Formula 1 Ferrari driver Felipe Massa was winning about two thirds of the way through the German Grand Prix Sunday when Ferrari engineer Rob Smedley radioed to Massa that his teammate, second place Fernando Alonso, was faster.
That radio transmission was broadcast over the television feed, and soon, Alonso overtook Massa, and Alonso went on to win the race while Massa finished second.
Innocent, right? Well, according to our friends at Eurosport, this paragraph may say it all:
The next message from Smedley was: "Well done. Good lad. Now try and keep with him. I'm sorry."
After the race, Massa wouldn't talk about any allegations of team orders, saying that he was in it for the best of the team, but Ferrari doesn't get the benefit of the doubt on this one. In 2002, Rubens Barrichello was ordered to move over right before the finish line for seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, allowing Schumacher to win the Austrian Grand Prix. The FIA, Formula 1's governing body, heard the radio transmissions to Barrichello and gave both drivers and teams a joint fine of $1 million.
Heck, when Alonso was at Renault, he was the subject of a team orders controversy when Nelson Piquet Jr. admitted that he was ordered to crash to cause a caution to benefit Alonso, his teammate at the time. That incident helped lead Piquet over to the Camping World Truck Series on a part time basis.
And at the previous race of the 2010 season, the British Grand Prix, team orders were once again the main topic after the race when Team Red Bull ordered Mark Webber to give up his new front wing to Sebastian Vettel after Vettel broke his wing in practice. Despite the old wing, Webber went on to win the race.
While the FIA says that team orders are against the spirit of competition, no matter what the FIA does -- short of parking a team -- team orders will continue to be a staple of Formula 1. And the problem will remain in the public eye as long as teams continue to give these orders over the radio.
UPDATE: Ferrari has been fined $100,000 and the FIA will investigate, but the result of the race is upheld. So much for taking a stand.