The controversial race which decided the destiny of the German’s premier touring car championship last week prompted fierce criticism, not least from the series’ chief, multiple grand prix winner Gerhard Berger.DTM boss Berger acknowledged in an interview with German newspaper Bild. “In Formula 1 in particular, there are many examples that are unacceptable from a sporting point of view, both from the fans’ and the other teams’ point of view.”
He recalled “the wave of outrage Ferrari was confronted with from the fans when Rubens Barrichello gave up victory for Michael Schumacher” at Austria’s A1-Ring in 2002.
This was by no means the first time an F1 driver had handed victory to his team mate, even within sight of the line. Berger himself received such a gift from Ayrton Senna as the latter clinched the 1991 world championship at Suzuka 30 years ago this week.
But following the furious reception to the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix episode the FIA president at the time, Max Mosley, outlawed such team orders. They were legalised again after 2010, by which time Mosley had been replaced by Jean Todt, who as Ferrari team principal directed the position swap between Schumacher and Barrichello.
Such orders remain legal, though contentious, and not always obeyed, as was the case at Alfa Romeo last weekend. But collusion between multiple teams is a different and arguably more serious matter. Hence Berger’s obviously displeasure when it happened at the Norising last week.
Three drivers arrived at the final race with chance of taking the championship. Two tangled at the first corner: Points leader (and Red Bull-backed Formula 2 driver) Liam Lawson barged aside by Kelvin van der Linde. Lawson limped on, out of the points, but still on course to take the title providing the third contender, Maximilian Goetz, didn’t win the race.
After the drivers had completed their final pit stops Goetz lay third, over 13 seconds behind leader Lucas Auer, with Philip Ellis between them. Goetz’s chances of overcoming such a gap with only a few minutes of racing left would have been virtually nil had the Winward team drivers ahead of him not slowed down significantly.
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Auer and Ellis increased their lap times by multiple seconds around the short, sub-49-second circuit. Having allowed Goetz to close in the pair then let him through to take the victory and the championship.
Berger described this “cross-team arrangement” between Winward and Goetz’s HRT squad – both of which run Mercedes AMG GT3 Evos – as “completely different” to the more conventional form of team orders involving a single team. “I cannot accept it either sportingly or personally on our platform,” he fumed.
Six races are left to run in the closest Formula 1 championship fight between drivers of two rival teams for almost a decade. Could their teams resort to similar orders, and would it be legal for them to do so?
Arguably the possibility exists. Mercedes have connections to three customer teams while Red Bull has a sister outfit, AlphaTauri.
Following the last race AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda admitted he wants Max Verstappen to win the title for the Honda-powered team. Tsunoda admitted he held Verstappen’s title rival Lewis Hamilton back as long as he could – so much so he over-stressed his tyres.
In contrast, Hamilton then passed two Mercedes customer cars with much less difficulty. The first was Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin. “He was a lot quicker and I didn’t want to waste my time defending him,” Stroll said when asked by RaceFans whether he had arranged to let the Mercedes by. “He was going to finish in front of me at the end of the race anyway.”
Next came the McLaren of Lando Norris, who the day before said he had divided loyalties between the two contenders. “Obviously I support Lewis as a Brit,” said Norris, “but I’m also good mates with Max.”
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It also bears pointing out that Hamilton then passed the other AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly much more easily than he got past Tsunoda.
If an F1 team was prepared to make a more obvious attempt to swing the outcome of a race for a championship rival, as happened in the DTM, would that be a violation of the rules? The case of McLaren and Williams in the 1997 European Grand Prix is well-remembered. The FIA investigated but cleared the two teams over suspicions they’d colluded to help McLaren win the race while their drivers steered clear of Williams’ Jacques Villeneuve as he clinched the championship.
Appendix M to the International Sporting Code governs “manipulation of competitions” which it describes as “an arrangement, act or intentional omission aimed at improperly altering the result or running of a competition in order to remove all or part of the unpredictable nature of said competition, aiming to obtain an undue advantage for oneself or others.”
However it remains to be seen whether these seldom-used areas of the regulations would or could be used to prevent collusion in F1. Prior to the Turkish Grand Prix, RaceFans asked FIA F1 race director Michael Masi whether such tactics were allowed.
“I’d have to have a look at it on a case-by-case basis as it arises,” he said. “I wouldn’t like to pre-empt different things of what may or may not happen through the field.”
While Masi does not feel the 1997 case necessarily provides a precedent, scope does exist in the regulations for such incidents to be examined.
“If you’ve seen the size of the ISC and the various regulations,” he added, “there’s various regulations that could be used if something untoward was happening and [we] could deal with that in the appropriate manner through the appropriate forums, if it’s necessary.”
As the example of the DTM showed, any team resorting to such tactics is likely to stoke controversy. But that alone won’t be enough to put them off it if a championship is at stake.
Quotes: Dieter Rencken
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