This is a terrible month for anniversaries, or maybe a good month for terrible anniversaries. We have recently passed the anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s death on 1 May 1994. We have progressed onto the 30th anniversary of Canadian daredevil driver, Gilles Villeneuve, at Zolder on 8 May 1982. Looking for, and failing to find, some more positive anniversaries, I discovered that it is 20 years since Nigel Mansell was in the middle of his 5 race winning streak at the start of his tedious steamrollering of the 1992 World Championship in the active suspension Williams FW14B. One of the best scenes in the movie Senna is a brief shot of the Williams in a pit garage, with the unmanned car dancing like a hyperactive Transformer, as the mechanics adjust the suspension telemetry.
Talking of unfair advantages, it is exactly 10 years this month since the notorious Austrian Grand Prix held on 12 May 2002. This was the race in which Rubens Barrichello, leading in his Ferrari, was ordered to move over to allow his illustrious teammate, Michael Schumacher, to pass. This was only the 6th race of the season. Schumacher had already won 4 of the preceding 5 races and was leading the championship by over 20 points. David Coulthard’s win at Monaco later that month would be the last occasion in the 2002 season on which any car other than a Ferrari crossed the finish line first. If ever there was an occasion when team orders were not called for, this was it. Only when the boos began ringing around the A1 Ring did Schumacher and Ferrari team principal Jean Todt look suitably shamefaced, the German meaninglessly pushing the Brazilian onto the top step of the podium.
As usual, Bernie Ecclestone managed to miss the point entirely. He commented “I did not like what I saw. Team orders are only acceptable if the championship is in the balance at the end of the year…They could have come up with something more elegant or more discrete.” So the problem wasn’t asking Rubens to move over, but that Ferrari made it too blatant. Fortunately, Ferrari learned their lesson and applied the much more subtle “Alonso is faster than you” tactic in Germany 2010.
It seems inevitable, with such a tight championship challenge, that we will hear more about team orders this season. Indeed, Lotus has already been criticised for not forcing Romain Grosjean to move aside for Kimi Raikkonen. At least this year, unlike ten years ago, team tactics are likely to be justified.
FORMULA ONE MUM