“TestGate”: Have the FIA been played?

“TestGate”: Games are afoot

There are definitely games afoot in the intrigue over the ‘secret/private’ Pirelli test with Mercedes the week following the Spanish GP. This is unlikely to be a simple case of did or did not Mercedes break the rules.

The backdrop to the story is as follows. Pirelli have been heavily criticised by certain teams for the levels of degradation in the 2013 tyre specifications which is claimed to limit how fast the drivers can go.

Further, in 2014 the introduction of the new V6 Turbo engines will have an incredibly significant impact on the kind of tyre construction and compounds required from a supplier that is yet to be decided. Big torque increases and boost will see the cars spinning up the wheels in 4th and 5th gear.

Deep rooted resentment

The 3 year contract to provide F1 tyres 2011-2013 was apparently set against a backdrop of a bitter disagreement between Ecclestone and the FIA over who this should be. Michelin were favoured by the Todt and his posse, whilst Ecclestone and the sharpshooters won the day with their favoured choice being Pirelli.

The biggest threat to F1 at present is the lack of a Concorde agreement. Ecclestone has secured the teams he wishes and paid out the ‘signing on fees’. Mercedes however have opt out clauses should Ecclestone stay in power whilst being on trial for bribery and corruption charges.

Ecclestone is reportedly most upset with ‘the silent one’ in Paris for refusing, for reasons undisclosed but unsurprisingly will be  over money, to complete the tri-partite signings required to complete what is in effect F1’s constitution.

Further, Mr. E is delighted with Pirelli and the present F1 show and is keen for them to continue with a new deal from 2014 and beyond. Mr. Todt having lost this battle once does not wish to do so again. There are times in F1 when powerful people do not act in the interests of the sport, but out of retributive motives.

What test?

Of course we now know Ferrari performed an undisclosed test for Pirelli between Bahrain and Barcelona, yet they’re car was a 2011 model which does not breach any regulations. Interestingly, none of the F1 media or reporters to my knowledge has bothered to ask Pirelli or Ferrari about the kind of tyres Ferrari tested.

Following their private Pirelli test which we now believe included 2013 prototype tyres, Ferrari decided at the outset of the Spanish GP weekend to hone the car for a race strategy that would include four pit stops. No other team began the race weekend with this as their primary goal. Ferrari won the Spanish GP most comfortably.

The FIA have decided Ferrari did not gain an unfair advantage from their private Pirelli test and they are excluded from the impending proceedings at the International tribunal (IT). Jokes about the Ferrari Internationale Association are old but never die.

Bernie the Grand Master

Ecclestone at times appears to be a ‘sound bite buffoon’ to some, saying things such as ‘the deal is done’ when later we find out it isn’t. He appears at times to contradict himself in the same week to different media publications, but that is because Ecclestone still operates as though the media operate as they did 10-15 years ago and doesn’t understand the power of social media and the internet.

Yet Bernie knows how to play chess. He understands at times there is a long game and at times smoke and mirrors are required to mask his true intentions. He will appear ridiculous and to easily loose his queen, but then pull off check mate with a double rook manoeuvre.

TJ13 was informed prior to the Chinese GP by a source known to be FOM and informed of the discussions between Ecclestone and Hankook. It our judgement the intention was for us to become part of the rumour mill suggesting they were close to an F1 deal with a tyre supplier other than Pirelli, we did not run the story. TJ13 did report other media’s comment on the matter at a later date.

We believe this was Ecclestone’s smoke and mirrors to infer to Jean Todt et al that Pirelli were out of favour with FOM and others were on the scene.

Pirelli battle with the FIA

Pirelli have been lobbying the FIA hard for the opportunity to test 2014 tyres for quite some time, yet the FIA have been reluctant to grant this. As Ecclestone’s ‘chosen ones’ in 2010, Pirelli have found little favour with the FIA.

Further, Todt refuses to police the RRA and therefore does not wish to be seen to be increasing costs for the teams by agreeing to incremental testing sessions. He believes that FOM should take responsibility for this matter.

In June 2010, Pirelli were awarded the current contract and began testing tyres in August with a TF109 driven by Nick Heidfeld at the Ferrari owned circuit in Mugello.

