FIA playing politics with FOM will be punitive for Mercedes AMG F1

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.

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24 responses to “FIA playing politics with FOM will be punitive for Mercedes AMG F1

  1. One thing I find interesting in this spat is that Merc have said that the tyres tested were not identifiable and therefore they could gain no useful data from the test.

    Both Ferrari and Red Bull have stated that they “just want clarification of the rules” (i.e., they are also not suggesting that they think Merc have done something wrong) because if it’s within the rules they would also like to run the same test.

    So …

    If they believe it’s within the rules (and Merc gained no advantage) then why would Ferrari and Red Bull suddenly want to also spend lots of money “helping Pirelli” when they previously did not?

    Either they _do_ think Merc have gained an advantage (in which case they are lying to suggest that they “just wanted clarification”) or they think that Merc didn’t gain an advantage but they now intend to do so (else why would they go from “not wanting to help” to “wanting to help” Pirelli).

    • Welcome RK and you make an excellent point.

      I did a piece last week on F1 illogical logic and your observation is a perfect example.

    • Mercedes have undoubtedly gained an advantage. If nothing else, 3 GP distances worth of track time in the current car is a massive gain, especially for Lewis, who is still settling into a car that was built to a different philosophy than those he drove before.
      Ferrari actually was willing to help Pirelli. They did the same 1.000km test after Bahrain, but followed the rules an provided an old car and they didn’t bother wasting Alonso’s or Massa’s time on it. They sent Pedro de la Rosa. But even that wasn’t done out of charitable feeling IMHO. It gave Pedro a lot of track time and he’s already be getting a lot of that for a test driver this year. Somehow I can’t shake the feeling that they want to keep him in shape for the case that Massa keeps up his unpredictable performance. One weekend he’s giving Alonso a run for his money the next he looks like driving a repainted Marussia. Should Fernando stay in contention for the title they need a reliable number two, not one who cannot decide if he’s Ayrton Senna or Jean-Deniz Deletraz.
      Red Bull are the only ones who declined so far, because they see little to gain from running an old car for 3 GP distances.
      But one thing have all in common. There is no charity involved. A test is expensive and neither team would do one without getting something out of it.

      • Nice observation about the Ferrari test, but I wonder they are still focused on getting Pedro to fix Ferraris simulator…

        I can’t for the life of me imagine that any of the (top) teams will change drivers between this season and next. There are so many things changing the only stability available will be by having the same drivers. Would like to know other peoples opinions as ever, but I can see Webber and Massa and Perez and Hamilton all being granted a stay of execution at least until 2015..

  2. It seems like all of this is a few games of 11th Dimensional Chess going on simultaneously. You’ve got Ross Brawn had to know both Pirelli and Merc were operating in a grey area of the rules. Perhaps he was assuming that his history with Todt would keep Mercedes out of any serious hot water, would any controversy ensue?

    Now that the chum is in the water, could Todt be looking at this as a way to kick Pirelli to the curb?

    As far as the actual test, would there really be any way that Pirelli would know if Mercedes was testing different set-ups? I have to imagine that there would be loads of tweaks the team could do without attracting a lot of attention. Heck, even a plausible excuse to put any new part or do any type of major adjustment could be manufactured, no?

    All of this aside, I’ve read several articles quoting sources at Merc saying they received clearance from The FIA to run these tests. Did they seriously forget to include wording to the effect of “Go ahead, sure, but not with this year’s car”?

  3. Some say he has the capability to swap his left and right feet, and that lately, he has been ejoying a lot of sausages and sauerkraut. All we know is, …. he is called the Stig!

  4. Well… just thinking out loud… not so much about what did or didn’t happen in Barcelona but what Ross Brawn expected/hoped would happen if the fan started spinning…
    1. Ross is a past master of pushing the boundaries of the rules – perhaps the best since the demise of Colin Chapman – and played many of his best moves whilst with Todt at Ferrari… all of which Todt (willingly or otherwise) went along with.
    2. Ross hasn’t changed but Todt, in effect, is now the thief set to catch a thief…
    3. So did Ross go into this testing ‘grey area’ expecting/hoping for Todt’s eventual acquiescence… or…
    4. Could Ross be capable of blowing the whistle on what occurred at Ferrari which, at the very least, could be an irritation while Todt is campaigning for re-election…?
    Of course… as conspiracy theories go, this is no more than a theory… with no disrespect intended… 😉

  5. If the governing bodies really are playing politics so, what tyre manufacturer on this earth would be next to consider investing on such tenuous terms?

