• United States Grand Prix

Ferrari defends Massa's grid drop

ESPN Staff
November 18, 2012 « Button pleased with clean racing | Raikkonen bemoans cloud cover »
Stefano Domenicali: "When you work for a Ferrari team you know that the team is at the centre of the decision" © Sutton Images

Ferrari has defended its decision to hit Felipe Massa with a self-inflicted gearbox penalty ahead of the United States Grand Prix in order to get Fernando Alonso on to the clean side of the starting grid.

After qualifying Alonso was set to start on the left-hand side of the grid in eighth, but practice starts earlier in the weekend indicated that could result in losing up to three places before the first corner. Massa was supposed to be starting from sixth, so by breaking a seal on his gearbox Ferrari incurred a five-place grid penalty on purpose and shifted Alonso on to the right-hand side of the grid and up to seventh.

The strategy worked as Alonso got a good getaway and was fourth by the first corner before going on to finish the race third, one place ahead of Massa. As a result the drivers' title will go down to the final race in Brazil with Alonso facing a 13-point gap to championship leader Sebastian Vettel.

When asked if he felt that inflicting an unnecessary penalty on his own driver was within the spirit of the regulations, team principal Stefano Domenicali said: "Yes, otherwise I wouldn't have done it ... I prefer to be totally transparent because with something like that you can easily simulate something if you want, but I felt it is more correct to tell the truth. This is my style.

"You can agree or not with that decision, but honestly at the end of the day it is something that is our responsibility to do. We knew before the start of the race that the difference in the grip level on the two sides of the grid was very high and we knew that if we were trying to take the championship down to the last race it would be very important to be near the front on the first couple of laps. Otherwise the race would have been finished.

"At the end of the day and retrospectively, from a strategic point of view it was the right thing to do. When you work for a Ferrari team you know that the team is at the centre of the decision and the drivers and team respect it. I have to thank Felipe for that and he drove extremely well all weekend. This is positive looking forward to Brazil because we need both drivers doing a great race if we are going to challenge Vettel to win the driver title."

He added: "If another team principal says that we didn't do the right choice he is lying to you."

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh did not debate whether it was right or wrong, but asked if he would have done the same, he said: "I don't think so, I think it was quite a tough thing to do."

Whitmarsh added: "Teams and team principals can decide how they run their programme but it's very clear that they are very focused on Fernando and in fairness it works for Fernando. Lest we forget that when Fernando was with us it was not doing those things that meant that Fernando left us. They've got to make their decisions and I'm not criticising anyone for what they do."

But Whitmarsh said he would have been "pissed off" if it had resulted in one of his drivers moving to the dirty side of the grid.

"The toughest thing is that it put a number of people on to the slow side of the grid. If I had got into a place on the fast side of the grid and that [Ferrari's decision] had put me on the slow side then I would have been very pissed off."

Ferrari also ran the risk of Red Bull reacting by doing the same with Mark Webber and shifting Alonso back on to the dirty side of the grid in sixth. However, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said he had not considered it.

"[What if] somebody else does it and before you know it he'll start on the front row," he said. "We never considered it."

And Horner said Ferrari's decision made sense for Alonso. "It's within the regulations, it's a tactical move and they obviously made that decision to move him on to the right-hand side of the grid and it worked well for him today. It's within the rules and obviously hard on Felipe but the priority is Fernando."

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