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Support grows for legalising team orders

Formula One may be better off legalising 'team orders' and educating the public to expect them, some leading figures in the sport have suggested.

Such orders, which led to widespread criticism of Ferrari after Brazilian Felipe Massa let team mate Fernando Alonso pass to win the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim after receiving a radio message, have been outlawed since the infamous Austrian Grand Prix of 2002.

In that race, Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello had a comfortable lead over second-placed Michael Schumacher but was ordered to allow the German to pass. Barrichello stopped just short of the chequered flag and waited for Schumacher to catch up and take the flag, resulting in him being booed on the podium. As a result, the FIA outlawed team orders which would affect the outcome of a race.  

Ferrari was fined $100,000 for using team orders on Sunday and was also referred to the governing body for bringing the sport into disrepute, and could face further sanctions.

Formula One's commercial rights holder, Bernie Ecclestone, who once owned the now-defunct Brabham team and has been around the sport since the first championship race in 1950, has already said that he thinks the rule should be scrapped.

"I believe what people do when they are inside the team and how they run their team is up to them. Nobody should interfere," newspapers quoted the 79-year-old as saying.

Former Benetton and BAR team principal David Richards, who has also won world titles in rallying as a co-driver and team boss, agreed.

"I think there's a very sound argument for that because you see it in so many sports," he told Reuters. "I'd fully understand if the rule were to be overturned and that would be perhaps the sensible thing to be considering. I think if it's openly discussed and the public understand that teams work as teams in Formula One, as two car teams, then that's fair enough, but we need to communicate that openly and straightforwardly in the same way that a Tour de France winner has a team around him to help him to success."

Some bookmakers have complained that what happened at Hockenheim was unfair to those who put bets on the outcome in good faith.

Former race winner David Coulthard, who was famously on the wrong end of team orders at McLaren in Australia in 1998, wrote in a column in the Daily Telegraph that the ban was "frankly ludicrous".

"I know that what we saw at Hockenheim on Sunday... was unpalatable to many fans but for goodness sake, wake up and smell the coffee," added the BBC pundit who also serves as a Red Bull consultant. "Team orders happen in F1. They always have and they always will. Just because Ferrari was ham-fisted in breaking the rules, does it make their transgression any worse?"

Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo also called for an end to the 'hypocrisy' in a statement on the team web site, saying the interests of the team came before any individual.

Richards pointed out, however, that a law is a law and the fact that someone considers it to be bad does not mean it can be ignored. Ferrari was fined by the German GP stewards for breaching the regulations.

"The current circumstances are that team orders are banned and it was a fairly flagrant breach of the rules at the weekend, in my eyes," said Richards. "We need a bit of further debate about it. Some teams will choose to say no, our drivers work independently and we believe in their independence and we will not instigate team orders except perhaps in the last couple of races of the year. Other teams will choose a different approach."

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