2013 F1 season
The team ran one of its W04s for three days at the Circuit de Catalunya between the Spanish and Monaco Grands Prix.
They face potentially serious sanctions if they are found to have transgressed.
Did Mercedes break the rules?
Here are the facts of the matter as confirmed so far.
The FIA confirmed Mercedes “conducted with Pirelli a three day tyre testing using a 2013 car on [the] 15th, 16th and 17th [of] May in Barcelona”. Mercedes said Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg did the driving.
The details of the test, which began three days after the Spanish Grand Prix, did not come to light until May 25th during the Monaco Grand Prix weekend. The following morning Red Bull and Ferrari lodged a protest with the stewards over the test, which was later referred to the FIA’s International Tribunal. The stewards gave the following details of the protest:
The stewards of the Monaco Grand Prix received protests from Infinity Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Ferrari concerning an alleged breach of article 22.4h (track and wind tunnel testing) of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations by Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team.
The stewards summoned representatives of the protesting teams, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team and Pirelli.
After hearing and collecting information the stewards will write a report to the FIA who may bring the matter before the International Tribunal.
FIA stewards’ document number 49, 2013 Monaco Grand Prix
Article 22.4h is one of several clauses which define the circumstances under which track testing may take place. It forbids testing “between the start of a ten day period which precedes the start of the first event of the championship and 31 December of the same year”.
Obviously the dates of Mercedes test fall within the time when testing is not permitted. And the test did not meet any of the exceptions to the rule defined in article 22.4h:
(i) One three day young driver training test carried out on a date and site approved by the FIA following consultation with all teams. [...]
ii) Four one day aerodynamic tests carried out on FIA approved straight line or constant radius sites between 1 February of the current year and the start of the last event of the championship. Any of these days may be substituted for four hours of wind-on full scale wind tunnel testing to be carried out in a single twenty four hour period.
iii) If a team declares that one of its current race drivers is to be substituted by a driver who has not participated in an F1 race in the two previous calendar years, one day of track testing will be permitted between the start of a ten day period which precedes the start of the second event and the last event of the championship.
FIA Sporting Regulations
The FIA initially expanded their investigation to include Ferrari. It emerged they had also conducted a test for Pirelli at the same circuit on the 23rd and 24th of April, between the Bahrain and Spanish Grands Prix, using a 150° Italia chassis which last raced in 2011.
However the case against Ferrari was dropped when the FIA ruled that “for this purpose a 2011 car is not deemed to contravene the applicable FIA rules”. Article 22.1 of the Sporting Regulations forbids testing “using cars which conform substantially with the current Formula One Technical Regulations”.
How the case will be heard
The International Tribunal was introduced as part of a revised FIA judicial process at the beginning of the 2011 season. It is where stewards refer cases that are not resolved during race weekends.
Evidence will be presented to the tribunal by witnesses, knowledgeable parties, experts and third parties. Interested parties, such as rival teams, may also make representations to the tribunal. Once that is done the tribunal will deliberate in secret without the FIA president.
The judging panel will be composed of three members of the tribunal. These will be selected by the tribunal president, Edwin Glasgow, and none of them may be “of the same nationality as one of the main parties of the case”. Brief biographies of the 12 members of the tribunal can be found on the FIA’s website (PDF).
Prosecution and defence
The Tribunal will no doubt bring new facts to light. However several of the major points of contention have already been commented on in public by those involved in the case.
Use of a current car
Significantly Pirelli, who requested that the test take place, stated they did not ask Mercedes to bring their 2013 machine:
Pirelli did not ask in any way that a 2013 car be used: not of Mercedes nor FIA nor the teams which, during the year, were offered the opportunity of participating in tests for the development of tyres for 2014.
There has been much speculation about what evidence Mercedes might have that may indicate they were given permission by an FIA representative to participate in the test and do so using the W04. It was brought up during the Friday press conference at the Canadian Grand Prix:
One of the rumours that we have heard going round is that you’re in position of an e-mail from Charlie Whiting confirming that you did have permission to do the test. Could you confirm whether or not that e-mail exists?
The email, I don’t want to comment on any matters of that sort that relate to what’s going to come through in the Tribunal.
But as other teams have learned to their cost, a nod of consent from Whiting is not a guarantee they have complied with the rules.
During the 2008 Belgian Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton was forced off the track by Kimi Raikkonen while the pair were disputing the lead of the race. Hamilton rejoined the track ahead of Raikkonen, ceded the position back to him as the rules require, then overtook him at the next corner. Hamilton’s McLaren team sought Whiting’s opinion whether the move was legal and were told it was. But the stewards disagreed and confiscated Hamilton’s subsequent victory.
However Mercedes may believe the fact F1′s official tyre supplier was involved in the test counts in their favour:
Obviously we felt we were in a position to be able to do the Pirelli test – it was a Pirelli test, it’s very important to note that – and so the Tribunal will be the time at which all the information will become available.
Gaining an advantage
Mercedes covered around 1,000km during the three-day test. To put that into perspective, at the end of pre-season testing the team which had covered the most ground, Sauber, had logged 5,306km.
This test allowed Mercedes to increase the ground they had covered with their 2013 car in testing by nearly 20%, excluding any straight-line aerodynamic tests.
They will be at pains to stress that no advantage was gained from the extra running. Pirelli gave the following information about the test:
This test, as always, carried out with a single compound never used in a championship, regarded structures not in use in the current season and not destined to be used later during the 2013 season.