Tyre supplier: Check mate?

TJ13 asked Paul Hembery at the Pirelli press telephone conference whether in his experience from 2010, whether it was now too late for another supplier to set up the machinery and tooling and deliver 2014 tyres. He replied, “Yes”.

2 days later, Hankook rule themselves out of supplying F1 next year and even for some years to come. As though prompted by Pirelli and Ecclestone PR aids, the reason they give is that the current tyre testing opportunities for manufacturers makes it impossible for them to consider manufacturing F1 tyres.

The loophole and the waiver

The undisclosed Ferrari and Mercedes tests will be proven to have been exploitations in the loophole Pirelli have negotiated with the FIA to do 1,000km in season tests, never before performed. Frustrated by the ever approaching deadlines to provide the teams with 2014 tyre specifications, Pirelli took the law into their own hands and have pushed the boundaries with someone involved with the FIA.

There was a waiver given which overrides the sporting regulations, yet it was clearly ill defined. Who indeed gave that waiver?

Todt is reportedly furious, and the FIA via the Monaco stewards issued a confusing statement in Monaco, which appeared to sanction 2013 testing with current cars as long as they were informed that ‘all teams’ we given ‘an equal opportunity’. The statement said they had not received communication on whether this had been actioned.

We now know Ferrari and Red Bull were both offered an opportunity to test with 2013 cars by Pirelli. Who else was given the opportunity is yet to be revealed.

Would the failure to communicate this to the FIA nullify this waiver? Further, what does ‘equal opportunity’ mean? 1 test all teams together?

What is in fact sensible?

Pirelli have made it clear, 11 teams testing 10-15 prototype tyres at the same 3 day test is of ‘zero value’ to them. They will argue anyone who has an ounce of F1 knowledge should know this. From a logistics perspective alone, they could not deliver this.

Did Pirelli tell Christian they had an agreement to do this 1000km test? It would be ridiculous to think they didn’t. Was it really the case that Red Bull couldn’t be bothered wasting time and effort on helping out Pirelli with their 2014 tyres tests?

The media are reporting the story as a Red Bull/Ferrari vs. Mercedes battle, yet behind the scenes Pirelli and the FIA have been fighting over this issue for some time, but someone has sanctioned something and the International Tribunal will reveal who this is.

A confident Brawn

Ross Brawn this weekend stepped up to the plate and said the decision to test was his alone. A strange move, and the comment and reasoning I’ve heard from the F1 media over why Brawn did this is makes no sense. ‘He’s a man of his word’, or ‘he’s nothing to lose because he’s out anyway’ – bunkum.

Ross categorically believes Mercedes will be acquitted. He said today, “We believe there is information that Red Bull has no knowledge of and that will become apparent at the IT”.

So is he just putting on a brave face and applying the ‘admit nothing’ principle? Possibly, but unlikely. TJ13 believes Mercedes know the detail of FIA/Pirelli disputes and Brawn is certain the focus of the tribunal will quickly shift away from Mercedes to a technical matter which is in fact between Pirelli and the FIA and then also between an FIA official and Todt.

In the meantime, the clock has run down. Rumours abound on the internet that Pirelli is again threatening to withdraw from F1. TJ13 believes this is nonsense.

A Bernie side show

The high drama of the Canadian GP FIA press conference with the empty Pirelli chair, Sauber sat front middle and Brawn isolated from the other ‘big 3’ – all remarkably sitting on the back row was comical.

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Hembery is a political master. He like Brawn could easily have batted any potential questions about the test in Barcelona with a “No comment. It is a matter for the IT”. Pirelli were making a statement by Hembery’s last minute withdrawal. A statement of strength, or indeed is Hembery protecting someone?

The FIA cannot sanction a new F1 tyre supplier until this matter is concluded as they may expose themselves to possible legal action for acting in a way prejudicial to Pirelli. The International Tribunal have ruled sometime after June 20th, and even then there may be appeals to be heard. This could drag on throughout July.

The new tyre specifications are supposed to be with the teams September 1st.

Why the International Tribunal

Why then did the FIA kick the matter up to the IT.? They could have fudged the issue and resolved the matter quickly. Well, a simple reason would be that Todt is up for re-election and whoever in his organisation is responsible for this problem will carry the can, and the matter will have been dealt with independently.

