When Kimi Raikkonen celebrated his excellent pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix, he seemed to genuinely believe he would be given the chance to race fairly with teammate Sebastian Vettel.
He diplomatically pointed out he was racing for the team while also publicly letting it be known, “we are allowed to fight but we cannot take each other off”.
At the time, the extended comments from the Finn, more renowned for keeping his counsel, were a little odd.
Either he was fed up with the questioning and wanted it done with, or else he was using the post-qualifying press conference to make a point to his employers and the wider world in case events unfolded as many suspected they would come race day.
Was it planned? Vettel: "Not really." Raikkonen: "Nothing to say. Obviously its still second place but it doesn’t feel awfully good." 1/2— Andrew Benson (@andrewbensonf1) May 28, 2017
Team orders and Formula 1 seem forever set to be indelibly linked. Arguably, the first instance dates back to 1951 and an Alfa Romeo car swap between Juan Manuel Fangio and Luigi Fagioli after Fangio’s car hit trouble.
In the intervening 66 years, each time the issue appears to have gone to bed, it merely resurfaces, and so it has here.
In contrast to after qualifying, in the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s race Raikkonen decided to keep his counsel but it was a face of thunder with which he greeted the crowds gathered at the street circuit.
The question prior to race was whether team orders would come into play or not. Staunch tifosi might suggest that wasn’t the case but it was a bizarre decision by Ferrari to bring him in on lap 34 when seemingly there was no desperate need to do so.
It led to him being caught in traffic, tripping up his charge enough for Vettel to stay out for a further five laps, set the fastest lap and get the jump on his teammate.
No wonder Raikkonen looked so livid but was he really surprised? Judging by his comments from 24 hours earlier, probably not.
It has already been assumed by everyone up and down the paddock that Vettel was Ferrari’s No.1 and Raikkonen the No.2.
But this was the first acid test, the first time properly that Raikkonen had brought the fight truly to his four-time world champion teammate – and very impressively it has to be said, not just in qualifying but the launch he got off the line in the race before pulling out a slim advantage.
This early into the season – barely a third of the way through – Ferrari were effectively asked if push came to shove would they pursue team orders.
They did even if when asked if it was planned Vettel’s response was “not really”.
But there should be no surprise. It has long been the team’s mantra, most notably when Michael Schumacher ruled the roost at the Prancing Horse for so many years, again to a lesser degree when Fernando Alonso was seen as the driver to revive the Maranello glory years, and it is apparent again.
Ferrari will be criticised for it but why? Raikkonen has been given chances to prove he deserves equal billing at the team, and that has not been warranted this season.
His race results read fourth, fifth, fourth, third, retired and second. With arguably the quickest and best performing car in full race trim that simply isn’t good enough.
In contrast, Vettel has been an astonishingly consistent performer come the Sunday of a race weekend and is yet to finish outside the top two in three races this season, Monaco his third victory of the current campaign.
Last Ferrari 1-2 finish was the famous 2010 German GP "Fernando is faster than you" - Today "Seb was faster than Kimi" #F1— James Allen (@Jamesallenonf1) May 28, 2017
And Ferrari know with a Vettel hegemony and Mercedes supposedly giving equal billing to Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas – well, at least a more equal billing – this gives them their best shot of catapulting Vettel to a fifth world title with Raikkonen hopefully chipping away to give them enough for the constructors’ championship.
Sure, fans would dearly love drivers to have a fair fight within a team and all credit for Mercedes for doing so.
But Vettel is the clear No.1 at Ferrari and has been for some time, and at least it was done this time for a modicum of grace and discretion.
In the past, Ferrari have not always done so: the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix when Rubens Barrichello slowed right down for a Schumacher victory, which led to boos of derision, is arguably the worst example.
But just seven years ago in Germany Felipe Massa markedly and grumpily slowed right down to let Alonso past.
The reality is team orders are here to stay.
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