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Mat Coch writes:
Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali has no remorse over the decision to deliberately penalise Felipe Massa ahead of yesterday's United States Grand Prix.
The Brazilian was handed a five-place penalty after the team broke a seal on his gearbox, thereby dropping him to eleventh on the grid while promoting teammate Fernando Alonso to seventh. The shrewd move meant Alonso, who trailed championship leader Sebastian Vettel by 10 points heading into the race, would start on the cleaner side of the track.
"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," a defiant Domenicali argued after the race. "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."
But while the team could have created almost any reason for Massa to be penalised it opted to openly admit that it was deliberate, triggering an out-pouring of opinions across internet notice boards.
Alonso's former boss, McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh, opted to sit on the fence when asked about the ethics of Ferrari's approach. "I think it was quite a tough thing to do," he conceded.
"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," he continued. "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."
Ferrari's decision ultimately failed to directly impact McLaren, though Whitmarsh admitted he'd have been less than pleased had the Italian squad put his own team at a disadvantage. "The toughest thing is that it put a number of people on to the slow side of the grid," Whitmarsh explained. "If I had got into a place on the fast side of the grid and (Massa's penalty) had put me on the slow side then I would have been very pissed off."
Despite the reaction Domenicali stands by his decision. "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," he admitted. "This is my style.
"At the end of the day, and retrospectively from a strategic point of view, it was the right thing to do," he added. "When you work for Ferrari you know that the team is at the centre of the decision and the drivers and team respect it."
For his part Massa played the gracious teammate role to perfection. "When I was told I was dropping five places, I can't say I was jumping for joy, but I accepted it to help the team and my team-mate," he said after the race. "I don't think many drivers would have done the same."
While just what influence Massa's penalty ultimately had on the race is open to interpretation, it was clear Alonso enjoyed a strong start to run fourth after the first corner. When Mark Webber retired his Red Bull with an alternator problem on lap seventeen the Spaniard was promoted to third, where he would eventually finish. The result ensured he dropped just three points to Vettel in the championship hunt on a weekend that looked set to offer so little.
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