Williams in damage control mode to diffuse tensions after team orders embarrassment

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Team orders triggered another Malaysian Grand Prix controversy on Sunday, with Brazilian Felipe Massa defiant after refusing to obey an instruction to let Williams teammate Valtteri Bottas overtake, leaving the team in an embarrassing situation and with damage control high on their agenda before the next race in Bahrain.

Massa, no stranger to unwelcome radio messages at his previous team, Ferrari, finished the second race of the Formula One season in seventh place, just ahead of his frustrated Finnish teammate.

McLaren‘s Jenson Button was sixth, managing to hold off the Williams pair despite struggling for straight line pace.

Williams Chief Operations Engineer Rod Nelson said that the team felt that Bottas had fresher tyres than Button and would have been able to challenge the Briton better than Massa, whose rising engine temperature was causing concern.

Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday 30 March 2014.

The Brazilian didn’t see it that way and said he had been surprised to hear the message “Valtteri is faster than you, do not hold him up” over the team radio.

“What I did was correct and I try and do the best for the team. I’m sure the result would not have changed if I let him by. What I did in my opinion was correct and I’m doing everything I can to help the team,” he told reporters.

“The team respect me 100 per cent and they showed they respect me after the race so I have no problem at all. What happened today was not what I expected but what I did was correct,” added the Brazilian.

“The problem was that I was much quicker than McLaren [for] the whole race, but going out the last corner they had very good traction…Valtteri had the same problem, overtaking McLaren was not easy.”

Nelson said thatthe plan had been for Bottas to attack Button, but if he wasn’t able to overtake, then Massa would have been allowed to reclaim seventh from the Finn.

Choosing his words carefully, Nelson said that there would be a discussion with both drivers later regarding the matter and that it was “a strategic decision” rather than team orders.

Valtteri+Bottas+F1+Grand+Prix+Malaysia+Practice+qPUdBz2fwHGx

“He didn’t do what we would have preferred him to do,” he said of Massa.

“We look to maximise our constructor points whenever we go racing, Felipe was running high temperatures on his engine and we were a little bit concerned about it and Valtteri had much fresher tyres, certainly than Jenson did.

“We thought it would be good to give Valtteri a go against Jenson and then if he hadn’t achieved that in two or three laps we would have swapped our drivers over again.”

Nelson said that Williams did not have team orders.

“Its not like other teams where they have a No 1 driver and a No 2 driver, we have two No 1 drivers. And its a race situation,” he explained.

Williams Martini Racing 2014 Team Launch, London, England, Thursday 6 March 2014.

“We will go through with the drivers tonight and discuss what we expect.”

Bottas was in sombre mood after addressing reporters after Massa, initially trying to steer questions off the subject, which took the shine off Williams moving into fourth in the constructors standings, on 20 points.

The Finn said that he had followed a subsequent instruction by not overtaking Massa in the final two laps before contradicting the Brazilian’s version of discussion in pre-season.

“We have spoken beforehand about these situations but I think we need to go more into the details,” the Finn said, adding that he believed that he could have overtaken Button.

Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday 28 March 2014.

“We are going to talk through it and what we need to do next time in similar situations so everything is clear. What are the rules… and [hopefully it] allows us to get more points.”

The wording of the message would have been particularly painful for Massa, who was famously told “Fernando is faster than you” while leading the 2010 German Grand Prix.

On that occasion, he moved over to let teammate Fernando Alonso win in what he later described as the toughest moment of his career with Ferrari.

Last year’s Malaysian Grand Prix had two similar controversies, with Red Bull‘s world champion Sebastian Vettel ignoring a coded ‘multi 21′ instruction and passing teammate Mark Webber for victory.

Mercedes‘ Nico Rosberg, who finished second behind teammate Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s race, obeyed an order last year to hold station behind the Briton. (Reuters)

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