Will Mercedes escape sanction at FIA Tribunal?

2013 F1 season

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2013The FIA International Tribunal will convene in two days’ time to decide whether Mercedes broke the rules on testing.

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 test

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

The rules

Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, 2013Article 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

Ferrari’s exoneration

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Barcelona, 2011The 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

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2013Ferrari’s exoneration is significant because it shows one of the issues at stake is how much knowledge Mercedes were able to gain about their 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.
Pirelli statement

Permission

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?
Kate Walker

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.
Ross Brawn

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 ?ǣ it was a Pirelli test, it?s very important to note that ?ǣ and so the Tribunal will be the time at which all the information will become available.
Ross Brawn

Gaining an advantage

Start, 2013 Monaco Grand Prix, Monte-Carlo,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.
Pirelli statement

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.
Nico Rosberg

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.
Christian Horner

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.

Secrecy

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2013Neither Mercedes nor Pirelli volunteered information about the test until the rest of the paddock became aware of it – apparently following a meeting between the GPDA and the FIA.

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.
Ross Brawn

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.
Christian Horner

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.
FIA statement

Potential outcomes

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, 2013A 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.
Ross Brawn

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.
Christian Horner

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.

Mercedes and Ferrari Pirelli tyre test row


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147 comments on Will Mercedes escape sanction at FIA Tribunal?

  1. Chris Goodman (@cloudman) said on 18th June 2013, 19:19

    I expect that Mercedes may get some form of punishment, so that FIA can save face in the public view and with the other teams. I think that Ross Braun should not be excluded, since he acted in good faith, and I expect will present evidence that he communicated with Charlie Whiting, who is the last word on things for F1 in usual regulations. Maybe Charlie is getting a little long in the tooth, and should to be set out to pasture in some party’s view, but such retribution may be short sighted given his record.

    I think the true instigator of this travesty is Pirelli, since they thought they could just approach any team and give them tires to test and not care about any consequences. Were they in collusion with another F1 team? Italians helping Italians would not surprise me. Of course, such a situation will be very difficult to prove, and some will take me to task that the red team could do any wrong. It seems that Pirelli will escape any discipline, and they will continue to provide shoddy tires, which are cheaper to make and the teams will continue to have to trundle around the track like test cars to make it work. If that is the case, it just makes the competition contrived, much like NASCAR racing and so called IndyCar racing.

    • Chris Goodman (@cloudman) said on 20th June 2013, 22:17

      What I find notable is that Merc initially offered a two year old car like Ferrari, but Pirelli declined and preferred a 2013 model, and Ross was cautious about the situation and asked Charlie Whiting about the permission to use a 2013 car in tire testing. Apparently Charlie gave a conditional yes, and later talked with FIA lawyer, who said the test is fine if the tires are offered to the other teams, the next day, which I believe was one day into the tire test. Merc and Pirelli were informed of this by Charlie, but Pirelli never offered the tires to the other teams. Yeah Merc broke the rules, but they were lead down the path acting in good faith by Pirelli. Perhaps we can fix the situation, by banning Pirelli tires for 2014 along with a hefty fine for Pirelli and Merc.

  2. RS27 said on 18th June 2013, 20:54

    I just hope that the FIA gives mercedes well deserved disqualification from championship!

  3. pH (@ph) said on 18th June 2013, 21:05

    Most comments seem to be jumping to conclusions big time. It definitely is _not_ clear that Mercedes broke any regulations. Did Ham & Ros ran their 2013 car? Yes. Is there any regulation prohibiting it? NO!
    Regulations prohibit Mercedes running tests with their current (or similar) car, but was it really a Mercedes test or was it a test ran by Pirelli? Like it or not, this is a legal trial and will not be decided (should not be decided) by what people think about advantages gained/not gained by Mercedes, but based on whether the regulations were broken.
    In the last decade or two we have seen teams getting away with obvious breaches of the spirit of the rules, because they did not break regulations as written. I’d wager that’s exactly what Brawn is banking on.

    • Jon Sandor (@jonsan) said on 18th June 2013, 21:59

      It definitely is _not_ clear that Mercedes broke any regulations. Did Ham & Ros ran their 2013 car? Yes. Is there any regulation prohibiting it? NO!

      There are very clear regulations prohibiting testing with a current car.

      was it really a Mercedes test or was it a test ran by Pirelli?

      It was a test conducted by Mercedes with Mercedes cars, Mercedes engineers, and Mercedes drivers. By any normal usage of words that makes it a “Mercedes test”.

      • BasCB (@bascb) said on 19th June 2013, 8:48

        The test was conducted by Pirelli though, but they used Mercedes cars and had Mercedes bring the drives and most likely at least part of the engineers @jonsan. I am not saying that makes it a clear Pirelli test, but it does leave some room for interpretation (which I am skeptical the tribunal will accept though)

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 19th June 2013, 14:01

      @ph

      Is there any regulation prohibiting it? NO!

