Opinions vary over how this matter will pan out. Yet the spectre of the FIA playing politics with Ecclestone and FOM has reared its head tonight and could result in the letter of the law being applied to Mercedes. This would be in spite of the incompetence of the sport’s governing body’s many heads failure to issue a detailed ruling when asked a fair question.
Jenson Button appears to think that Nico Rosberg and Mercedes would have won the Monaco GP with or without the test. This was indeed the view of a number of pundits following the Spanish GP – Mercedes best chance for a win in 2013 was a much trailed headline prior to the Monaco GP.
Speaking to the Guardian Jenson says, “Mercedes have done a great job and even without that tyre test I think they would have won the race. I think the teams that protested are more surprised that it happened. I can’t see the result changing. I don’t know what they can do, if anything at all.
Maybe a slapped wrist. I think the teams that protested just wanted clarification because we’d all love to do 1,000km to understand [the tyres] a bit more because we’re all so limited on testing.”
However, Christian Horner is reported as wishing to push this matter to the limit on ESPN. He says, “Your contracts with your suppliers are irrelevant – in our opinion – to the commitment of a team. When it enters the world championship it’s the team’s responsibility to comply with the regulations.
Irrelevant of what the contracts say it’s the team that is there to comply. The issue isn’t so much with Pirelli, it’s more that a team has purposely tested a current car at a current circuit in our view in breach of the regulations.
Obviously they [Pirelli] have a contract with each of the teams that allows them to do 1000km of testing. The small problem is that the regulations don’t – in our opinion – allow you to do that. I think the danger with this is we’ll suddenly all go back, open up testing and that just introduces a lot more costs.”
Still, the confusion over which FIA regulation or ruling tops the other is still the talk of the F1 world. It’s like a technical game of F1 Top Trumps. The unknown – is the joker card that is the FIA. They were in favour of Michelin being awarded the contract to supply the F1 tyres 2011-2013 and it was Ecclestone who landed Pirelli as the official F1 tyre supplier.
It could be that the FIA now make this a political matter and seek to punish Pirelli and Mercedes to the extreme. This would mean the matter would be referred to the International Tribunal.
The International Tribunal (IT) was set up in 2010 by the FIA General Assembly as part of a new judicial system. Its jurisdiction is to decide on issues which the race stewards feel they are not equipped to deal with.
The FIA statutes state: “The IT hears cases that have been submitted to it. It applies and interprets the present Rules with the aim of enforcing the Statutes and Regulations of the FIA, including the International Sporting Code.
The IT operates totally independently from the other bodies of the FIA and the members of the FIA.” Further, “Unless stated otherwise, offences or infringements are punishable, whether they were committed intentionally or negligently.”
This last sentence may be of concern to Mercedes because their defense hinges on the fact that FIA approval was given for the test. The FIA however said this was conditional on the opportunity being made available by Pirelli to other teams. It was this condition that was Mercedes get out of jail free card.
Yet we could see in true Pontius Pilate style, those at the FIA who were involved in this debacle refuse to accept responsibility for their loosely worded sanction that was open to wide interpretation. They could kick this up to the IT who will have little choice but to judge Mercedes guilty under the above statute – ‘unintentional’ or not.
Justice will also not be swift. From the matter being referred to the IT it is likely to take up to 45 days for a hearing to be convened. After being referred for prosecution the accused party has 15 days to respond. There are then 15 days for the prosecutors to reply and then a further 15 days before a hearing.
So we could be still be debating this following the German GP.
Yet Horner needs to be careful over this, because if they’re goal is to get a crack at testing – as Mercedes have done – they risk losing this opportunity. The IT does not have the remit to resolve this by allowing other teams to do as Mercedes did.
The penalties they have at their disposal are in effect fines or bans. Further the FIA statute states, “The International Tribunal may also impose directly bans on taking part or exercising a role, directly or indirectly, in events, meetings or championships organised directly or indirectly on behalf of or by the FIA, or subject to the regulations and decisions of the FIA.”
This could be why the Ferrari statement issued at the time of the protest made it clear that they were protesting only for ‘clarification’, knowing full well an IT hearing would deny them of the chance to test. Still you play games with the devil and you may reap the whirlwind.
Whilst this is an opportunity for Jean Todt to score a point or two over Ecclestone, he is running for re-election and if this matter goes to the IT it will drag on an on. To think both he and the FIA would escape this seemingly endless furore with impunity would be foolish indeed and there is not a prayer that either will come out of it smelling of roses.