Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2013

Is the FIA’s test ban for Mercedes a fair penalty?

Debates and PollsPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2013The FIA International Tribunal has banned Mercedes from participating in this year’s Young Drivers Test after deciding they broke the rules by testing at the Circuit de Catalunya in May.

Does the punishment fit the transgression? Is it too harsh or too soft? Compare both sides of the argument and cast your vote below.


In its verdict the FIA’s Tribunal made it clear Mercedes did not intend to gain an unfair advantage and said they did not act in “bad faith”.

What’s more the FIA concurred that Mercedes had grounds to believe they had been given permission to do the test.

The FIA also acknowledged it contributed to a misunderstanding on Mercedes’ part about whether they were allowed to test. Reflecting that, the governing body will jointly foot the bill for their investigation, sharing it with Mercedes and Pirelli.

This serves to demonstrate Mercedes were not entirely to blame and did not attempt to cynically exploit the testing rules, and therefore deserve a lenient punishment.


The FIA made it clear Mercedes had gained an advantage from the test, “which, at least potentially, gave it an unfair sporting advantage”.

It also pointed out that the instruction it gave to Mercedes and Pirelli to ensure other teams were informed of the test was not carried out.

Mercedes were found in breach of article 22.4 (h) of the Sporting Regulations which prevents teams from testing with a car that substantially conforms to the current regulations. The benefit of being able to do so with their regular race drivers as opposed to a much less experienced driver appears to have been overlooked by the FIA in choosing to strip Mercedes of their Young Driver Test privileges.

The penalty chosen does not go far enough to rebalance the playing field following the revelation of Mercedes’ clandestine test.

I say

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2013The most unsatisfactory detail to have emerged during the deliberations is that a total of three (formerly) secret tests have been conducted by F1 teams for Pirelli since the beginning of last season: two by Ferrari and one by Mercedes, though apparently only the latter involved a current specification car. The lack of transparency surrounding these tests is a cause for concern.

Regarding the Mercedes case it’s clear the FIA recognised their own fault in the communication between themselves, Mercedes and Pirelli which led to the test going ahead. That was clearly used in mitigation of any potential punishment for Mercedes.

One could blame the FIA’s equivocal interpretation of its own rules or Mercedes’ eagerness to covertly log an extra 1,000km with its current cars and race drivers. But the person hardest hit by the verdict is totally blameless: the aspiring F1 racer who’s just lost a chance to get behind the wheel of a W04 at the forthcoming Young Drivers’ Test (in recent years this has been Sam Bird).

What’s more, the effectiveness of Mercedes’ punishment is now contingent on the other teams being able to conduct worthwhile running at the Young Drivers’ Test. If it is disrupted by rain Mercedes’ punishment would be rendered meaningless.

The penalty also leaves Mercedes’ two race drivers, both of which participated in the illegal test, completely untouched. Does the FIA not expect them to understand and adhere to the Sporting Regulations?

Earlier this month Lewis Hamilton described the difficulties he’s experienced getting the W04 to behave the way he wants it to under braking. It’s hard to believe an extra day-and-a-half’s running in the car didn’t help him make progress with that.

I understand why the FIA felt they couldn’t go too far in punishing Mercedes. But at minimum they needed to cancel out what advantage Mercedes gained from the test, and they have fallen well short of that.

It was Mercedes themselves who proposed a ban from the Young Drivers’ Test as a punishment for their transgression. By giving them what they want the FIA have handed down a penalty that is too lenient.

You say

Do you think the FIA’s punishment for Mercedes is fair? Cast your vote below and have your say in the comments.

The FIA's penalty for Mercedes is...

  • Far too harsh (3%)
  • Slightly too harsh (5%)
  • Fair (18%)
  • Slightly too soft (29%)
  • Far too soft (44%)
  • No opinion (1%)

Total Voters: 587

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210 comments on “Is the FIA’s test ban for Mercedes a fair penalty?”

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  1. But the person hardest hit by the verdict is totally blameless: the aspiring F1 racer who’s just lost a chance to get behind the wheel of a W04 at the forthcoming Young Drivers’ Test (in recent years this has been Sam Bird).

    I have a feeling that Sam Bird(or any driver that Mercedez had planned) will drive for Force India at the YDT.

    1. Vic (@hendrix666)
      21st June 2013, 22:52

      @1abe If Bird is a Mercedes employed/connected driver, how can he test? Isn’t Mercedes banned? I would assume that means any employees too.