Unmarked helmets? How amusing. Mercedes say this was to protect the anonymity of their front line drivers. Mmm. Did they actually want to be found out? Nobody saw the obvious, so maybe Nico obliged 2 weeks later.

So, it could be that Bernie has manoeuvred Pirelli into pole position to supply F1 with tyres – in a race that now has 1 competitor. Pirelli want their terms and conditions agreeing and no one can now disagree with them. The only certainty in all of this is that the FIA once again has demonstrated nobody has a clue what’s going on.

There has to be a sacrificial lamb

TJ13 has well connected Italian friends who are categorical there is an email trail as yet undisclosed. Pirelli and Mercedes will produce these to demonstrate Charlie Whiting gave them the test regulations waiver with the weight of the FIA behind him. To be fair to Whiting, he is unlikely to go out on a limb on a matter such as this and should this be true he must have believed he was acting with agreement from the powers that be.

Further, TJ13 has it on good authority from someone who held a senior position within the FIA when Todt took over the presidency, that Le Presidente was furious that one of Max Mosley’s last actions was to give Charlie Whiting a contract for the next 5 years.

The name of Giorgio Ascanelli, former Technical Director Toro Rosso and now with Brembo, is being spoken of as a replacement for Whiting. I’m sure it would be a very sad day for all F1 fans across the globe were the famous finger which has started each F1 race for as long as we can remember be dismissed by the FIA, never again to push THE button which makes all our pulses race.

Allegedly, of course.

(Author’s note: Some readers have made comment over the speculative nature of some of TJ13’s articles. We hope that we can influence others in F1 to at times think around the facts and the issues. Then maybe ask the questions and seek the answers which at present are ill addressed).

34 responses to ““TestGate”: Have the FIA been played?

  1. What a fantastic article. That’s why I’m coming here every day. Lay down the facts and then start making numerous links left and right. Not the rumour mill reporting you see in the rest of dozen sites.

    From what I gather, Bernie has played this very well.
    Pirelli are in strong position and FIA will not dare to penalise them. Bernie wins.
    FIA will try to pin this down to someone else within FIA (Whiting?) and Todt will not be in a strong position for re-election. Bernie wins.
    (It’s not a coincidence that Mad Max was FIA president for 16 years and he was getting along with Bernie pretty well.)

    As for Ross the Boss, he knows that the fault is not with Merc and that’s why he took it upon him to say it was his decision. If Merc go unscathed by this (as he believes) he strengthens his position within Merc versus the Toto/Lauda group.

    • Agreed on the fantastic article.
      I like your angle on this being a power play by Brawn…

  2. Very well thought out & explained. Even if in turns out to be all wrong (nothing in F1 surprises me, either) you cannot fault the reasoning. All eyes on the IT on June 20, and to TJ13 for the postmortem. I do want to put my $.02 in that the loss of Charlie would be a loss to F1. Imagine the bureaucratic dysfunction at the FIA if the Tech Delegate, Safety Delegate & Race Director’s caps were on three different heads.

    • Thanks for that Chris.

      I agree with you’re analysis of the possible “dysfunction at the FIA if the Tech Delegate, Safety Delegate & Race Director’s caps were on three different heads”.

      It could also be the old diplomatic tactic known as ‘divide and conquer’ – as has been well used by Mr. E over the years

    • I didn’t hear any mention of Herbie Blash so far… maybe he doesn’t work for this outfit anymore?

    • Lol. There’s 1800 words there. What more do you want? 🙂

      We are constantly reporting F1 in a different way. Stick around for the next episode….

  3. This is an outstanding article, and I’m very appreciative for this! There have been signs of the larger issues between Pirelli, Bernie and the FIA. This work will help folks to think about it at that level.

    What are the reasons for Todt be upset that Whiting has a 5 year contract?

    • Thank you.

      As is stated in the article, powerful people sometimes just want more control and there is no good reason for what they do.

      From what I know, Todt’s agenda is a clean broom from the Mosley era. The F1 doc, Gary Hartstein was dismissed for no apparent reason.