The tyre tests were conducted “in the dark”, which means that the teams had no information on which specifications were being tested or about the goal of the testing; nor did they receive any type of information afterwards.
The first sentence suggests Mercedes would not have gained knowledge about this year’s tyres. But it doesn’t rule out the possibility Mercedes gained knowledge or influenced the development direction of next year’s tyres, assuming Pirelli extends its F1 contract beyond this year.
That claim was seemingly contradicted by comments made by Nico Rosberg during the Canadian Grand Prix weekend which Mercedes later sought to play down:
Yes, for sure, yeah of course. Definitely I was aware of what the ideas were and what they were testing because I need to know that to try and be able to pinpoint for them best what’s going on and what directions are likely to be best for them.
There is also the possibility Mercedes were able to advance their understanding of their 2013 car in other areas. Former McLaren mechanic Marc Priestley explained the potential benefits of such a test to F1 Fanatic earlier this month.
Not surprisingly, Mercedes’ rivals firmly believe the test was a valuable opportunity:
Whenever you run the car, when you’re not allowed to test, when you have limited mileage, when the rules are written as they are, when you run a current car of course, for the way that Formula One is, with the way that the amount of technology and with the amount of data analysis there is, you’re always learning. Whether it be reliability, whether it be endurance, whether it be performance. So, of course… even if you’re testing a component for a supplier, you’re learning.
I think Formula One has moved an awfully long way over the last few years to ensure fairness and equality to all of the entrants. I think that if a team does carry out 1000km of additional testing with a current car, you’re going to learn something.
Note that the FIA International Sporting Code states (in article 58) that not having gained an advantage will not be accepted as a defence if a car is found not to comply with the Technical Regulations. However Mercedes are being investigated for a potential breach of the Sporting Regulations, so that does not apply.
However it is common for both the sport’s official tyre supplier and the teams to keep quiet about their testing plans. Pirelli do not advertise when their tyre tests with their own car are about to take place and top teams are secretive about the timing of their one-day aerodynamic tests during the season.
Brawn has repeatedly attacked the characterisation of the test as ‘secret’
There has been an unfortunate branding of the ‘secret’ test. It was a private test. It wasn’t a secret test. I think anyone who believes you can got to Barcelona and do three days of testing, or 1000km of testing, and not have anyone become aware of it is naive.
It was a private test, not a secret test and sporting integrity is very, very important to us. Very important to Mercedes. And as I say I think when the facts become apparent then people can make a better judgment of the situation.
One might argue that had more of the facts been made apparent at an earlier stage Mercedes would not find themselves refuting claims of a ‘secret’ test. That is the view of their rivals:
I think the lack of transparency is disappointing. That you get to learn these things second hand. I think it is important that there is transparency, of course.
If a supplier has issues then it needs to obviously deal with them but when all entrants are supposedly equal, it’s only right and proper that information is made transparently clear.
Whether the test was kept secret from rival teams is less important than whether the test was kept secret from the FIA. This brings us back to the question of whether Mercedes have a ‘smoking gun’ proof that someone gave them permission to go testing.
The statement issued by the FIA after the matter was referred to the stewards indicates they did not receive final confirmation the test was going ahead:
Pirelli and Mercedes AMG were advised by the FIA that such a development test could be possible if carried out by Pirelli, as opposed to the team that would provide the car and driver, and that such tests would be conditional upon every team being given the same opportunity to test in order to ensure full sporting equity.
Following this information, the FIA received no further information about a possible test from Pirelli or Mercedes AMG. Furthermore, the FIA received no confirmation that all teams had been given an opportunity to take part in the test.
A simple majority of the tribunal’s judging panel will decide the verdict. The addressee of their decision (i.e. Mercedes) and the FIA, under the authority of the president, may appeal against it. This would take the matter to the FIA’s International Court of Appeal.
If Mercedes are found guilty the tribunal may impose the penalties defined by article 153 of the International Sporting Code: a reprimand, fines, obligation to perform work of public service, a time penalty, exclusion, suspension, disqualification or confiscation of championship points.
The FIA has previously punished teamd while exempting their drivers from a penalty, as with McLaren’s championship exclusion in 2007. As both Mercedes drivers participated in the test and stood to benefit from it, it is hard to see how the FIA could make a case for doing the same here.
What the key players are saying
I think we wouldn’t have done the Pirelli test unless we believed we could do the Pirelli test and I think when we get to the Tribunal, you’ll have your answers.
We believe that it is the responsibility of the entrant to comply with the regulations, so when it came to light that a test with a current car had taken place, our interpretation of the regulations is that that was in clear breach of them and therefore we raised a protest prior to the race for it to be dealt with as an issues by the FIA. It’s really an issue between the team and the FIA.
Obviously Pirelli have asked several teams to test, ourselves included but we have declined to do so because we felt that it wasn’t in line with the regulations, certainly with a current car. That’s the situation. It’s gone to the Tribunal and we trust in the FIA to make the appropriate decisions regarding it.
I think the important thing is that there needs to be absolute clarity moving forward in terms of what you can do and what you can’t do going forward, you know, what is testing and what isn’t testing. I think that’s more crucial than anything, it is to be fully resolved.
Let’s hope Formula One can maintain its professionalism and we have faith that those who attempt to circumvent the regulations are pursued and prosecuted, or rather more prosecuted than pursued.
Luca di Montezemolo
Over to you
What do you think will be the outcome of Thursday’s Tribunal? Will Mercedes escape punishment?
Have your say in the comments.
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Images © Daimler/Hoch Zwei, Ferrari/Ercole Colombo