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Motorsport | Formula 1

Christian Horner © Gallo Images

Ferrari tactics leave rivals unruffled in title battle



Ferrari's chief opponents in this year's fight for the Formula One drivers' world championship on Monday said they had no serious objections to the Italians' pragmatic decision to conjure up a deliberate gearbox penalty for Felipe Massa ahead of Sunday's United States Grand Prix.

Briton Lewis Hamilton won the race for McLaren ahead of defending champion and current series leader German Sebatian Vettel of Red Bull with Spaniard Fernando Alonso finishing third for Ferrari, thanks largely to starting from seventh on the grid after qualifying ninth.

His promotion was due to the five-place grid penalties given to both Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Lotus and, on Sunday morning, Brazilian Massa for gearbox irregularities – in the latter's case a deliberate breaking of his gearbox seal to incur a penalty.

But as many paddock observers argued about the ethics of the Ferrari decision which was fiercely defended by the team, both Red Bull and McLaren avoided any direct criticism of their strategy.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said: "It is within the regulations, and it was a tactical move. They obviously made that decision to get Fernando on to the right hand side of the grid and it worked well for them.

"It was within the rules, and while it was hard on Felipe, their priority is Fernando."

When asked if Red Bull considered doing something similar for Australian Mark Webber, which would have put Alonso back on to the dirty side of the grid, Horner replied: "Well then someone else would do it, and before you know it Fernando would start on the front row. We never considered it."

The Maranello-based outfit was concerned about having Alonso start on the dirty left side of the grid for the race.

Their decision enabled the switch of Alonso to the clean side and cruise round the outside of the field at the start to take fourth place in the first corner.

His podium finish finally kept alive his dream of a third drivers title and took the championship down to the wire in Brazil this weekend (Nov 25) when he has to overhaul a 13-points deficit.

The strategic move led to some questions about sporting ethics, but their main rivals were unruffled.

McLaren team chief Martin Whitmarsh said that Ferrari's tactic was exactly the kind of policy that his outfit was reluctant to use – and which was the cause of Alonso's displeasure during their ill-fated 2007 season together.

But he declined to attack Ferrari for their tactics.

He said: "Teams and team principals can decide how they run their programmes. It was tough, but it is very clear that they are very focused on Fernando. It worked, as it worked for Fernando, and unless we forget, Fernando was with us - and it was not doing those things that meant that Fernando left us.

"I am not criticising anyone. I think we have to go racing as we see a good way to go racing."

He added: "I think the toughest thing is that it put a number of people onto the slow side of the grid. It didn't impact on us - we were on the slow side of the grid and we stayed on it.

But if I had qualified on to the right side of the grid and that had put me on to the slow side I would have been very pissed off."

Ferrari team chief Stefano Domenicali had no doubts they made the right decision when asked if it was within the spirit of the sport.

He said: "Yes, otherwise we 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 was more correct to say the truth. This is our style, my style.

"It is something that is our responsibility to do and retrospectively we knew that the difference in grip level on the two sides was very high. And we knew that if we were thinking of trying to be in the fight in Brazil it was very important to have the first car in front in the first couple of laps, otherwise the race would have been almost finished.

"At the end of the day, retrospectively, I think that was the right thing to do. When you work for the Ferrari team you know that the team is the centre of the decisions and the drivers respect it. I have to thank Felipe for that."

He added: "I think he understood. I explained to him the decision. I have to say that if another team principal is saying that we didn't make the right choice he's lying to you."

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