It’s been almost a week since the 2012 Formula 1 season came to a climax in
and the bitter taste of defeat is finally starting to fade away. For those of
you who didn’t watch last Sunday’s (or if you live in Brazil , Monday morning’s)
dramatic conclusion, Fernando Alonso lost the Driver’s Championship by a mere
three points to Sebastian Vettel. It was an exciting race and Ferrari fought
until the very last lap but sadly, despite Vettel having to endure what has to
be one of the most calamitous races of his career, he would not be denied the
In the aftermath of Interlagos there has been much controversy surrounding Sebastian Vettel and his passing of several cars while yellow flags were out on the circuit. At first it appeared as though the yellow flags in question were merely yellow and red striped slippery surface warnings, Ferrari’s Pat Fry even noted as much during his post-race interview when questioned about Vettel’s pass on Kobayashi. In the past week, however, new video evidence emerged on the internet which seemed to show the newly-crowned World Champion passing Jean Eric Vergne under a very definite yellow flag. It was a development that had the potential to alter the result of the Championship and it made headlines all over the world.
My initial reaction to what has been nicknamed “Flag-Gate” was one of horror. There is nothing worse than when the result of a race is altered after the cars have reached the chequered flag and the champagne has been sprayed. The idea that the Championship could be decided by a post-race penalty made my stomach turn. I imagined the potential headlines accusing Ferrari of using underhanded tactics and various other odious methods in order to secure the Championship. I imagined that somehow, even if the argument was completely valid, Ferrari’s image would once again be dragged through the mud and others would emerge looking whiter than white.
My mind skipped back to
, when Ferrari made the bold decision
to break the seal on Felipe Massa’s gearbox, demoting the Brazilian five
positions on the grid. It was a strategic move that allowed Fernando Alonso to
start on the clean side of the track and helped to ensure that Ferrari would
take the Championship down to the wire. Texas
From inside the paddock, there were no complaints about this strategy. In fact, I rather think that many of the teams might have admired its brilliance. Still, despite there being no controversy, some members of the media chose to report it as one. One article that boiled my blood in particular appeared on ESPN’s Formula 1 website. In the article Martin Williamson accused the strategy of being within the rules but outside the spirit of them. He even went as far as to say that Ferrari’s actions made a mockery out of qualifying and sullied the sport. It is commentary like this that gives new fans a false impression of the sport. What exactly did Williamson mean when he spoke of the spirit of the sport and what made him believe that he could even attempt to define the moral boundaries of a sport that is three dimensional, not black and white. Team orders have always had a place within Formula 1 and the teams have always pushed the limits of the regulations. It is the media who chooses to make drama where indeed no drama exists.
The media has this amazing ability to blow things totally out of proportion and paint its subjects as either heroes or villains. Sensational headlines sell newspapers and everyone enjoys commenting on a good controversy. As much as I would have loved to celebrate a Ferrari Championship, I must concede that this whole messy post-Brazil affair has been nothing more than the Spanish media stirring the pot.
Although Ferrari were satisfied that Vettel overtook Kobayashi under a yellow and red striped flag during the Brazilian Grand Prix, the emergence of the Vettel/Vergne video on the internet and the media storm that the video unleashed, forced them to re-examine the race and ask for clarification from the FIA. Fernando Alonso, himself was allegedly also amongst those calling for Ferrari to lodge a protest. “I have no miracles.” He wrote on this twitter account “I transform the correct rules in my miracles.” with his manager, Luis Garcia Abad adding “Where justice does not prevail, it’s dangerous to be in the right.”
In the conspiracy theorists’ defence, I have to admit that I have watched the grainy video of Vettel’s pass on Vergne countless times and have yet to see a green flag being waved. Still, the quality of the video that sparked this debate is so poor that one cannot even read Vettel’s dashboard. As much as I dislike not being able to see the flag with my own eyes, I do accept that both the FIA and the teams have access to a quantity of information that would make my head spin.
In the end, the whole dramatic episode amounted to nothing, with the FIA confirming that Vettel’s move was indeed legal and that Ferrari had no case to appeal. Ferrari too conceded, issuing the following statement: “Ferrari duly takes note of the reply sent by the FIA this morning and therefore considers the matter now closed. The request for a clarification from the FIA, regarding Vettel’s passing move on Vergne, came about through the need to shed light on the circumstances of the move, which came out on the internet only a few days after the race.”
With Vettel in the clear, the media has made Ferrari its latest target, with some unfair comments being hurled in the team’s direction questioning the Italian side’s sportsmanship. Perhaps to clear the air a little, Stefano Domenicali made a statement of his own. “We had no intention of belittling the merit of the title winner, but it was right to have the matter completely cleared up.”
Believe what you like, but the fact remains that in the face of overwhelming pressure, Ferrari had no choice but to address the issue. The team’s ethics and sportsmanship have nothing to do with it. Were the situations reversed, Red Bull might have very well reacted in a similar manner and yet, somehow, I have a feeling that they wouldn’t have received quite the same amount of criticism for merely asking for clarification. The lesson here is that it is the media we should hold accountable for sensationalising issues in order to sell papers and not the teams who are merely trying to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.