Rules and Opportunism: Ferrari in Austin

US Grand Prix attracts controversy

You have to smile. Why does the US Grand Prix attract regulatory controversy so. If you’ve been reading thejudge13 you’ll know during the build up to Austin we’ve reflected on the 2002 race where Schumacher fixed the finish and have regularly made reference to the 6 team race in 2005.

So Ferrari break a seal on Massa’s gear box giving him a 5 place grid penalty which moves Alonso forward 1 slot on the grid. The Spaniard of course qualified 9th and has already benefited from the Grosjean 5 place grid penalty. Much is being made about the penalty from starting off the racing line and at the time of writing this, the race has not begun.

Red Bull’s response

I don’t believe Red Bull will respond with Webber’s car as some are suggesting, because the actual effect of starting on the more slippery side of the grid is not fully known. To force Alonso forward again to 6th in an attempt to manipulate the side on which he starts is different from what Ferrari have done.

F1 is a team sport, and there is a rich history of teams exploiting both the technical and racing regulations to give themselves an advantage. However, for Red Bull to penalise Webber is not primarily promoting their cause, but attempting to subvert another team.

Further, Webber in front of Alonso is far more important for Red Bull than putting him behind the Spaniard and for what?to shift Alonso’s start position across the grid. What if the less grippy side isn’t as bad? Then they’ve given Fernando another place and Webber is behind him.

Ethics?

So what about the ethics of it all? I have to say I prefer it that Ferrari state they did this for tactical reasons and for the benefit of the team, rather than as has happened in the past where teams have claimed something everyone knows to be untrue.

Some are saying Ferrari will get some stick after the race for what is seen as not a ‘sporting’ thing to do. Yet the ethics of F1 racing always appears to be race and win, then argue about it later. Of course this has shuffled a number of other drivers from clean to dirty side and we’ll see what they think

Strangely enough, by Red Bull not responding (even though I’ve argued it’s not worth RB doing anything), they retain some moral high ground and this does no harm as the impression is often that it is Red Bull pushing the limits and needing to be reigned back.

Previous form

We had a similar opportunistic use of the rules the last race where Red Bull exploited the regulations to mitigate the penalty they received for under fuelling Vettel’s car. They broke parc ferme rules, changed the suspension, aero and gearing of the car to create a mega overtaking machine.

The extra penalty of starting from the pit lane was worth taking, to give Vettel the car to cut through the field. Interestingly, I didn’t know this at the time, but Charlie Whiting held the pit lane on a red light until all the cars were through turn 1.

This would have added several seconds to the usual protocol which is to release the pit lane vehicles after the last car has passed the cars in the pit lane. The pit lane exit is quite slow at Abu Dhabi and by the time Vettel was clearing turn 1, the rest of the field were in turns 4 and 5.

McLaren opportunity

I would prefer it if the rules were such that when a penalty is awarded, the teams cannot mitigate a penalty as Red Bull did, but it did make the racing exciting. I did suggest yesterday that McLaren should consider doing the same for Jenson’s car today, as he is on the slippery side and could end up 14th/15th after turn 1. Further, it avoids any mid field carnage that may ensure in the slippery turn 1.

This would be fine in my view as it is a gamble and no penalty is being mitigated. I spoke to a friend of mine who does race analysis and asked him why McLaren would not do this. In his opinion the fact that the tyres may take a few laps to switch on, so the advantage could be smaller than it was for Vettel in Abu Dhabi. I’m still not convinced though.

Crossing the fine line

Back to Ferrari. I don’t think its right for teams to manipulate the starting positions of a race, but it is up to Charlie Whiting to look at this for 2013. It is the effect it has on others like Hulkenberg and Grosjean etc which makes it all appear quite tardy and unsavoury. Yet the rule is as it is today and so Ferrari are entitled to do as they have done, and Chrisyian Horner has just said, “I have no problem with it, its their choice to make”.

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