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. eddie3 (@eddie3) said on 22nd June 2013, 1:38

    What is happening with my comments ?

  2. eddie3 (@eddie3) said on 22nd June 2013, 1:39

    @ Keith, how’s this for a conspiracy theory ? Pirelli knew that there was a safety problem with their tyres especially after the Hamilton incident. Mercedes thought but weren’t sure it was a problem with the car. Ross, as any team manager should looked for a solution and spotted the loophole in the regulations or maybe had some input from Pirelli concerning their testing dilema. Heads got together and devised a plan to seem to invoke the Pirelli exemption, Ross then checked with Charlie and made sure he got some cover. Pirelli then went ahead with the test, not informing any of the teams. That would exclude Red Bull as if all had agreed they would have had to allow Red Bull to test also. Horner, realizing that someone else had used the rules better than himself went to Ferrari and Lotus for help, unaware that Ferrari already had done their test with Pirelli. He got his help and the protests were filed. His comments were tempered after the hearing as he realized that Ferrari were also slicker than him. Do I make a case?

  3. dragoll (@dragoll) said on 22nd June 2013, 1:46

    I don’t think its a question of who was right, who was wrong, or how to penalise Mercedes. I really do think the core of the issue is this, Mercedes were gifted an unfair advantage by the FIA, allowing them to run a current car, with current drivers, for multiple days with new Pirelli tyres for testing, when no one else was around.

    Right now, the penalty handed down doesn’t address the imbalance created. No matter how Mercedes perform for the rest of the season, they will be forever tarnished over this incidence, and if they do go onto winning races, or even go on to winning the WDC and/or WCC’s, many people, including myself will wonder just how much impact the secret tyre test contributed to their success.

    • Robbie (@robbie) said on 22nd June 2013, 2:32

      Speaking for myself, Mercedes have not tarnished their future over this incident whatsoever. I think what is tarnishing F1 these days is F1′s insistance on gadgety tires and DRS, and the lack of testing and the mandating of these shoddy tires that put eveyone in this mess to begin with. I think this season will be tarnished if we are now consigned to the remainder of the season being like some of the hotter high speed corner venues have already shown us…delaminations may be solved, but we will still see 4 stop races and drivers driving as passengers monitoring their delta speeds as dictated by their engineers, not racing like F1 racers should do in the pinnacle of racing.

  4. MarkM (@mpmark) said on 22nd June 2013, 2:06

    is it too harsh? gee when the guilty approve the punishment what do you think?

  5. MarkM (@mpmark) said on 22nd June 2013, 2:07

    non-the less they still suck, beaten by ferrari and redbull fairly at canada, even with 1000km of knowledge.

  6. This is becoming quite “tiring”!

    Why so many arguments that Mercedes were in “doubt” or believed to be in “good faith”? The only doubt they can possibly claim is about participating in the test in the first place; but NOT about running a current spec car. The clause is too clear in that matter for anyone to claim the tiniest “doubt”.

    The claims that no data were collected, that only development tires were used or that the mileage was insignificant, seem to be designed entirely in defense of Mercedes. Or do you honestly want us to believe that an old rat like Ross Brawn would somehow neglect to switch on telemetry reading (yes, it only needs to be switched on) while both his championship drivers are hammering off laps in the current car? And this is even besides the real point which is that current spec testing is NOT legal, period! And how come no one has mentioned the fact that Mercedes have been working significantly better on the tires since the test was conducted? And by the way; since when did it become a good idea to check an actions legality by carrying it out first and ask later? Not even to mention the attempt to keep the whole thing secret.

    The argument that there is no proof they gained an advantage can’t be taken seriously. If I get caught on a red light camera; will the police have to prove that I could have caused an accident before they can fine me? No, there is a reason for the law and it’s illegal to cross the red light even when you don’t crash into another car or kill 15 little league players. There is also a reason why current spec testing is illegal…. for everyone!

    And that brings me to the verdict: apparently the regulations in Formula 1 only count for the less important teams. Nobody can possibly prove that Merc’s Monaco win would ever have occurred without the clearly illegal test, and hence the 2013 championship is forever tarnished as absolutely no actual punishment was carried out. To just ban a young drivers test is to taunt the rest of the field and the point that the other teams cannot just go test all they want because FIA will be “serious” about the next infringement is simply laughable.

    Why? Again because the test was conducted with a 2013 spec car with which testing is illegal far beyond reasonable doubt and because FIA have shown that no severity will happen by breaking the rule. (At least not if you are considered majorly important to the “sport”.)

    So there you have it: the actual proof that F1 is rotten to the core and way to dependent on it’s participants to equally enforce it’s own rules.

    The effects of the FIA’s fear to carry out actual punishments over certain participants goes far deeper than the 2013 season as it gives Formula 1 an absolutely terrible image image of corrupt management which will severely hurt the chances of attracting new players in the future.

