Team orders haunt Ferrari

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The Independent Online

Team orders have become synonymous with the A1-Ring. In the past two seasons Ferrari has used them to determine the outcome of the Austrian Grand Prix in Michael Schumacher's favour, each time at the expense of a quicker team-mate, Rubens Barrichello. The ruthless manner in which the team used them last year, in particular, provoked an outcry that has yet to die down.

Schumacher was uncomfortable when the subject was raised yesterday. While his brother Ralf, facing his 100th grand prix, came out firmly in favour of raced results being fixed by the teams, the world champion clearly did not want to expand on the topic.

"I think it is down to you [the press] that team orders have changed, those of you who didn't like them," Schumacher Snr said, as if he regretted their so-called passing. "Whether the ban is enforceable or not, I don't know. Certainly the obvious team orders will be, and we have made our statement on this subject."

Indeed. But Ferrari's sporting director Jean Todt has made it clear that Ferrari does not agree with the ban. "The rules have been clarified in a way and we are going to follow them," he said earlier in the season. "But we will see what is in the interests of the team. We run the team in the way we feel it has to be done. We will respect the sport, but the interest of Ferrari will always be the priority.

"Team orders have existed since motor racing existed. We probably did not apply them in the most clever way [last year] and we will take that into account for the future."

Ferrari have even more reason to impose team orders this season as they look to boost Schumacher's bid for a record sixth drivers' crown.

The 34-year-old German had a comfortable lead last year when they took their controversial decision but this time he is second in the standings, four points behind McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen.

However, after victory in Spain last time out, Schumacher is convinced he will not need any help this time. "Barcelona is a circuit that shows the true potential of a car. If it goes well there, it is supposed to go well everywhere," Schumacher said. "In Spain I think our car showed what it is able to do."

However, if the two red cars are out front on Sunday afternoon, as seems highly likely, and Barrichello is ahead, Ferrari could find itself between a rock and a hard place.