      At times in life your may be good at what you do, but your association with the previous regime is enough to put a target on your head.

      • OK, that is a very interesting tidbit on a clean broom of the Mosley era… Thanks for that!

        I hope to gain a deeper understanding of Todt’s end game, and power for power’s sake as you suggest is one possible explanation.

        I suspect that Todt’s end-game has more to do with what role should the FIA play in F1 when Bernie is no longer part of FOM.

        • “I suspect that Todt’s end-game has more to do with what role should the FIA play in F1 when Bernie is no longer part of FOM.”

          That is my understanding too. He believes Max and Bernie collaborated over the sale of F1 and he wants some pie back for the FIA – which to be fair is not fundamentally a bad thing.

  4. While I no longer post on this site I do sometimes read the articles. This article requires a response.

    Innuendo, speculation and rumour riddled with numerous errors and “we believe” statements that completely ignores the main thrust of “testgate” which is, did Mercedes gain an advantage over their rivals from the test. And why did Pirelli just happen to choose one of the leading teams that would benefit the most from a three day test. While I accept that 11 teams would have been unmanageable, having Marussia or Williams there would not have been and would have given Pirelli valuable data. No mention either, as I’ve read from several sources, that Schumacher attended the test. If you weren’t going to gain any technical info why would he be there?

    Attempting to point the finger at Ferrari over the earlier test and make the claim that “to hone the car for a race strategy that would include four pit stops. No other team began the race weekend with this as their primary goal.” Is simply deflection and is in fact not true as Ferrari went into the Spanish GP with a flexible 3 -4 pit stop strategy that was based on Vettel’s 2011 race.

    While it’s clear where my support lies I suggest you be more forthcoming in where yours lie. Have a nice day.

    • I know I am going to look an idiot here, but, can anyone explain the significance of Schumacher, a Ferrari guy, being present at a “secret” Mercedes test? For one thing, surely this proves it wasn’t secret. Or is he working for Mercedes now? Another thing is the amount of staff required to be present at a track when cars are racing or testing, its not possible to imagine none of them would let the cat out of the bag.

      • You don’t look an idiot, but the lazyness and cheap sensational reporting of F1 mainstream media has presented it that way.

        As the facts are now dripping out. Red Bull and Ferrari admit Pirelli had discussed 2013 cars doing tyre testing with them. Did we hear that the morning of the Monaco GP?

        Google the Ferrari test post Bahrain, you’ll find almost nothing reported – was that ‘secret’?

        I have no information on Schumacher and the test that I can report. I also can provide no real speculation on that issue which has any substance to me never mind anyone else.

    • Hey great to hear from you CR

      I don’t think you read the editor’s note… Anyway, there is more assertive statement of facts than those which are qualified..

      Further, the Ferrari observation is 2 paragraph’s of a nearly 2000 word article and is incidental to the piece.

      However, as you raise the matter – following Barcelona and prior to Monaco, I had a conversation I had with someone at Ferrari, whom I respect. They revealed that the strategy was always 4 stops (maybe 3) and it was the only way to go had Red Bull not tried to manage the tyres.

      As a child I was a Williams fan, but now appreciate all forms of excellence in the sport I love.

    • I think it is unlikely that Mercedes didn’t get some advantage from this test. However, I believe the point TJ is making is that the test was arranged in such a way that even though they broke the rules they will get away with it and further more it will push BE’s agenda over that of the FIA.

      One thing I’m not clear on, where was the Ferrari test? I would hope not Barcelona – testing at a track in similar conditions to those expected at the race is bound to give useful information, regardless of whether they used an old car. Even if the test was in Europe you can get information from testing in similar weather conditions.

      As for suggesting Williams or Marussia could do the test – surely this could offer an even bigger advantage. They, along with Caterham, are the obvious candidates to fill the 11th place in the championship and – assuming matters stay as they are – no TV money for next season. Crucial as costs will be going up significantly with the new engines.

      I said this at the time – I believe the HRT cars have been bought and are now used in the EuroBOSS series. They are recent but their use would not give any one team an advantage. Why was this not looked in to as an option for testing?

