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. Neel Jani (@neelv27) said on 21st June 2013, 20:06

    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?

  2. Monosodico (@monosodico) said on 21st June 2013, 20:13

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

  3. alofan (@alonsofan98) said on 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.

  4. RACERNORRISKI (@racernorriski) said on 21st June 2013, 20:25

    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…..

  5. AdrianMorse (@adrianmorse) said on 21st June 2013, 21:08

    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.

  6. svianna (@svianna) said on 21st June 2013, 21:17

    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.

  7. pH (@ph) said on 21st June 2013, 22:06

    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.

  8. DaveW (@dmw) said on 21st June 2013, 22:09

    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.

  9. Carlos (@rf4p) said on 21st June 2013, 22:16

    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.

  10. Kim Philby (@philby) said on 21st June 2013, 23:02

    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.

  11. jonwguitar said on 21st June 2013, 23:35

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

  12. Bob Steele (@bobwhosaysni) said on 21st June 2013, 23:42

    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.

  13. 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?

  14. bigwilk (@bigwilk) said on 22nd June 2013, 0:16

    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.

  15. Kanil (@kanil) said on 22nd June 2013, 1:13

    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.

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