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

Loading ... Loading ...

An F1 Fanatic account is required in order to vote. If you do not have one, register an account here or read more about registering here.

Mercedes and Ferrari Pirelli tyre test row

Browse all Mercedes and Ferrari Pirelli tyre test row articles

Images ?? Mercedes/Hoch Zwei

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

Jump to comment page: 1 2 3 4 5
  1. it is very unfair, but mostly for the young driver(s) who mercedes could’ve provided for that young drivers test…
    they should’ve punished them the same way they punsihed mclaren in 2007, no points for constructors championship and a hefty fine

  2. I think its unfair and very light, considering there was a clear breach in the rules. It doesnt matter it was taken on good or bad faith. Its like its saying its ok to steal something as long as its for the good cause ” i stole from the grocery store because my brotheris hungry ” i expected more from the fia.

  3. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and this whole thing basically boils down to poor communication between Mercedes, Pirelli and the FIA. On May second, Ross Brawn and Ron Meadows asked Charlie Whiting whether they could use a 2013 car in a Pirelli test. Whiting replied the test would be legal, but he would check with the FIA. He found out that Pirelli had to do the test themselves and invite all the teams. Whiting informed Paul Hembery about this. So those are the facts.

    Now comes the confusing bit: it is “common ground” that:

    No other team was, on this occasion, informed of the opportunity to carry out similar tests; no other team was even informed that the Barcelona test was contemplated; and accordingly, no other competitor participated in or was present at this testing.

    Pirelli’s response to this was:

    Pirelli did give all teams the opportunity to participate in tyre testing – albeit not in response to the specific requirement which had been made by FIA, and agreed to by it, at the time when FIA purported to grant the qualified approval which it did in this case.

    They are referring to the notification Pirelli sent all the teams in 2012, which apparently wasn’t sufficient.

    Now regarding Mercedes using a 2013 spec car. Mercedes believed that running their 2013 car was not in breach of the regulations and was under the impression that the FIA had given permission:

    The FIA expressly permitted the use of a current car and article 4.2 of the Contract makes no reference to the age or specification of the car that can be used.

    However, the FIA say:

    By carrying out track running using a 2013 car, two current F1 drivers, during the 2013 Championship, without the knowledge, consent or participation of the other competitors in that Championship, Mercedes may have engaged in conduct which was prejudicial to the interests of the competition.


    Let’s summarize: the FIA told Pirelli to ask all teams whether they would like to participate in a test. Pirelli thought they had done so, but legally they hadn’t. Mercedes must have assumed that Pirelli had legally asked the other teams to participate and thus this was now a Pirelli test as described in Article 22. Therefore Mercedes would not have been responsible would Pirelli have had permission to host this test.

    I honestly believe Mercedes and Pirelli didn’t act in bad faith, neither did the FIA. Some things were just not communicated correctly, foremost between Pirelli and the FIA. So I would say the penalty is too harsh: splitting the costs evenly between the three parties would have been sufficient in my opinion – Mercedes and Pirelli didn’t take adequate steps to make sure the test was legalized by the FIA. Mercedes gets a lot of the blame here, even though the Tribunal decided that:

    Mercedes had no reason to believe that approval [for the test] had not been given

    Mercedes eventually got punished because if you look at it from a distance, they were running a 2013 car during a test, which is in breach with Article 22. I would probably have argued that this was overruled by Mercedes believing Pirelli had gained permission for the test, which in turn would permit Mercedes running a 2013 car. I would even go as far as saying Pirelli is more to blame than Mercedes, though I still stand with my point that the removing the YDT ban from the sanctions would have been sufficient.

    1. Pretty much agree with everything you have said. And I’m glad you are saying that Pirelli were the one’s who needed to inform the other teams…not Mercedes as many have suggested…it was a Pirelli test, not a Mercedes test, and it was Pirelli who approached Mercedes, so I fail to see how Mercedes needed to inform everyone. Other than that, my only other slight difference with what you are saying is that to me Pirelli and FIA/F1 need to share the bulk of the responsibility as they mandated these tires and the lack of testing and Pirelli blew the tires this year. Without those ingredients no testing with any team would have been needed.