        • As far as I remember the sparse media reports, the Ferrari test was actually two tests. Part of it run in Bahrain, part of it run at Barcelona a week later.

      • A good idea re: HRT, but they were so bad they were falling apart in the races toward the end of 2012.

        Further, Paul Hembery has said the 2013 cars have developed surprising levels of extra down force over the 2012 cars and as such are not representative.

        Then there is the problem that turbo engines will test tyre wear to a new level again. They have so much extra torque they could tear the 2013 tyres to shreds in 1-2 laps.

  5. Charlie Whiting has form. There have been numerous cases in the past where he has given the nod verbally or in writing to teams to do certain things. Then when challenged by an official protest, he and the FIA have wriggled out of the situation by claiming that he can only give his opinion and it is up to the teams to take their own legal advice on which to base their decisions.
    I read often, but never comment. I am put off by Judge13’s regular spelling of commonly misspelt words such as using “they’re” for “their” and “loose” for “lose”.

    • Thank you for your contribution and I understand you irritation

      We’ll try harder on the matters you raise.

      Please understand there is no sponsorship, subscription or advertising on TJ13 as we want avoid this, and the writers all have busy jobs and cram in what they can when they can.

      Daily news can be a race to publish and therefore at times has mistakes which we will try to eradicate.

      However, TJ13 produces more words per week than Autosport, owned by publishing giant Haymarket.

      We are 9 months old and already have a readership equivalent or bigger to some very well established F1 sites of several years standing who publish 10% of the content we do..

      We will become a little more refined over time.

      • I don’t think you need to apologise at all. This is an excellent site, always full of up to date information and news. The articles get better week by week. The contributions by the readers are varied and interesting too. When people can see how often the page is updated throughout the day to keep it current surely they will allow for a few spelling and grammatical errors. 🙂

  6. Cavallinoram….’s comments are interesting, however I find the analysis, approach and thrust of tj13 fascinating, Quality insights into exactly how the politics of F1 come into play in situations like this. I love racing/f1 but I also love f1 as it is the ultimate in business and legal theatre. Some of the smartest men in the game are in play now, in a new and untested theatre created by themselves! We shall indeed see how this will be concluded very soon.

    Have only recently found this site but am mightily impressed and it now sits at the top of my f1 bookmarks – along with one other site who also have this level of detail and analysis and plenty who do not.

    Thank you

  7. Thank you for this, TJ13…This is the kind of article that made me subscribe in the first place. And to keep coming back to you for the real inside stuff. I’ve had enough of the mainstream motorsport press and their bootlicking of the team PR flacks …I’m pretty sure that you won’t ever sink to that level. Keep up good work!

    • Hi Steven, appreciate your contribution.

      Amusingly we recently had a ‘Team PR flack’ consult us. They wished to know how ‘independent fans’ felt about a particular matter, though I’m not sure they liked what they were told. Hey Ho!

      It’s good to know the views of TJ13 readers are now being sought. Soon we may see an official F1 Fan club, who have a real say

  8. “There are times in F1 when powerful people do not act in the interests of the sport, but out of retributive motives”
    Objection, Your Honour…! Hearsay…! 🙂

  9. On the 27 may, Matthew Somerfield (http://somersf1.blogspot.co.uk/), did a write up titled “The continuing FIA/Pirelli/Mercedes Tyre testing debacle”.
    Two-thirds of the way down he posted 4 images from a twitter pal of his (@PiusGasso) who was at the track when Ferrari did their Pirelli tyre test.
    3 of the 4 imges seem to show that the tyre Ferrari were running was of this year brand. (Colors markings, white, maybe yellow!!)
    Ferrari definitely gain from it’s testing, which is why one of them recently declared “We have no problem as to how this year’s tyres works.”

  10. Excellent article your Honour (or is that You’re Honour) !!
    Such a confusing series of events, and each person party to the story all have their own agenda. Thanks for a decent attempt to tie it all together with facts / suppositions. It seems with F1 there is always a bigger picture simmering in the background to what is frying in the pan!
    PS – I don’t mind the spelling mistakes – it makes this blog more genuine / human.

  11. Tj. It has been a while since I last posted.

    But maybe a future article that I feel we can take from this is Bernie vs fia. Which it sounds more each article we read.