    June 21st. 2013 was a day of shame for motor racing!

    • Robbie (@robbie) said on 22nd June 2013, 2:41

      Or…F1 is messing too much with gadgety tires and a massive lack of testing, and it caught Pirelli out, so they had to test in-season and got permission from Whiting. And an International Tribunal, which is now how they deal with contentious issues, resolved the issue and found some blame for all parties concerned. It is a good day for motor racing. Just too bad they’re still gonna have these crappy tires for the rest of the season.

    • pH (@ph) said on 22nd June 2013, 7:37

      @poul You have three mistakes in your arguments. First, it is not true that regulations prohibit running current spec car. They only prohibit it assuming that it is “undertaken by Mercedes”, the logic is crucial here. If you can wiggle it legally so that it is considered to be undertaken by somebody else, you can run current car as much as you want. You can call it a loophole, but that’s the way regulations are written.

      Second, it is not true that they did something first and inquired about legality second. To the contrary, it’s been written ad nauseam the last few days that they did check with FIA first, and FIA’s response had clearly shown that even FIA’s lawyers considered this loophole feasible.

      And third, people do not mention that Mercedes has been better lately with tires for the simple reason that there is no clear indication of this. It is a common knowledge that the circuits where Mercedes did well lately are very soft on tires, and people were expecting a good Mercedes result even before any testing became known.

      • Adam Hardwick (@fluxsource) said on 22nd June 2013, 10:15

        @pH Fully concur with your points

      • Just like in the difuser case; the intention absolutely is clear and to claim they thought it was ok to bring a 2013 car is a clear attempt to push boundaries.

        Yes, FIA knew about the test but no where at all has it been shown that the inquiry was made about a 2013 car. And obviously so because it would never have been granted. Everybody knew that; Mercedes and Ross Brawn better than any which makes my point correct. Had this been a real business law suit Mercedes would have been punished further for attempting to manipulate the law.

        For the blind and the super fans there may not be much indication of Mercedes improvement but to everybody else it seems just a bit too clear. Your “common knowledge” has never made a difference as major as this to other teams but just strangely did for Mercedes exactly after the test. BS, and the main point always remains: They knew bloody well that they were bending the rules in total disrespect of all the people who depend on playing by them.

        What makes it even more disgusting is the fact that the test came about just after FIA refused to let Pirelli give Mercedes tires that would work much better for them. There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark and it’s amazing how many people refuses to see it.

        In case you keep up your argument; it will be an uphill battle for you to change my distaste for Ross Brawn. Before this I was actually interested in switching to Mercedes privately – now I think I will just stick to Audi. Maybe Daimler should deeply consider what they are really trying to schieve here?

    • pH (@ph) said on 22nd June 2013, 7:40

      @poul You have three mistakes in your arguments. First, it is not true that regulations prohibit running current spec car. They only prohibit it assuming that it is “undertaken by Mercedes”, the logic is crucial here. If you can wiggle it legally so that it is considered to be undertaken by somebody else, you can run current car as much as you want. You can call it a loophole, but that’s the way regulations are written.

      Second, it is not true that they did something first and inquired about legality second. To the contrary, it’s been written ad nauseam the last few days that they did check with FIA first, and FIA’s response had clearly shown that even FIA’s lawyers considered this loophole feasible.

      And third, people do not mention that Mercedes has been better lately with tires for the simple reason that there is no clear indication of this. It is a common knowledge that the circuits where Mercedes did well lately are very soft on tires, and people were expecting a good Mercedes result even before any testing became known.

      That said, I do think that what Mercedes (and to even larger extent Ferrari) did was not sporting and I do not like it. Unfortunately, F1 has always been about doing what seems to be forbidden but due to wording of regulations is not (double diffusor, Red Bull’s bending nose, Benetton’s fancy refuelling etc.).

  7. Frans (@frans) said on 22nd June 2013, 4:14

    If they don’t want to give monetary penalty or extra testing for the other teams (unrealistic), instead of banning them from young driver test, it would be better to ban them from fp1 for at least 3 races. It would be fairer because not only Mercedes as a team feel the impact, but also their drivers.

  8. Hamilfan (@hamilfan) said on 22nd June 2013, 7:16

    My vote :

    slightly too soft

    My view :

    1) Ross Brawn is a wily fox and played into the grey area that FIA have . FIA were literally out-witted into not giving a harsher penalty to Mercedes as they(FIA) could have been found guilty in court of not having transparent rules . This could have led to either pirelli or merc or both leaving the sport and all those ” fans ” stop watching F1 .

    2) As @keithcollantine says , there was no provision made for the young merc driver , he could have been given a chance with pirelli or something could have been worked out . However I disagree with Keith saying that Lewis and Nico should have been punished because they acted on behalf of their team and not of their own accord.
    The only stricter penalty could have been taking away the constructor points gained in Monaco and Canada ( after the test ) .

