James Lawton: Massa deserved better than this after all he has been through
Monday 26 July 2010
Spygate, Crashgate, now the fiddling of Fernando Alonso to the top of the podium, leaves us with quite what? Three scandals and one question.
The question is as ineradicable as the smirk on Alonso's face, the one that appears whenever he gets his way. It asks, who would be a Formula One fan, camping in the trees around Hockenheim or marching to Monza in the dawn under the banner of Ferrari's prancing horse?
Michael Schumacher, no less, attempted to supply an answer. For a start he must be somebody prepared to put down the fiction that he is attending an authentic race between the world's great drivers.
He must accept that the interests of a driver like Ferrari's Felipe Massa, who at this time last year was extremely fortunate not to be either killed or brain dead after his skull was broken by a flying object in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix, will always be subordinate to a team policy.
This is one that insists that when all else is equal there will be permitted only one winner, in this case Fernando Alonso, who along with Sebastian Vettel was dropped at the first bend by Massa and then outraced for much of the German Grand Prix.
Schumacher concedes that there may be "nicer" ways of doing it than in the brutal fashion which signalled the end of Massa's hopes yesterday and recalled the days when the great man himself was routinely given the benefit of every scrap of Ferrari strategy back when his partner was another second-fiddle Brazilian, Rubens Barrichello.
He didn't say quite how a minuscule $100,000 fine imposed after the race made any kind of moral statement at all, but then we should really get to the heart of the business.
We should acknowledge that the rights of the team are paramount. Victory, if it is a matter between their two drivers, is in the gift of the team, a reward for all their work and investment and part of the reasonable ambition of giving themselves the best chance of taking the world drivers' championship.
Meanwhile, Eddie Jordan, a former team boss who on behalf of the millions who watch on television is locked into the belief that racing integrity, and the sport's own rules, should not be quite so casually tossed into the rubbish bin.
Massa, relegated to second place, also seemed quite keen on the argument that a race is a race and not a riotously expensive but rigorously regulated traffic flow. Normally an outgoing and often charming individual, Massa made little effort to disguise the fact that he had been professionally crucified.
Yes, that's all very well, Schuey was saying in his most unctuous manner, but there is an even more pressing need to live in the real world. Team orders determining the outcome of a race may be banned according to the laws of the FIA ruling body but everyone knows they have always existed.
Perhaps the Ferrari plot was too explicit, maybe their team boss was just a little too outrageously disingenuous when he tried to make a joke of the whole affair, which sooner or later could have a huge bearing on the title race, but what did it serve Ferrari if Massa, a relative long shot, got the extra points that were so easily transferred to Alonso?
No, perhaps it wouldn't have the best possible outcome of a team effort which left Red Bull and McLaren trailing in Ferrari's wake. However, it would have been quite good for the "sport" if the fortitude and the driving skill of Massa had been given a fairer chance of proper reward.
Alonso snarled "this is ridiculous" when Massa refused to meekly surrender the moment he lost a little pace on his new hard tyres. The Spaniard is, of course, a notoriously imperious character who was not slow to voice his displeasure, even dismay, when Lewis Hamilton made a surprisingly potent challenge for the world title and was not immediately held back in favour of his senior team-mate.
Inhabitants of the real world of Formula One will now grow breathless explaining why Massa should know his place and live with the generous rewards that come with it. They will say that he has been around the track a few times and should know how his business works.
Maybe, maybe not, but it is certainly no hardship supporting his conviction that if a racer is prepared to risk his health he is also entitled to benefit from the best of his performances. Massa looked like a man who had raced for no better reward than public betrayal.
But then it was an unstated belief, one that he saw no point in over-stating. His face could scarcely have been bleaker when he refused to answer questions about the "coded" message from the pit which relegated him to second place. "I don't have to say anything about that," he said. "He [Alonso] passed me." Alonso was about as reflective as a No 1 cat slugging down the cream. "Sometimes you are quick, sometimes you are slow," he announced.
Sometimes, it is also true, you are involved in a genuine race, something real, something about sport and not the machinations of a bunch of guys who get their orders from above. Sometimes the tactics are less crudely obvious, sometimes the odd bit of camouflage is imposed.
But not yesterday, not when Ferrari made their mockery of a race and Massa may just have wondered all over again why he continues to put his life on the line.
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