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Jean Todt (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)
Jean Todt (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

Motorsports

Landmark decision for Formula One racing Add to ...

The ban on team orders in Formula One will likely be lifted next season.

Good riddance.

The good news came after a World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) hearing in Paris on Wednesday to decide whether the sport's governing Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) should punish Ferrari further for asking one of its drivers, Felipe Massa, to defy the sport's rule prohibiting team orders and let teammate Fernando Alonso pass and win July's German Grand Prix.

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Not only did the WMSC not add to the $100,000 fine Ferrari already received from the German race stewards for its rule infraction, but it also referred the regulation banning team orders to the F1 Sporting Working Group for study, which many feel will see it abolished.

It is a landmark decision for the FIA on several levels.

The WMSC ruling decisively showed a clear break from former FIA president Max Mosley who many worried would continue influence the sport from behind the scenes through his hand-picked successor Jean Todt. With the ban on team orders coming into force under Mosley's presidency and the former FIA boss coming out strongly in favour of further sanctions, the significance of this decision cannot be underestimated.

Mosley's 18-year reign was marked by his iron fist and ruthless pursuit of adversaries, something that ultimately rallied the teams to force him from office last year. Having the WMSC demonstrate conclusively that Mosley's influence has evaporated is good for Todt as he repairs the FIA's fractured relationship with F1's teams.

Although Todt excused himself from the hearing due a potential conflict of interest arising from his previous job as Ferrari's team boss, there's little doubt the WMSC knew exactly where the president stood.

The decision was also a tacit admission of the folly of banning team orders in grand prix racing, especially since the rule really had no demonstrable impact on the teams' use of the tactic.

Anyone examining the past couple of seasons wouldn't find it too difficult to identify team orders at play.

Take a look at the final race of 2007 in Brazil, where Kimi Raikkonen won the world title for Ferrari by a single point. In that race, the Scuderia brought race leader Massa in for his final pitstop three laps earlier than his teammate. That move allowed second-place man Raikkonen to put in some quick laps and emerge from his stop in first where he needed to be to win championship. A year later, McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton would likely have failed to take the title by a single point had teammate Heikki Kovalainen not made it easy for him to pass and go on to win the season's 10th race in Germany.

While easily identified as furthering a teammate's championship hopes, it's simply ridiculous to suggest that this would be "fixing" a result.

Let's be perfectly honest here: Renault asking one of its drivers to crash deliberately at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix to ensure his teammate's strategy delivered a win was race fixing. A driver making a pass easy for a guy in the same coloured car, or deliberately holding up his teammate's championship rival, is not.

Seriously, if what Ferrari did in the German Grand Prix is considered race fixing, then every Tour de France title won by Lance Armstrong was also tainted because his each of his teammates were charged with doing whatever they could to get him across the finish line first.

While Wednesday's decision recognizes the reality of F1 racing, it's also a brave move by the FIA since the WMSC and Todt will inevitably take serious flak for appearing to side with Ferrari. Remember there are a large number of fans who feel the sport's governing body has a pro-Ferrari bias after several controversial decisions under Mosley's rule that many felt unduly favoured the scarlet team.

While not the case here, there's no doubt that history will rear its ugly head. Add Todt's connection to the team and we will likely see some scathing criticisms of this sound decision.

It was the right one to make because overturning the team order ban will bring integrity back to the sport. There's no honour in pretending that team orders don't exist and forcing teams and drivers to be dishonest.

All that does is make them lie to fans, whether overtly or subtly, when orders come into play.

Yes, it would be terrific to see every driver fight for every inch of tarmac through every grand prix, but it will never happen. Sooner or later in a season, the top teams must identify the driver most likely to win the title and throw all the outfit's resources behind him, something frontrunners McLaren and Red Bull will definitely do as things get serious in the final few races of 2010.

The plain truth is that the team order ban only served to deceive F1 fans about the sport's inner workings and to insult their intelligence along the way. And for that reason alone, putting an end to the lie is the only option worth exploring.

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