AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Ferrari promised to pull out all stops on Sunday to help Fernando Alonso claim the Formula One drivers title and with the help of a rulebook loophole they head to the season finale still in the fight.
Bending the rules to their advantage, Brazilian Felipe Massa took a five-place grid penalty at the U.S. Grand Prix to help team mate Alonso stay in the title chase with Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel.
Just prior to Sunday’s race, Ferrari said they had broken a seal on Massa’s gearbox, incurring the mandatory penalty, for “strategy considerations, with the objective of maximizing Alonso’s start potential.”
The penalty meant Alonso started in seventh place and, crucially, on the “clean” side of the grid.
Alonso seized the opportunity to finish third behind Vettel and race winner Lewis Hamilton to trail Red Bull’s championship leader by 13 points and everything to play for in Sao Paulo next Sunday.
”We know our championship keeps alive maybe thanks to the first laps,“ Alonso told reporters. ”We always qualify around seventh or eighth and we finish the first lap in the first three or four positions normally and then after that the race becomes a little easier.
”I think this podium, after all the difficulties we went through this weekend, is like a victory for us.
“Losing three points maybe was in no-one’s thoughts I think yesterday night or Friday night after seeing the practice, so we are really happy again to have a very good Sunday and score again good points.”
While the decision to take a penalty to gain an advantage may hint at a lack of sportsmanship, the move fell within the rules, Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali offering no apologies and making no attempt to hide his plan.
“I didn’t want to lie. I just wanted to say the truth. It would have been easy to (lie) but that is not our style, my style,” he said.
”I think because of the situation that is very clear in Ferrari, there is just the team that is the most important thing in this situation.
”The data we had we knew the left side of the grid was very bad. I wanted to be totally honest.
“If in my shoes other team principals would say a different thing, they are lying.”
“Once again the more we think about it, the more it was the right thing to try to keep the championships open until the last moment.”
If Ferrari’s gamesmanship rubbed Red Bull the wrong way they offered no hint at being angry, dismissing the move as part of the price of doing business in F1.
“It was within the regulations, it was a technical move, they obviously made that decision to get Fernando onto the right side of the grid and it worked well for him,” said Red Bull team boss Christian Horner with a shrug. “It’s within the rules, obviously hard on Felipe but their priority is Fernando.”
Editing by Gene Cherry