“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.
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.
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).