    3) If anyone is to blame, it is FIA who have double standards and don’t provide a good solution to pirelli to test . But I expect this to be resolved soon for 2014 .

    4) I don’t think Mercedes have made their car better as a result of the test . Some small kinks might have been corrected but nothing like ” what red bull have which enabled Vettel to pull away like hell “. We will still see them dropping back in silverstone .

  9. JS (@js) said on 22nd June 2013, 7:57

    Hello,

    I think two very important points were raised by Keith:
    ##
    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?
    ##

    You cannot hope for a clean behaviour if you do not recognise responsabilities of people. And in here, surely, the drivers do have some responsability in the situation. (Then, they could say they were forced, had pressure or whatever, but the problem here is that this fact was not addressed at all: as said, the two drivers will not even realize anything was wrong in their behaviour.)

    The first point made by Keith is also a clear call.

    • eddie3 (@eddie3) said on 22nd June 2013, 16:36

      Then what would the penalty for the mechanics or engineers be, also the FIA lawyer and Mr Whiting. You do accept the verdict which found three parties equally guilty.

      • JS (@js) said on 22nd June 2013, 21:19

        Well, have I pretended to be exhaustive here?
        There are a number of evident points that were not addressed during the trial, which tends to show that what was wanted is not an objective and in-depth study of the situation and why it happened.

        Now, if you want to talk about the mechanics, then surely they are under more pressure from the team than the drivers (I don’t think a mechanic can have Mercedes pay a hundred thousand euros to replace the cameras of the photographs he destroyed by going too close from them on jet-ski…). It is harder from them to go against their bosses’ orders. Anyway, that’s not the point:
        my point was to underline two clear holes in the judgment pointed out by Keith and stress the lack of global and long-term thinking behind. Please feel free to add all other holes you think are present.

        Cheers

  10. Dan (@danieru) said on 22nd June 2013, 8:02

    Far too soft.

    Mercedes brazenly made no effort to comply to article 22.4h. OK, they did ask Charlie but he gave a, at best, qualified maybe in response.

    I wouldn’t have gleaned any pleasure to have seen Mercedes banned from a race but the very bare minimum should have been for them to have been banned from a more meaningful official test at the start of 2014.

    Sadly, I can’t help but think had McLaren, Red Bull or Lotus (as non-manufacturer teams) undertaken this test they would have been punished. It seems more than likely the FIA took into account the political consequences of any punishment and went easy on Merc. All of which was, to be fair, brilliantly calculated by Ross Brawn.

    I must agree though with many of the comments here criticising the FIA too for creating a conflict between one set of rules for the teams and the testing allowance in place for Pirelli.

    Anyway back to racing now please!

  11. FIA said on 22nd June 2013, 9:58

    Give Sam Bird a Friday practice seat for the next 4 Grand Prixs, that’ll even things up.

  12. I say the penalty is a fair considering that Mercedes actually proposed the punishment. I am sure if they had pushed hard enough, they could have gotten of. The reason I say this is, they asked CW under what conditions using a 2013 car would be legal, the FIA’s lawyer said, if the test was conducted by Pirelli, it would be a legal test. So, the lawyer said it will be ok, albeit under the condition that the other teams are notified as well. That is the only point against Mercedes that they didn’t.

    The thing is, Article 22 under the sporting regulations do not specifically state what the test restrictions are for the tyre manufacturer. Or what drivers are to be used for such a test. Or even what color the helmets must be for that matter… I think that point is sensationalist at best…

    What RB and Ferrari must keep in mind is that this was quintessential a Pirelli Test. Testing the tyres that are used by ALL of the teams. Mercedes Benz provided a useful platform for Pirelli to test tyres that will benefit every other single team out there. By doing that, Mercedes received a lot of criticism which is undeserved imho. The actual advantage that Mercedes gained is not as big as many think, simply because they were not in charge of the testing schedule and parameters. I am not saying that they gained nothing from the test, but the “big” advantage that they got might not as big as propagated by the likes of Ferrari and RB.

    Good on you Mercedes for exposing the huge shortcoming that exists in today’s F1.

  13. James (@jaymz) said on 22nd June 2013, 11:35

    All in all a good way to get Mercedes some exposure.

  14. Jason (@jason12) said on 22nd June 2013, 12:36

    The verdict was a VICTORY for COMMON SENSE….

    Many would just like to ignore the sequence of events, and get all emotional.

  15. Umar Majid (@um1234) said on 22nd June 2013, 12:48

    I used to love Formula 1 on a level beyond normal. Especially in the first years i started following in 05,06,07 and 08. I want that kind of Formula 1 back. Not the kind where all everyone does is talk about tires. I was supposed to go to Spa in August. But now i might not bother. Thinking of watching NASCAR. Not better than F1. But at least they dont talk about tyres all the time

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