Maybe the result of Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix was preordained by Ferrari brass or maybe it was just bad luck for Kimi Raikkonen and superb driving from Sebastian Vettel that allowed the German to leapfrog his teammate and snatch the victory.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter. Ferrari got the result that was best for team—if they used team orders (or a more subtle manipulation of the cars’ pit stops), so be it.
“I’ve heard Kimi was rather unhappy. I can understand it…”
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 29, 2017
Formula One is a team sport and as long as that is the case, then sometimes one team member will be forced to sacrifice themselves for the good of the team or subordinate themselves to their teammate. Not everyone has the glory of being a striker or a quarterback.
Of course, that analogy is inexact. If you are a holding midfielder or blocking tight end and your team wins a title, you are still a champion. No one calls Mark Webber or Rubens Barrichello or Felipe Massa champions, no matter how many constructors’ titles they helped win. In F1, the drivers’ championship is the one that matters (at least to the drivers).
A Raikkonen victory in Monaco would have been great for the sport. He remains one of the most popular drivers in the series despite not scoring a win since the opening race of the 2013 season. The Finn had already broken a pole-less streak that dated to 2008 with a brilliant qualifying lap on Saturday, so he was definitely the sentimental favourite in the race.
However, even the most die-hard Raikkonen fans must have known, deep down, that it wasn’t to be. Even when the Finn made a great start and led the first part of the race, the math did not add up.
Speaking of streaks, Ferrari have not won a title—drivers’ or constructors’—since 2008, but Vettel has a legitimate shot at the drivers’ championship this year, so the team needs to maximise his points at every opportunity. Coming into the Monaco race, Vettel had 104 points, leading Lewis Hamilton by six. Raikkonen had 49.
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 29, 2017
Even if Vettel and Raikkonen had not swapped places during the pit stops, the team would have had to ask the Finn to move aside on track. It would have been irresponsible not to. Vettel and Hamilton look headed for a season-long title scrap, where the difference between them at the end of the year could very easily be seven points or less (the difference between first and second in Monaco). It is still early in the season, but points scored now count the same as those scored in Abu Dhabi (not always the case).
If both Ferrari drivers were fighting for the title, as was the case for the last three years between Mercedes’ Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, then by all means let the drivers decide the races between themselves. But as popular as Raikkonen is, he is not challenging for the title this season.
On the Sky Sports race broadcast, David Croft and Martin Brundle wondered a few times whether Raikkonen was becoming Ferrari’s de facto No. 2 driver. Newsflash: It happened a while ago. Like, 2015.
When Vettel arrived at Maranello, he was immediately hailed as the Scuderia’s saviour, the man to return them to glory. Despite flashes of his former brilliance, Raikkonen has never seriously challenged that narrative (which helps explain his longevity in his second stint with the team).
Team orders have always been a touchy subject in F1, and especially so with Ferrari, but they are part of the sport. In this case, anyway, Ferrari should not be criticised for a decision (if they actually made a conscious decision to swap Vettel and Raikkonen) that every other team would make in the same situation.
F1 isn’t an after-school rec league where everyone gets equal playing time and a participation trophy at the end. Ferrari are paying Raikkonen something like $7 million to drive for them. If they want him to move aside for a teammate with more than twice as many points as him and a much better chance of winning a title, then it is his job to do so.
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 28, 2017
Sure he was disappointed during the podium interviews (which now take place on the track), but that is actually a good sign. It is usually impossible to detect any emotion from the monosyllabic Finn, so the fact that we even know he wasn’t happy with the result is a good indicator that he really does still have a strong desire to win races.
Likewise, Raikkonen’s fans have every right to be disappointed that their hero lost what seemed a sure victory. But don’t blame Ferrari for that result. As the ancient proverb states, don’t hate the playa, hate the game.
(Featured image credit: Scuderia Ferrari via Twitter)