      1. @hendrix666 The way i see it, the team is banned to test only its car in the YDT. There is nothing that can prevent Sam Bird to a have a contract with FI jus for the YDT. He selection fits the rule as Keith mentioned below. Anyways, all i am saying is, it could be a possibility and not that it will be.

      2. That would be idiotic. They are just prevented from testing their car.

    2. @1abe FI’s roster is already filled with the likes of Calado, Daly and possibly, Razia. They might be able to wedge in Bird for a half-day, but that would be little compensation..

  2. I think the punishment is fitting of the crime, given the circumstances. Mercedes won’t have learned that much, and whilst there were benefits, what more could the FIA do, given that it was partially their fault. The only reason for voting ‘Slightly too soft’ is because obviously the drivers, namely Lewis Hamilton will have gained the most out of such running.

    Overall, I hope this is the last we have to hear about this, and that people don’t continue on about whether the punishment was too soft, or whatever as there isn’t much more the FIA could have done. This won’t cause other teams to start going testing in spite, as it would be completely different circumstances. Let’s move on!

  3. Slightly to soft.

    In short: Mercedes deserved a penalty, but given the intricacies regarding the Pirelli contract/Charlie Whiting’s role/the sporting regulations, Mercedes could not have been judged to simply go ahead and broken the rules. If they did gain an advantage over other teams it was deemed to have been minimal, hence the minimal punishment.

    As to the drivers, they are contracted to the team, so I fail to see how they are relevant in all this. If an employer asks me to do something, I am contractually obliged to do so (unless the Sporting Regulations have a subsection for every particular employee of a team being subject to them separately from the team as a whole).

    On a different note altogether, I read somewhere that Red Bull was found to have gone testing with Pirelli too?

    1. @victor

      unless the Sporting Regulations have a subsection for every particular employee of a team being subject to them separately from the team as a whole

      The drivers are just as subject to the Sporting Regulations as their teams are. I see no reason why in this case Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton should be exempt from punishment. They were the ones driving the cars.

  4. another shot in the foot for f1. It’s so political it makes me sick.
    After the past monaco borefest, i had made myself a promise not to visit another gp live for at least a few years. I will go to moto gp instead. This latest fia-sco just confirms that i made the right decision.

  5. I have found the penalty a little bit strange to be honest because, first it was requested by Mercedes, it was just like ”punish me if you want but don’t cross the lines”, second the whole process was not intended to last 2 days it was intended to last some hours because Mercedes infringement for the rules was clear which the FIA tribunal itself admitted but instead they went into irrelevant details like Pirelli paid the test costs, Ferrari has one with Massa in 2012 (i’m amazed why they waited a whole year to talk about it), double standard FIA with Ferrari blablablablabla ………………….
    For me it was clear that something happened in the last night (& call me a conspiracy theorist) because Mercedes defense was weak & their position was critical they were even asking for penalty but who knows what’s the card the people that their trucks are transporting the structures of the FOM & FOA …..and their cars are used as safety car & medical car
    I have a feeling that Mercedes which contribute with a good slice in Bernie Ecclestone’s paddock was just taken to the FIA tribunal because Red Bull & Ferrari have protested

    1. I disagree that ‘something happened in the last night.’ I think that FIA, Pirelli, and Mercedes all had a hand in this test, the test was necessary, F1 knew it because the tires are problematic, and yes I also believe that the Tribunal was meant to clear the air but I think most of the players in the Tribunal had a good idea where they stood all along. Brawn was confident from the getgo that they didn’t do anything wrong (at least not nearly to the extent they’ve been accused of)…so…something last night? I don’t think so.

      Three parties are sharing the costs and to me that equates to three parties sharing the blame.

      1. ferrox glideh
        21st June 2013, 19:26

        Poor Sam Bird. If any good is to come of this, the 2014 F1 regulations need to be better defined. Testing by suppliers must follow strict guidelines. The FOM should provide a competitive chassis by mid-season (or sooner), maybe by purchasing it from the leading constructor (a bonus for performing). Then the component suppliers should get Karun Chandok or somebody at FIA to drive it with unlimited testing, guaranteeing optimum safety and performance standards. There are plenty of test pilots with spare time. I also nominate Brundle. Tire testing by F1 teams MUST end if there is only one tire supplier. Great insightful articles by K.C.

      2. you have said it! they share the blame!