      Yes there are – the ones quoted in the article.

  4. invisiblekid said on 18th June 2013, 21:26

    Whatever the outcome I think the test has been handled appallingly by EVERYONE including the FIA. This was 1000km of testing which in an old car or not, is valuable in some small way to a team.

    There should have been a number of windows open for testing set by the FIA and they should have been in full control over this. They should have ensured Pirelli told everyone that there was this testing up for grabs and some dates.

    The FIA know with such strict testing rules and from previous behaviour, give an F1 team an inch and they’ll take a yard.

    Having said that, of course we don’t know how much wool has been pulled over their eyes. But again if this was handled more forcefully there would be option to do all this so secretly. Sorry Merc and Pirelli, this WAS a secret test. But using a current car to test was such a huge no no, I cannot fathom how or why Mercedes would risk using it had they not had permission.

    As with so many things, loopholes and liberty taking have always landed a team with fines etc and a “oooops we must try/look harder next time” by the FIA.

    Using a current car to test was such a huge no no, I cannot fathom how or why Mercedes would risk using it had they not had permission. But again, a loosely worded letter from CW could, like the rules, but read differently and Merc could again be pinching an inch or two.

    The whole thing is a mess and for me, the FIA in this case has acted far too leniently as far as organising this and I fear will act too overpoweringly over it too.

  5. Jason (@jason12) said on 18th June 2013, 22:57

    Your ‘title’ Keith implies that Merc is guilty, which is not exactly a fact at this point.

  6. All the particulars notwithstanding, Mercedes and their drivers had 1,000km of in-season testing that the other teams have not been able to undertake. Hard to watch the races since and imagine their ‘improved’ performance is not somehow related. Further, it takes the luster out of the 2013 championship as one team has sought to extrapolate the rules into a manner which unfairly favors them. Legal mumbo jumbo aside, as a result the 2013 championship is not being competed upon in a fair and honorable manner and will end up with an asterisk beside it in the history books. Minimum penalty, 100 points off season tally…

  7. PMccarthy_is_a_legend (@pmccarthy_is_a_legend) said on 18th June 2013, 23:29

    This is as black and white as it gets. Mercedes used their current car to test, and that’s against the regulations. Email or no email, Pirelli asking or not asking, it’s all smoke and mirrors, it’s the entrants responsibility to comply with the regulations. As far as I am concerned the interesting point here is not whether Mercedes will get punished, but what the punishment will be and it’s repercussions, including Brawns position as team principal.

    • Tretton (@tretton) said on 19th June 2013, 14:19

      Maybe “Pirelli used the Mercedes car and the Mercedes drivers” to do the test.
      It all depends on how the rules are formulated.
      If the regulations isn’t written propperly, Mercedes could very well get off the hook on such a pitty detail.

  8. Farragher (@supercar) said on 19th June 2013, 0:42

    Maybe Ross did it on purpose, believing it would bring disgrace to a team that appears to be moving toward sacking him anyway…….?

    The conspiracy theorist.

    • Shimks (@shimks) said on 19th June 2013, 1:45

      If you are going to create a conspiracy, at least try to not make it completely ludicrous so that we have something to argue for/against.

      You know, they never did land on the moon!

  9. BasCB (@bascb) said on 19th June 2013, 8:40

    Personally I feel the most important thing that can come from this is that the FIA Tribunal will (or will not) be established as credible by a transparent procedure leading to a well argued decision and a fair penalty (if any).

    As for Mercedes, I can’t really see how their defence can hold, but then I expected Ferrari to be punished for blatantly ignoring the ban on team orders and I was surprised how teams have been getting away with things that were clearly not as intended in the rules but found ways to not be infringing them (traction control, flex wings, barge boards, flex wings again, engine mapping, you name it), so I would not be surprised to see Brawn get away with it (that would mean the FIA will have to immediately give new rules on testing though, because if a team can provide a car for a Pirelli test without breaking testing rules, that will give us at least 3-4 teams wanting to go testing right away)

    But it would be very sad if it led to Charlie Whiting getting axed by Todt as much for not being “his guy” as for doing something wrong. Makes me think back of Gary Hartstein.

  10. Tretton (@tretton) said on 19th June 2013, 14:10

    Ross Brawn certanly seems a little too self confident and experienced to have made such a huge misstake. There could very well be a loophole.

    The one that to me seems most likely is that the rules about “conducting a test” is written in such a sloppy way that the tyre test in question wasn’t conducted by Mercedes at all. They provided the cars and the drivers but they didn’t “do the test”.

    If so, notging else matters.

    Being a race fan, I certanly hope it’s not the case.

