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Raikkonen’s Big Worry

Speculation over who will become Ferrari’s number one driver continues, with the Raikkonen ranks swelling after his win in Australia but the Massa devotees still expecting there to be a fight when their boy gets a car that doesn’t break in qualifying.

Kimi

Raikkonen in Australia

But I think Massa will be the least of Kimi’s worries at the moment – more to the point is that his engine temperatures shot up in the last few laps of the Australian GP. No damage was caused but it does put a question mark over the engine’s ability to survive another GP.

He could play safe by taking an engine change and the ten-position penalty that goes with it, of course. Which might be the wiser option, given the inevitability of Kimi qualifying on pole in Malaysia. No driver likes to have to fight his way to the front from tenth position but that shouldn’t be too big a problem for the Finn – he’s used to doing the same in an uncompetitive McLaren, after all.

The downside of the tactic is that it increases the risk of someone defending his position too vigorously and pushing Raikkonen off the track. But that is part of racing and can happen even if you’re leading and lapping an inattentive back marker. And how much more risky is it to start a race with an engine that was beginning to give trouble at the end of the last one? So I would say that Kimi should take the engine change and give us an entertaining drive through the field.

What, you think that Massa might be the fly in the ointment of that strategy? Get real – Felipe has improved out of all recognition in the last year, it’s true, but he is still not in the same class as Raikkonen. The Finn will come past him like a train and he won’t need team orders to do it.

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Toyota and Team Orders

Autosport magazine reports that the Toyota team did ask Jarno Trulli to move over and let Ralf Schumacher through in the Japanese Grand Prix. Apparently, this has caused some frustration to Toyota management since it may have resulted in the loss of points – there is some speculation that Ralf could have beaten both Button and Raikkonen (yeah, right) had Trulli done as he was told. Jarno is unrepentant, however:

Trulli said after the race that his pace was slow because of tyre issues, but that the team should have been happy for both cars to finish in the points.

“I had several problems and struggled with my last set of tyres – particularly for the first 10 laps,” he explained. “The most important thing is that we both scored points.”

Jarno

Jarno and Ralf

This is all very interesting as regards the team’s harmony or lack of it, but isn’t something being missed? Have we all forgotten about the ban on team orders?

Autosport avoid implicating the Toyota team by stating that their information came from a “source” but, being a reputable magazine, I can’t see it publishing anything that did not come from someone who should know. And that means someone within the team, surely.

It should also be remembered that the TV commentators to the race fully expected that Trulli would have to let Ralf through – the German was obviously faster and it made perfect sense for the sake of the team that he be let loose. I think we must all have shared in the surprise that this did not happen and that the Toyotas circulated for the rest of the race at Trulli’s pace.

So, what of the ban on team orders? Would not Toyota’s request, repeated three times, have amounted to just that? If it had been Massa being asked to let Schumacher through into the lead, would not every other team be lodging protests? It seems to me that there are double standards at work here – one rule for when it really matters and another when no-one could care less.

In fact, the whole thing merely shows up the stupidity of the ban on team orders anyway. F1 is a team sport (there would be nothing for the stars to drive were it not for their teams) and sometimes things have to be arranged for the good of the team – or for the sake of a championship. Team orders have been a part of F1 from the very beginning and it is only recently that any comment, let alone protest, has been raised over them. And that is because the audience base has increased so rapidly that it includes many who have yet to learn all the nuances of the sport. Those who understand how it all works raise no eyebrows over such things.

The rule is impossible to police anyway. It is easy enough for the number two driver to pretend to fight for his position while letting the number one through. And these days number twos go into every race knowing what they must do if the situation arises (just ask Massa about that). There is no need for the team to get on the blower and issue instructions – that’s all taken care of beforehand.

In the end, it comes down to personal opinion on whether a driver is obeying team orders or not when his team leader passes him. And, as we saw at Monza, rules that depend upon personal interpretation are an open invitation to abuse.

The rules and regulations governing F1 are complicated enough without including such meddling in team affairs. I say the FIA should get rid of the ban and let things take their normal course. Yes, occasionally a crowd favorite might have to give way to a team leader for the sake of the championship; but that’s F1 – sometimes the team’s interests must come before an individual’s.

And another thing: who would bet on Jarno Trulli receiving 100% of the team’s efforts next year?

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