  6. The penalty was fair, the fault lies with how watertight the contract the FIA has with Pirelli is. Merc would not have done the test if it was illegal and sought assurances that it was (though it clearly wasn’t from a sporting point of view). Merc have not disgraced themselves as they pushed the regulations to gain any advantage, though technical gains from the test will have been limited. People say things are not in the spirit of the regulations seem to forget that the spirit of F1 is and should be to push the regulations as far as they go. The FIA, for once, have not disgraced themselves they tried a team despite one of their officials giving the team permission to test and applied a judgement based on their own rulebook.

  7. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    21st June 2013, 18:31


    You make some great points and you’re absolutely right about 2 things you mentioned:

    1. The fact that 3 tests took place, 2 by Ferrari and 1 by Mercedes in secret is a big concern. The fact that Pirelli managed to conceal it for a whole year in a sport where there is so much spotlight from the press is very alarming.
    2. The aspiring F1 driver who will not be joining the Young Drivers’ Test behind the W04 – as if it wasn’t already hard enough to get a seat in F1…

    The other things I would add:
    1. Ferrari’s very unsportsmanlike behavior in protesting against Mercedes which is very undeserving of such a legendary staple. I have lost ALL respect for DiMontezemolo and Domenicali. If they were standing around me, I would reach into my pocket to check if my wallet is still there.
    2. The FIA’s willingness to exonerate Ferrari which confirms the existence of a double-standard in F1. I would like to find out if Ferrari will have a tribunal of its own now that the 2nd transgression has surfaced.

    1. LOL! Rules have not been breeched by Ferrari, Michael. Just stop with this hilarious, childish assumption that Ferrari has favours from the judges. If they used a 2013 cars, they would have received the same punishment. Spare us, please

      1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
        21st June 2013, 19:49

        So your only gripe is the fact that Mercedes used the current car with next year’s tyres?

        Don’t the rules preclude last year’s and the subsequent car?

        The secrecy does not matter, nor does the fact that Ferrari’s test wasn’t just a tyre test, or
        that they did it across 2 seasons, or that they were automatically exonerated or the simple fact that Ferrari attacked Mercedes while they have committed the same offense twice with impunity? Details, right?:-)

      2. The proposition that a two-year old car, built to the same formula as current cars, run with current tires, is not a substantive advantage, is simply laughable. Espeically when there is an in-season testing ban. Ferrari’s attempt to perch on this narrow formalistic point was a cunning stunt. And, how may secret tests with a two-year old car equals a test with a current car? Infinitiy? Why don’t we let them pound around their test track 7 days a week with this terrible rusty old 2011 car then? The distinction Ferrari wants to make here is untenable. It’s a matter of degree, at best. And the issue of degree is made moot by Ferrari’s repetition.

  8. I have a somewhat stupid question.Can teams run the YDT with their racing drivers?

    1. @kimster381

      Not according to the rules, which states teams may perform:

      One three day young driver training test carried out on a date and site approved by the FIA following consultation with all teams. No driver who has competed in more than two F1 World Championship races may take part in this test and all drivers must be in possession of an International A Licence.

      But who knows, maybe another team will get an email from Charlie Whiting excusing them from that rule and we can go through all this nonsense again…

        1. Vic (@hendrix666)
          21st June 2013, 23:02

          @keithcollantine As I said above I can’t see how he would be allowed to test for another team given he is employed/associated with Mercedes. But if you want to get technical the rule above could be interpreted to say he can test. it says any driver with less than 2 GPs. Don’t say nothing about “unless the team he is associated with is banned from participating”. Come on Ross, mess with the FIA again!! :)

          In all seriousness, the FIA rules are not strong and clear enough. Too much ambiguity.

  9. There were 3 and the rest have shut their mouths. How can you trust these teams without any real scrutiny.

  10. Not fair at all. And I don’t believe for a second that Mercedes genuinely fell fool of misunderstanding communications. What are these guys? Six years old kids on their first year at school? It’s like if I work every day at a gas distribution station and I know I can not smoke, but one day I decide to ask the person in charge if I can smoke, he says: yes, go ahead, and there I go!
    The punishment was given because they were clearly guilty, but at the same time they were handed such a light punishment (which ridiculously they proposed themselves), which at the end does no harm at all. They have gained three days of testing, in the middle of the championship, with their grid drivers, against three days lost later on in the season with young drivers. Whats more, they even received an email at least from Pirelli after the test, which very probably contains data from the test.
    Well, well done to Pirelli, Mercedes and FIA.