  6. Bernie arranges a “secret” test for Mercedes, Mercedes pull some strings to help Bernie with his German bank scandal thingy?

    • Haha. I was thinking how busy the news space is getting. I have a post Monaco debate to write up that would normally have filled TJ13 comments section after such a race.

  7. The amount of sub plots which are emerging from this story is incredible. I have been waiting patiently, reading and trying to assess myself what exactly all of this means.

    Originally, it was the FIA’s failure to clarify a simple regulation that has led to this mess. It was their negligence to not explicitly state how exactly the clause in the Pirelli contract links in with the regulations under article 22.34567 etc etc.

    The trouble Ferrari have, if the FIA state what Mercedes did was legal, is that they have already used up their allotted 1000km in collaboration with Pirelli. If we then start to see teams participating in the test with 2013 spec cars, could we see Ferrari lodge a “secondary” 1000km test, thinking they are at a huge disadvantage having done their testing mileage in a 2010 car?

    If that happens, what will the rest of the teams then think? I can’t imagine they will take too kindly seeing Ferrari given 2000km??

    Anyway, It is clear Pirelli do not hold any regard for the FIA anymore (IMO) and this has really done them no favours in terms of securing a contract for 2014 – the problem this poses the FIA is that which alternative supplier could structure, build and construct brand new compounds with no relevant data to work with for 2014?

    My opinion is that, Mercedes did the test knowing full well they could learn something from it. A team doesn’t participate in a testing session just for the fun of it – there is always a motive, always a goal and if there was nothing to learn Mercedes would not have stayed an extra week whizzing around the track JUST for Pirelli.

    The FIA cannot save face from this farce, Todt is remaining silent as ever, and the only way I think they think they can get out of this mess is by throwing the book at both Merc and Pirelli.

    The question remains, what exactly does that clause in Pirelli’s contract mean then, if it contradicts article 22.24567 etc etc in the regulations?

      • Hmmm I always thought they were against the single tyre supplier ruling in Formula 1, because they thought there should be competition between tyre manufacturers in the sport, due to them being such an instrumental part of the car?

        That was what I was led to believe when they turned down the opportunity to return back in 2011 – or am I on the completely wrong track?

    • “if there was nothing to learn Mercedes would not have stayed an extra week”
      I agree with you, and therefore RBR declined because they didn’t expect to learn either…
      So why did Ferrari agree to their test – surely they must have learned something as well – just not quite so much… which is why they are sore…

  8. So let me get this clear. Red Bull were the loudest to complain about the tires, but then declined a request by Pirelli to do a test so they can improve the tires and make them safer. Mercedes does it and might have learned a thing or two about the tires and their car. Now Red Bull, the team that killed the rra and is constantly accused of having something illegal on their car, are complaining again because they were not smart enough to realize that by agreeing to do a test, they could have solved their problem with the tires and at the same time gained an advantage over the rest of the field. All of this while their no.1 driver is leading the championship by quite a margin? They are sore loosers and should have kept their mouth shut and just lobbied behind closed door to get such a testing opportunity as well.

    • Hi anijs

      Good to hear from you – first time I think?

      It is amusing how Horner takes the moral high ground over this by mentioning escalating costs. #F1BubbleLand

    • How often did we have that question lately? Yes, RB have declined the test, because they looked at the rules and saw they couldn’t use a 2013 car. A test with a 2011 car would have been useless as the 2011 RB relied on the trick diffuser. It ran a completely different concept so they wouldn’t have learned a thing from it.
      Horner and Marko are complaining that Merc used a 2013 car, not the test itself.

  9. Renault engines, FIA J.Todt and Michelin tyres… Wow frogs are jumping in the pond!
    We can expect Michelin to be aware of the tyres requirements for 2014, maybe as much as Pirelli at this stage. While it is known that they would not like to be unique provider, they might compromise with Jean Todt and accept to be sole tyres manufacturer in 2014 but to have competitor starting in 2015 and perhaps manage to get such agreement done with the future Concorde’s agreement. Is that too far fetched?

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