Fernando Alonso’s world title hopes hang in the balance ahead of tomorrow’s World Motor Sport Council hearing in Paris.
Alonso faces the prospect of being stripped of his controversial German Grand Prix victory as Ferrari stand accused of using team orders, which are banned in Formula One, to engineer the result.
Should such a punishment be meted out, Alonso would drop be 66 points adrift of current championship leader Lewis Hamilton instead of 41.
Even with 150 points still up for grabs with six races remaining, Alonso’s chances of becoming a triple world champion, to add to the titles he won in 2005 and 2006, would be severely damaged.
The smart money, however, is on a fine – in addition to the $100,000 (€78,000) already paid after the stewards decreed they had broken the rules – and a points penalty for the team rather than the drivers.
That would ensure the team were punished rather than the drivers, who were merely acting upon
orders from above.
That point was emphasised by reigning champion Jenson Button, who said: “I don’t think the drivers will get a penalty.
“If they do get another penalty it will be for the team because it was an order from the team.
“Personally I don’t understand why they just don’t swap the points around for those two, but you can’t do that within the regulations.”
Ferrari’s argument will centre on the fact that no explicit order was given to Felipe Massa for him to cede the lead, and eventually the win, to Alonso.
Instead, Massa was simply told twice by engineer Rob Smedley over the pit-to-car radio that Alonso was faster than him, the message repeated as the Brazilian did not respond to the initial remark.
The inference behind the wording was clear for all to interpret, although had it not been for Smedley’s subsequent messages, the furore that followed the race may have been avoided.
After Massa slowed out of the hairpin at Hockenheim on lap 49 to allow Alonso by, Smedley then said: “Good lad. Just stick with it now. Sorry.”
After the race, and again via the radio, Smedley thanked Massa for being so “magnanimous”, notably so as a year and a day previously the 29-year-old was almost killed in an accident in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Despite protestations of innocence from Alonso, Massa and team principal Stefano Domenicali, Ferrari were found to be in breach of article 39.1 of the FIA 2010 sporting regulations that states “team orders which interfere with a race result are prohibited”.
Ferrari were also charged with a breach of article 151c of the FIA international sporting code relating to “any fraudulent conduct, or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition, or to the interests of motor sport generally”.
It is the latter article under which McLaren were fined a sporting record 50million US dollars in relation to the ’spygate’ saga in 2007.
Ferrari are also likely to contend that despite the regulation, introduced after the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix when Rubens Barrichello allowed by Michael Schumacher for the win, team orders remain rife in F1.
The point is a moot one as no other team has been caught quite so obviously as Ferrari, whose coded messages were far from subtle.
Former FIA president Max Mosley, under whose leadership the rule was brought in, made his feelings clear on the matter in speaking to German newspaper Welt am Sonntag last month.
“If one wants to fulfil the needs of the audience, then one must maintain the ban,” said Mosley.
“Both cars and both drivers should lose the points they achieved in the German Grand Prix.”
F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, however, made the point teams should run their organisation as they see fit as F1 is a team sport.
“Nobody should interfere as to how they run their team,” Ecclestone told Press Association Sport the day after the race.
That, though, is an argument for a later day as Ferrari have been accused of breaking a specific rule, and it is on that point the debate will be argued.
Domenicali and the team’s lawyers will be in attendance, although not the drivers who will instead be available for questioning via video link.
Ordinarily, the WMSC would be chaired by FIA president Jean Todt, but due to a conflict of interests given his former role as team principal of Ferrari, he will stand down in favour of his deputy, Graham Stoker, a London barrister.