    1. I disagree completely and think you are way way off base with your unfounded suggestion that Pirelli sent Mercedes an email containing data from the test. Answer me this if that’s what you are convinced of…what would Pirelli have to gain by risking helping Mercedes advance their Championship run this year? I’ve been asking it for 2 or 3 weeks and nobody has yet provided me an answer.

        1. So this timeline and this alleged email that none of us has seen is proof to you that it must have contained data? I would suggest it could have just as easily have said ‘thanks for the help.’ How come nothing about this email has been mentioned in the Tribunal findings? Sorry I just don’t buy the conspiracy theory that Pirelli would risk everything to help advance Mercedes with a one-off test that would never turn any team into WDC winners overnight.

      1. Robbie, Mercedes produces 100s of thousands of cars per year. Every car uses minimum 4 tires per car plus the spare. Let’s not count the trucks and similar. Do you think they both invest in F1 for passion? hell no, it’s BUSINESS and F1 is ONLY MARKETING. Hence there might be a GIGANTIC commercial interest for both parties, applied to consumption of tires for road cars… Pirelli make an investment because they believe they will have a RETURN (ROI). Period

        1. @nuvolari71 That there ‘might’ be gigantic commercial interests in your opinion does not convince me of this conspiracy theory. The risks of running this tire test obviously contained enough volatility on it’s own with quasi permission from the FIA let alone the massive negative consequences to both Pirelli and Mercedes if they were found out to have been doing something underhanded, so I don’t buy what you are trying to sell.

      2. @robbie

        unfounded suggestion that Pirelli sent Mercedes an email containing data from the test.

        There’s nothing “unfounded” about it: that was disclosed in the tribunal report and is mentioned here.

        1. @keithcollantine I see it in the timeline but wasn’t aware that it was disclosed in the tribunal report. What did the email say then?

          1. @robbie I used the word “very probably”, I didn’t say “definitely” the email contains data. So, I don’t know the email contents. And this leads to what I believe the email says and, on the other hand, what you believe. So you believe that the email says “thank you”, because they didn’t had time while leaving Barcelona to thank each other but they needed it by email. Or maybe you believe that the email was about taking a ride at some track in Bavaria with the new mountain bike Hembery had just bought.
            Instead, I do believe it contained info about the test. Even Rosberg did “for sure” new what tires he was using.

          2. I don’t believe the alleged email said ‘thank you’ either, but it might as well have unless someone can produce the email so that we will all know. I just don’t see what Pirelli would gain by helping any one team since everyone is on their tires and there is no team out there on a competing tire maker’s tires. I just don’t believe Pirelli is that underhanded nor that motivated to get themselves into that much hot water for no gain but only tons in terms of reputation and trust to lose.

          3. It was labeled secret and apparently had some data but the FIA statement goes on to say the data would have been of little to no real value to Mercedes

  11. I find this so called ‘punishment’ no punishment at all. First of all, let’s cast off all this ‘in good faith’ nonsense. Merc perfectly knew what they were doing, i.e. breaching the Sporting Code, hence they (and not Pirelli) made all possible efforts for this test to remain secret. The whole purpose of a punishment is NOT to cancel benefit gained by a perpetrator, it is to ensure that this will not happen again, and to give an object lesson to those who are considering doing the same crime. From this point of view, it is a grave mistake to let the Merc escape scot-free. What IT is projecting with this verdict is that it is easily bullied, because it is all too obvious that this decision was made with the fear of Merc walking away in mind. Banned from the ‘Young Guns Test’? As many have said before, any team would swap it for a 1000 km sole test with both racing drivers and cars. And – a reprimand? Are you kidding me? What kind of punishment is that? Are they making it up as they go along? What are the consequences of a reprimand for a team? Is it like with drivers, when you collect 3 reprimands per season you lose a race? If so, why don’t Merc go for another 1000 km ‘private’ test, they still have 2 reprimands to spare. The FIA IT made complete joke of themselves, they should have either acquitted Merc from all charges, or deal a proper punishment for breaking the SC, no matter in what faith. What they did is neither here nor there, and it sends very bad signals on many levels.

