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

Debates and Polls

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.

For

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.

Against

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?

  1. Manule said on 21st June 2013, 18:47

    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.

  2. Luca Nuvolari (@nuvolari71) said on 21st June 2013, 18:55

    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

  3. BNKracing (@bnkracing) said on 21st June 2013, 19:01

    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?

  4. MazdaChris (@mazdachris) said on 21st June 2013, 19:01

    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.

    • Theoddkiwi (@theoddkiwi) said on 21st June 2013, 23:04

      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

  5. dkpioe said on 21st June 2013, 19:10

    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.

    • Theoddkiwi (@theoddkiwi) said on 22nd June 2013, 2:28

      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.

  6. craig-o (@craig-o) said on 21st June 2013, 19:16

    The Ferrari anonymous blogger makes a very good point…

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

  7. Force Maikel (@force-maikel) said on 21st June 2013, 19:18

    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.

  8. karter22 (@karter22) said on 21st June 2013, 19:18

    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.

    • Robbie (@robbie) said on 21st June 2013, 19:29

      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?

  9. Hatebreeder (@hatebreeder) said on 21st June 2013, 19:35

    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.

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

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

  11. Rigi (@rigi) said on 21st June 2013, 19:46

    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

  12. Chris26 said on 21st June 2013, 19:47

    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.

  13. andae23 (@andae23) said on 21st June 2013, 19:54

    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.

    • Robbie (@robbie) said on 22nd June 2013, 1:05

      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.

    • The Abbinator (@abbinator) said on 23rd June 2013, 9:14

      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?

  14. NestoJr said on 21st June 2013, 19:59

    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.

  15. frogster said on 21st June 2013, 20:00

    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.

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