    Being a Mercedes fan, I kind’a do hope so.

    Either way – Something fishy going on here… >

  11. Robbie (@robbie) said on 19th June 2013, 15:47

    Just got back to my computer after being away for several days. Haven’t had a chance to read everyone’s remarks here but I think I get the gist of it. For me it comes down to a few things that I think will be key in the tribunal conversations. I know that Brawn can be accused of questionable tactics in his F1 career, playing the game to his/his teams’ advantage shall we say, but somehow I think this in-season test ‘rule break’ would be too risky and too obvious for him to have done in any way other than with the thinking that he had permission, and therefore if they are found guilty of anything I think the punishment should not be severe.

    I think this was a Pirelli test and I believe both them and Mercedes that this was not a test of data sharing but a test run by Pirelli, so again, I think Mercedes punishment if anything should not be too severe. If Pirelli wants to claim they didn’t ask Mercedes to bring a 2013 car, I don’t see them hanging Mercedes out to dry on that…’thanks for helping with the test and now we’ll stab you in the back at the tribunal.’ Just don’t see that happening.

    I think it will be found that given that Pirelli had a clause in their contract to test, and it has been pretty obvious to everyone that the tires have been too much the issue this year, I think common sense should prevail and the penalties dished out should not be too severe. F1 wanted these tires, F1 wanted a lack of testing, and FIA allowed a contract clause that Pirelli could test which would require a team do to so, and in spite of the rhetoric about what Mercedes may have theoretically gained from the test, I think said gain was very very minimal in reality and so again, punishment should be minimal.

    I think it has to remain on the forefront that Pirelli are the one’s that needed this test, not Mercedes. Pirelli blew it with their tires this year. Anyone who thinks this started with Mercedes approaching Pirelli to do an underhanded thing, and that Pirelli went along with it and supplied them with tires, is being too conspiratorial.

    Whatever penalty Mercedes might receive, Pirelli imho should receive moreso because this all started with them not ensuring proper tires for the season and therefore needing to do a midseason test. Michelin was raked over the coals for their tires not working at one turn of one venue. Why should Pirelli not be too? Except for F1 mandating these tires as well as the lack of testing of course. ie. FIA/F1 must share some of the responsibility for the circumstances that led up to Pirelli needing to test. Mercedes, imho, should be the least punished.

  12. dutchtreat (@dutchtreat) said on 19th June 2013, 20:45

    The penalty for Mercedes should be to pay for the other teams to test 1000 kilometres.

    • Robbie (@robbie) said on 20th June 2013, 21:51

      Sure, that’s fair as long as they only bring one car, don’t get to make it a normal F1 team test, the tests are run by Pirelli personel, and no tire data is shared. What should be Pirelli’s penalty for supplying tires to Mercedes? Shouldn’t they have to pony up something too, since it is their tires that aren’t up to snuff and are the reason a test was needed to begin with?

  13. Ryan Fairweather said on 20th June 2013, 16:00

    Even if they are let off for the actual testing side of things. The FIA can still play the old “bringing the sport in to disrepute” card which you can argue they have.

    • Robbie (@robbie) said on 20th June 2013, 21:53

      Personally I think the mandated shoddy tires and lack of testing that has created delaminations, 4 stoppers, and delta running rather than racing, has brought the sport into disrepute. As has DRS.

      • Ryan Fairweather said on 21st June 2013, 9:52

        I agree, DRS is fake. The whole wheel to wheel action in the last few seasons has been manufactured and the Pirelli tyres are a complete joke.

  14. DrewF1 said on 20th June 2013, 18:08

    I really can’t see what Merc have done wrong if Charlie W has given approval whether it be by phone call or emails. Lets look at it in a different way. Lets pretend Merc is young 18 year old boy and Pirelli is some hot 18 year girl Merc and his mates (Fred, Mac & William) fancy. One day Pirelli invites Merc to a party but he’s not sure if he should go so he asks his Mum (Mrs FIA) if he’s allowed to go, Mrs FIA gives him approval to attend the party. Merc decides not to tell his mates about the party as he wants to spend some quality time with Pirelli and after all its not his party so he’s not in a position to tell or invite anyone. Merc attends the party and gets up close and personal with Pirelli but is forced to wear and blindfold so whilst it feels great he can’t remember a thing and whilst his mates are not best pleased with Merc they all know deep down they’d all do the same thing.

    So there you go, I rest my case. Mercedes have done nothing wrong :-)

    • You can pretend all you like, as the protagonists have been since the beginning in an attempt to obscure the facts but the FIA see right through that. Mercedes gained an illegal advantage. Case closed. The statements from the tribunal in Paris all but confirmed that, with everyone in damage limitation mode. The only questions that remain to be answered are what the penalties will be.

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