      To me the fact that Pirelli went to FIA/Whiting and Mercedes knew that and also communicated with him tells me nobody was trying to get away with anything. If they were they would not have gone to any officials, they would have just gone ahead and done it.

    2. A well reasoned post, however it does not address this most salient point: what exactly qualifies “a Pirelli test?” All other Pirelli tests (except the secret Ferrari ones) were conducted with unemployed F1 drivers in old spec cars. No Mercedes personnel should have been present, much less current drivers, engineering staff, or the team principal, for Pete’s sake! That combined with the black helmets are the two things I cannot get over. It was a clear breach of the rules which was met with a token punishment – one that the guilty party proposed, no less. Why kind of punishment is that?

  4. I like how Merc basically got to choose their own punishment. What if this was decided after the Young Driver Test, what would the punishment have been ? I don’t think you need to necessarily punish Nico and Lewis as they follow what the team tells them to do but yes, the unfair advantage was not taken away or given back. This has implications for 2014 as well and Merc has a headstart despite not “knowing what tires were used”. The drivers knew right ? F1 engineers couldn’t figure it out ? GOOD GRIEF.

  5. Way way too soft. The punishments for Merc and Pirelli were about right, but the tribunal should have fined the FIA at least $100M for failing to apply to it’s own rules, and a further $100M for just being plain stupid.

  6. 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.

    For example?

    1. @neelv27 See the preceding paragraphs.

  7. I think that the option “it’s a joke” should be there

  8. alofan (@alonsofan98)
    21st June 2013, 20:22

    I think the penalty for Mercedes was far too soft. They made a secret test with Pirelli and they have only banned from the Young drivers test. I think that a fair penalty would have been removing 25 points from merc in the WCC. But now a team like McLaren which has problems with the car (and has money of course) can do a test with pirelli and then say it was a pirelli test and just banned from the young drivers test.
    I think fia should put some in-season test if they don’t want to have a situation like this in the future.

  9. No one has suggested much less proven that Mercedes GAINED any benefit from the tyre/tire test FOR Pirelli. If in fact Mercedes did NOT gain any helpful info than the penalty was fair and that seems to be the case. Thanks, RnR Remember when the commentators and us fans used to talk about RACING!!! F1 has lost a lot of interest for me due to tyres and tyre talk taking over the entire season yet again…..

  10. I think you’re being a bit hard on the race drivers here, Keith. If your boss Ross Brawn requests you to drive, and tells you to run the current car because that is allowed for a Pirelli test and they had asked the FIA for permission, would you first study the rule book before consenting to drive? And even if Lewis and Nico had dug into the rule books, it is not abundantly clear that the conclusion would have been “no, we can’t run”.

    On the other hand, the only people at Mercedes to have really benefited from the Pirelli test are, in my opinion, the race drivers, as they get to hone their tyre management skills (and braking skills, although come Monaco Lewis was clearly still struggling) for one-and-a-half grand prix distances. Better than working out in the gym.

    1. I kinda think its a joke to suggest that the drivers should have regused to drive.

  11. Just a reminder…you are all talking about the secret private Merc test because you all became aware of it…but what about the tests some constructors are doing, on an ongoing basis and nobody knows about?

    There is an AREA 51 for F1.

    1. The FIA need to put GPS trackers on Pirelli’s and Ferrari’s transporters. It seems like the mouse is always away.

    2. Do tell!…where is it?

  12. Some people claim that other teams may run a test now because it was shown to pay off. However, that is not what the tribunal’s decision implies.
    We know now that FIA’s own lawyer thought that it could be Pirelli’s test, not Mercedes’s test, in other words, Mercedes had a good reason to believe that they had found a loophole in the rules. This was the reason given by the tribunal for just a slap on the wrist and it is, IMHO, a conclusion that was inevitable given all the facts.

    However, now that the tribunal made clear how things stand, no other team can claim to be acting in good faith, and therefore they would have to be punished much more severely for a similar act.

  13. It’s just fine. And if anything it does add a bit of “good measure.” Losing a 3-day test when you have control over the program and telemetry is not a fair trade for a 3-day test with non-competition tires without control.