    It sounds like this is turning from a “illegal” tyre test with Pirelli and Mercedes-Benz in the dock. (They will.both.get a slap on the wrists in my view as its damage to.the sport letting this drag on now). To a Bernie (and friends in the fia. I.e whiting) vs the fia. (primary j.t)
    I get the feeling jt is pushing Bernie out. Which could.come sooner if he goes to court

    If jt wants commercial control back in the fia. (as what could be happening in all this. Control all aspects of formula 1 as in the 70s and 80s) could he.not hold cvc in breach of contract if Bernie goes to court and found guilty.

    Not everyone is signed up (if anybody) to the.concorde agreement. So could this be the end of Bernie in the not too distant future.

    Apologys for taking the debate in a different.direction. but it sounds like there is.more.behind.the.scenes after the tribunal.

    • Hi wire2004

      It’s fine. I’ve been thinking about this lately because TJ13 has raised its voice against the injustices brought about by Ecclestone, yet the reality of his court case and F1 without Bernie is starting to sink in.

      That is not to say – carry on as we are – but wouldn’t an all powerful FIA controlling the commercial rights with Todt at the helm be as bad and possibly worse.

      F1 needs to be lightly associated with the FIA and have its own regulatory organisation staffed by representatives of the teams. A constitution which states how many teams there will be and how they will receive a better distribution of income….

      ………..Don’t get me started 🙂

      • Excellent article Judge.
        Love F1 for the racing and the technical aspects. Not being a political animal I relie on others to point me in the right direction.
        But I do remember the problems Jean-Marie Balestre caused in the 80s, so do not want too much power in one person’s hands for fear of a repeat – or do we have that now with Bernie?

  12. First of all, I want to congratulate TJ13 and his team on a wonderfully written article (bar the spelling mistakes but I’m from those who believe that the relevance and pertinence of the content *far* outweighs the spelling mistakes, which aren’t that numerous to be a nuisance). I’ve only started recently, 2 or 3 weeks ago I think, but I have been gradually warming to the articles you guys have been writing. I’ll just write my personal thoughts.

    This Tyregate story is the single most interesting thing that has happened to us in 2013. The political conflicts of power that are in play behind this are so rich and deep once you start having a closer look at things. When the story first broke out on Sunday in Monaco, I never thought about the political repercussions about all this because the main-stream media was just too interested in painting this as a RedBull + Ferrari battle against the big bad Mercedes, and all articles I’ve gone across were all decidedly oriented to paint Mercedes as the bad guy, largely ignoring the invisible part of the iceberg the Pirelli test actually is.

    I can’t help but feel drawn to this political power-struggle. On one side we have Ecclestone and Pirelli (and Mercedes, circumstantially), on the other side we have Todt and the FIA. The battle is mouth-watering and how I would love to be a fly on the wall of the International Tribunal when all the evidence will be presented. It is obvious that someone is going to be made the scapegoat out of all this and while we, F1 supporters, are not in possession of all the facts, I can’t help but feel that Pirelli and Mercedes will surprise quite a few people on 20th June.

    I liked your line “There are times in F1 when powerful people do not act in the interests of the sport, but out of retributive motives”, I’ll just add one bit : powerful people only act in the interests of the sport IF there is an underlying retributive motive. I’ve never seen anyone get to a position of power and not use said-power to do anything other than act out of retributive motives. If it were otherwise : you wouldn’t have felt compelled enough to chase that position of power in the first place 🙂

    The key thing here is there has to be a waiver somewhere, as you highlighted in your article. Pirelli and Mercedes can’t be so dumb to do a test that is a breach of regulations on paper and not have some strong excuse lined up. There has to be a document somewhere, from someone pretty high up the pyramid in the FIA, that granted permission to do tests and that was enough for Pirelli and possibly Ecclestone to create this mess. Ross Brawn probably saw an opportunity to stamp his own authority within his camp a lot more but that is, like the hissy fit from Hörner and Marko, a mere side-story. The FIA will never dare to punish Pirelli since they’re their only tyre-supplier realistically in the running for 2014, and Mercedes have done nothing wrong on their part since they let Pirelli do whatever they needed to do.

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