“Prancing Horse to Gift Horse”
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.