    In fact, I bet Mercedes still feels a bit wronged, given the divulgence of the two (and counting) Ferrari secret tests. The sophistry about a two-year old car with current tires not giving competitive advantage, and the new passtion for strict-construction of the testing rules, rings hollow now. When is the 2012 test going to be investigated, and will it be done in a farcical two-day process resulting in blanket acquittal? Mercedes are rightfully drumming their fingers I bet.

    Previously I thought that a fine as well as a countervailing reduction in testing would be the best, fair thing. But the revalations about the FIA advice and the Ferrari tests put things in a new light for me.

  14. Initially i’d say that it’s been too soft, but then there’s so much question marks on certain aspects that it makes me wonder…

    1.- There’s absolutelly no doubt that Mercedes knew from an engineering standpoint they could benefit massively with this test, especially when they were struggling with their tyres. This aspect alone is proven by the fact that they used both racing drivers instead of using only one or even their reserve driver
    2.- Mercedes tried to disguise the public/spotters by using black helmets in order to conceal the driver identity. Why would they do that if they had nothing to hide?
    Even Mr. Brawn said when asked by the FIA lawyers “…it probably was not the best idea(to use black helmets)” which could be translated as: i couldn’t think of a good credible excuse to give you…
    3.- And this a no brainer. Why on earth would other teams be offered a chance to join the test and not do so? Especially RedBull and Ferrari, where money is no object. Ferrari has also been known to push for in-season testing return
    4.- Pirelli have always used their “own car” to test tyres so i cannot understand what was the urge all of a sudden to use use a current-spec car, especially on such a short notice judgding by the dates that have been mentioned.
    5.- Did the FIA properly handle this test in terms of coordiantion? Did they really tell Pirelli they had to invite all other teams for such a test? Because what i’ve interpreted out the interviews/company announcements is that Pirelli invited all teams but since Mercedes was the first to reply Pirelli discarded all the other teams, which doesn’t make much sense. If i were at Ferrari/RedBull and Pirelli had told me that Mercedes alone was going to do the test because they were first to reply i would have protested immediately, after all it was a golden opportunity for a three day test with a current-spec car. Lets not forget these top teams burn money everyday to gain a 0.001sec advantage over their rivals
    Information regarding this is rather confusing to say the least.

  15. Double standards in F1 is not news, F1 is more of a show than an actual sport and when you run a show you make sure that your protagonist is happy… Ferrari is that protagonist whether we like it or not and thus gets their fair share of favouritism.
    Now the element of surprise here is since when the Mercedes team is considered so important to be in the same boat…
    Ayrton Senna was the only man that managed with his mystique to demote Ferrari to a supporting role in the F1 show! And to spice things up a bit I ‘d say this, was Mercedes a genuine threat to Ferrari this year I am sure the punishment would be more fitting.

  16. Slightly off topic but who voted that they had “no opinion”?! Surely just don’t vote!

    1. Knowing whether people are interested or uninterested in a subject is itself useful information.

  17. Not sure if someone has pointed this out already, but a way of easing the effect on the young driver(s), and adding some form of punishment to the drivers who took part in the illegal test, would be for the young driver(s) to do some Friday running with Mercedes. This would even the score a bit.

  18. Why couldn’t the FIA inform all the teams of Mercedes’ impending tyre test? Why should the onus fall on the team that has been granted permission?

  19. Not only fair but a perfect punishment. Mercedes lose running time on known tyres with a known driver (feel sorry for Sam Bird) during which they would be allowed to, and would, test new development parts. I feel they will be slightly disadvantaged overall and it gives FIA and Pirelli a chance to sort out what the hell they do going forward.

  20. It’s too soft of a punishment, in that it doesn’t penalize Mercedes sufficiently for the advantage they gained.

    However it’s hard to say it’s the “wrong” punishment, because the testing rules are really a mess. Simply sweeping it all under the rug and making more sensible rules going forward doesn’t seem like too bad of an idea.

Jump to comment page: 1 2 3 4 5

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments are moderated. See the Comment Policy and FAQ for more.