come from team prin­ci­pal Ste­fano Domeni­cali be­fore the race.

This year, Mercedes knows what an almighty scrap it’s been in. But Fer­rari has helped hugely. Vet­tel has messed up in Baku, France, Aus­tria, Ger­many, Italy and now Ja­pan. His lost points and the ex­tra ones for Hamil­ton add up to a 90-plus point swing! Seb could have gone to Ja­pan 40 points ahead, not 50 be­hind.

Fer­rari didn’t switch its driv­ers around in Aus­tria when they should have done. Un­fath­omably, they towed Raikko­nen onto the Monza pole (his mar­gin over Vet­tel half of his slip­stream gain) and then won­dered why Se­bas­tian was up­set…

As Bernie Ec­cle­stone mis­chie­vously ob­served when he showed up in Sochi to see old mate Vladimir Putin, “Fer­rari seems to have gone all Ital­ian again.”

Wolff knows th­ese re­sults go in cy­cles and when Pranc­ing Horse turns Gift Horse, he isn’t about to look them in the mouth. You can’t blame him.

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