Formula 1

Felipe Massa splits opinion after ignoring team orders

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Past demons may have clouded Massa's judgement in Malaysia (©GettyImages)
Past demons may have clouded Massa's judgement in Malaysia (©GettyImages).

The pressure of being higher up the grid in 2014 may have already shown at Williams following Felipe Massa’s decision to ignore team orders at Sepang.

Entering into the final stages of Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix the two Martini striped cars were closing in on Jenson Button’s McLaren for sixth place.

However, Valtteri Bottas was the quicker Williams driver thanks to fresher tyres but first had to clear his new team-mate Massa.

Then over team radio came a message few thought the Brazilian would never have to hear again after years of playing number two at Ferrari.

“Valtteri is faster than you” Felipe was told by his race engineer, in a moment of complete disbelief by most watching around the world.

The call was identical to the infamous “Fernando is faster than you” used by Ferrari to swap the two cars around at the 2010 German Grand Prix, a race many think was the moment Massa’s late Ferrari slump began.

However, unlike in his Ferrari days, this time Massa was defiant and refused to yield to the young Finn – ultimately finishing ahead of him.

Just as similar as the radio call was the one of Massa’s moments in history, the decision to ignore a team order was also eerily reminiscent of Sebastian Vettel ignoring a call to hold station and pass Mark Webber for the win at the same track a year earlier.

The topic has sparked a huge debate among fans and pundits alike but as for the team themselves they were unsure quite how to react to the situation.

“How could we do what to Felipe?” Deputy team boss Claire Williams said responding to the question asked by British broadcaster Sky Sports.

Indeed when further probed about the subject, Williams claimed no such order had been issued: “At the end of the day, Felipe finished ahead of Valtteri,” she insisted. “They were both told to cool it.”

Clearly uncomfortable about what had happened she added: “I’m going home now. That’s me done for the day.”

Instead it was the team’s chief engineer Rod Nelson who admitted the Brazilian ”didn’t do what we would have preferred him to do” and then was forced to deny any suggestion that Massa will be put into a similar number two role at Williams.

“There’s nothing else going on in the background,” Nelson is quoted by GMM. “We don’t run like that — it’s not like other teams where they have a number 1 driver and a number 2 driver. We’ve got two number one drivers.”

During the race former driver and now Sky Sports commentator Martin Brundle claimed he understood Massa’s decision not to let Bottas by and that he would have done the same thing himself, but others were less forgiving about Massa’s plight.

“When a team asks, the driver should invariably follow,” Finnish commentator and racing driver Tom Vilander said.

“I think Massa should perhaps have swallowed his pride and let Valtteri through,” he added.

Certainly any thoughts this could be a continuation of Felipe Massa playing second fiddle to his team-mate are well wide of the mark.

What it does show however, is Massa is perhaps so scarred emotionally after the situations he had to face at Ferrari, that as soon as he had to deal with a repeat scenario at Williams his defiance was perhaps proof to the team but also to himself and the fans that he can race for himself regardless of what the team ask.

Despite that should he have simply followed instructions? Williams won’t be a team that issue that kind of call too often, after all when you’re not fighting for championships why have a ‘lead’ driver.

The fact was the team saw an opportunity to get one of its drivers into a position that could have helped capitalise on their early good form and capture vital points for the Constructor’s Championship, but that plan was scuppered by Massa’s ego, though it was understandable, in my opinion, Massa made the wrong call.

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