  12. I voted “Way too soft” but I am more worried about the consequences this decision may take. It created a very dangerous precedent and in case of a similar rule breech, the judges will not be able to apply a stronger “punishment”. A 1000 Km with your race drivers and new tires is worth it the non participation to the young drivers test. I am sure all the other team would have accepted it, if they knew it… My thought

  13. Not exactly a punishment for the team now is it? More like punishment for the YDT Sam Bird, who was totally uninvolved in any of this.

    Like someone mentioned on here weeks ago, perhaps the only ‘fair’ punishment would be to not allow Mercedes to take part in FP1,2 in the next coulpe races and only be allowed to qualify with whatever set up they can figure out within the qualy alotted time.

    Perhaps allow Mercedes to take part in the YDT but with a 2011 spec car on 2011 spec tires? Or give him a go in another mercedes powered car?

  14. Personally I don’t see that they’ve been punished at all. Effectively they have to sit out a test roughly equivalent in mileage but without their race drivers. This is merely to redress the balance. And debatably does a poor job of it at that.

    If you steal something, being told to give it back and don’t do it again is not a punishment. If you’re in a court and standing trial for a crime, you don’t dictate to the judge what you think would be a good punishment.

    I’m not saying they should be put into a rocket and fired into the sun, here. I’d just like to see them genuinely punished. Where’s the deterrent in this? What about 2014? Too many unanswered questions like why Mercedes pushed to use a 2013 car when they weren’t asked to. What happened to FOTA?

    Personally I can’t see this being the end of it, as far as other teams are concerned.

    1. Your missing the point and significant difference. With the Pirelli Test they would not have been able to make changes or carry out development tests on components, as Pirelli would have needed a stable unchanged car to test the tyres.
      The young driver test is a full blown team test where the team can pretty much what they like with the car and run what ever parts they want.
      There is a big difference between the two types of running with the cars

  15. I think the penalty was way too leniant, and the test Mercedes did far outweighs the Young Driver Test (at the expense of the young driver now – thankyou Ross Brawn). But what i am happy about is that for all their trouble, Mercedes will still not be a championship force, so the score will be settled on the track! Mercedes have to resort to this kind of unsportsman behaviour, and yet they are still no where near the top, which is just as well.

    1. So a test they participated in on unknown tyres with no control as to the content of the test or the parameters in which that test was carried out and unable to make changes to the car was more valuable than a test with unlimited kilometers, which the team has full control and the can make unlimited changes to the car including testing parts for next year.

      Merc have a significant disadvantage now. Any extra testing they can do is limited to Friday practice which has engine, gearbox and Tyre limitations as well as significantly less time as they also need to setup the car for the race.

  16. The Ferrari anonymous blogger makes a very good point…

    What would have happened if all this came about AFTER the young driver’s test?

    1. Or The Horse Whisperer whatever they are called…

    2. I would suggest Ferrari keep quiet like they did with their two secret tests

  17. Way to soft. I’m not buying into the whole we weren’t clear enough thing. If that were the case why bring this before a tribunal? This show was a farce, the FIA stepped back in order to keep Mercedes in F1. I have already said it, this was a verdict on demand and nothing more. Mercedes even proposed the given punishment for crying out loud.

  18. I am outraged by this news. It seems FIA is just a mere puppet in all this. They have lost all respect and credibility from a lot of people by allowing this to happen. They definitely need to grow a pair.
    Maybe Ferrari should´ve used their F138 and have Massa and Alonso have extra seat time, it seems anybody can do whatever they like these days. It´s times like these when I wish Mosley would be in charge of the FIA, he certainly would have made an example out of Merc.

    1. FIA/F1 are the puppet masters, not the puppets. They’re the ones that wanted Pirelli to make these tires, and they’re the ones, as well as the teams, that wanted the limited testing, so they had to own a big part of the problem here. Why should Mercedes by made an example of for trying to help F1 and Pirelli out of a tire jam that they themselves, not Mercedes, got themselves into in the first place?

  19. I dont even know if the test benefited mercedes. After testing, agreed they won the monaco gp, but then it’s not exactly a tyre intensive track. At canada, they were where wouldve regardless of the testing.
    Also, I wonder how much a young driver’s test is going to benefit a manufacturer in the GP. I personally feel it wont get them a substantial advantage since it’s not their drivers performing the test. Which means, mercedes’ penalty is just like a formality since FIA has to do something. In my eyes, its almost as if FIA knew it, and now they punish mercedes so it doesnt look very obvious.

  20. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
    21st June 2013, 19:38

    Was there any point in including the “slightly too harsh” or “far too harsh” options in the poll?

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