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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Grab your tin foil hat

The Malaysian Grand Prix offered up all the variables that make for a classic race. Weather, underdogs and heroic drives by Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez.

But despite the brilliance of Alonso's ability to muscle a poor car around the circuit and put himself at the top step of the podium, the focus for a vocal bunch out there is on a radio message Sauber sent to its young driver to be conservative.

Could Sauber have thrown the race for Ferrari?

No team polarizes the fan base like Ferrari. You either love or hate the Prancing Horse -- it is usually passionate. Doubtless, fans are going to come down on either side of the issue.

More importantly, however, it highlights the qualities of news sources involved in the sport.

For one thing, in the United States, we have a (somewhat) unique view of journalism. We expect objectivity. As a professional journalist (though not part of the F1 media circus), I have been lectured on objectivity by anyone I have ever worked for and in every course I took in college. Sure, there are folks on the right and left who claim bias, but it truly is an integral part of our education.

Not every country has the same standard, however. For example, there is a widely used agency in the F1 world, which translates and rewrites pretty much any story on the sport from any news source in the world. Sometimes there are nuggets of truth in there, but boy, you don't want to make it the gospel.

Additionally, the news world has become crowded by citizen journalists. Blogs and other sites, which may have been set up by experts or armchair quarterbacks. Take your pick -- some feel this is revolutionary, some feel it is dangerous. Reality is somewhere in between.

Journalists on the ground called foul on this conspiracy business. One went so far as to say it was fueled by the sofa crowd. Though he has apologized to readers who misread and took it personally (a sign of his own integrity), he has not backed off from his core argument, which is they are not there. They don't know the personalities of the players. They haven't put in the time.

The fact of the matter is, there are some very good F1 blogs out there. Many are run by folks in the paddock. They are based on years of knowledge and relationships with personalities in the sport. Some are run by knowledgeable and committed fans that are clear about where they are coming from, have done their homework, and rely on knowledgeable sources. And some are purely passionate, uninformed opinion. It is up to you, as the consumer, to choose your news wisely. Look at the backgrounds of the writers. Read their writings and judge.

Despite my background as a journalist, this is a blog of personal opinion. I am, first and foremost, a fan. My background influences my approach, and lord knows, has done little to boost my readership numbers. I read all the news I can get my hands on and follow certain journalists religiously, but my opinion should not be confused with authority.

I can't be in the paddock, much as I would love to fulfill that dream. So I base my opinions on the voices I value, and I link to those "people in the know below." I let them handle the hard news. Do they sometimes get it wrong? Sure. That's part of being a journalist, too. But they approach their work with integrity, and are open about any potential conflicts, or when they are simply voicing their (informed) opinion.

Being a member of the working press in F1 is an incredible sacrifice of time and effort. That doesn't make every working journalist an ace, but it does reveal hard work and dedication. And in many cases, a credibility that puts them above those of us on the sidelines.

So -- since it begs a response -- an opinion on said controversy...

This isn't the first time the word "conspiracy" has raised its head between Sauber and Ferrari, due in no small part to some claims going back to the late 90s and Sauber's status as a Ferrari engine customer. In fairness, Perez is a product of the Ferrari young drivers program, as well.

Still, a call from the pitwall to consolidate your position and not take stupid risks is not abnormal. Are you listening, Pastor Maldonado? We have heard such calls in the past from McLaren and Red Bull.

Sauber asking Perez to be careful of the position, its best in years and worth whole bunches of money to the team, would be par for the course. The last thing you want your young driver to do is decide in the final laps he can take a Fernando Alonso under those conditions and take himself (or both cars) out.

If Sauber could have won that race, there is no doubt the team would have taken it. To ask your driver to be smart is a no-brainer. Keep in mind the team didn't say "don't pass," it simply said "we need these points." Some will say that's code, but it just doesn't jive with what happened. Perez made a mistake and ran wide. If you want to lose a few seconds there are much safer ways to do it. Fuel concerns would be a good one. A lost gear is another.

As it was, Fernando Alonso pulled out a stunning win in a "difficult" car, and a young driver put a midfield outfit second on the podium, probably making his replacing Felipe Massa at the Scuderia sometime in the next 12 months a foregone conclusion. This wasn't DC or Rubinho pulling over for their teammates or that Mickey Mouse business Ferrari pulled at Indy a few years back. It's a shame two such beautiful drives, and a wonderful race, should be tainted by faux-controversy.

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