The Tribunal and past such occasions
Today should give F1 folk and followers hope of a brighter future for the sport. The mood in Brackley is high, whilst in Milton Keynes it may be more subdued; but more of that later.
The International Tribunal was part of the FIA disciplinary reforms and now serves as the FIA’s main disciplinary arm, in effect the governing body’s court. It was established for the start of the 2011 season as part of an overhaul of the FIA’s judicial system, a policy which had formed a key part of Jean Todt’s manifesto during the last presidential election of 2009.
In days gone by Formula 1 did not always appear to the casual observer to deal with regulation breaches particularly well. Formal protests amongst the competitors were far more frequent than in recent times, and the FIA disciplinary procedures at times were typified by smoke filled rooms, kangaroo courts and back door deals being done based upon influence and power.
The International Tribunal is presided over by independent judges who have a wealth of experience in a variety of judicial systems. The point of a judicial system is to deliver justice which is equitable without favour being shown to any party involved.
However, the concern for many was the possible restricted nature of the IT’s remit. The decisions of the court must address whether FIA regulations have been broken or not. Clearly Mercedes were in breach of FIA Article 22 over in season testing, but in mitigation the FIA had a parallel agreement with a non-competitor which conflicted with the sporting regulations for competitors.
These mitigating circumstances would not allow the IT to give a not guilty verdict to Mercedes and this gave rise to the fear a guilty verdict would see punishment handed down to Mercedes similar to Honda’s 3 race ban or a huge fine as was the decision for McLaren in the ‘spygate’ affair.
Of course not everyone will be happy with the verdict, and there are definite winners and losers as a result of this matter being dealt with by the FIA’s formal procedures. So far the consensus I’ve seen from the F1 chattering media classes is that the result seems about right.
To this end, the F1 participants can now be confident there is a structure in the FIA which will be fair and impartial and whilst this may be one small step to the reform challenges facing the sport, it is clearly a step in the right direction. In a sport where there is a continuing shifting of alliances of self interest the International Tribunal has proven to be a beacon of hope.
Yet should this matter ever have reached the International Tribunal? The regular formal protests of yesteryear have been replaced in recent times by teams who are concerned about breaches in regulations making informal enquiries via the FIA officer Charlie Whiting.
Red Bull claim they have been subject to a disproportionate number of these ‘informal’ enquiries in recent times, and they may feel this is driven by jealousy of their winning package.
Yet Red Bull have been found ‘guilty’ by Whiting over breaches in regulations, such that on race weekends their car has been modified amusingly with bits of FIA tape. Another occasion saw the decommissioning of a device thought to provide illegal adjustment to the car during the race.
The decision by Marko and Horner to press this issue via ‘formal’ channels may come back to haunt them and this for them is a lose-lose… and maybe lose again. It would not be a surprise to see their car the subject of a formal protest from Mercedes or another team before the end of the season. Lose #1
Brawn speaking to Sky Sports today observed that the he was delighted with the independence of the new FIA procedure and said that F1 should be encouraged by this “because other teams will surely find themselves sat in front of the tribunal”.
Further, Marko and Horner have been highly vocal in demanding the Tribunal issue a sporting penalty for a sporting regulation infringement. The high rhetoric emerging from Milton Keynes has consistently threatened should Mercedes not receive a sporting penalty they will then go testing themselves.
A subdued Horner re-iterated this last night when asked what would happen were Mercedes not to receive a sporting penalty when he responded, “if it’s only a financial penalty, then that becomes the cost of going testing”. In other words we’ll take the financial penalty as part of the cost of going testing ourselves.
Lose #2. Red Bull cannot now do this. The reason the IT did not issue a fine or points deduction penalty to Mercedes is because they sought the opinion of the FIA and therefore acted in ‘good faith’.
Were Red Bull to decide to breach Article 22 on in season testing, the verdict of the IT has ruled out they could be doing so with the same ‘good faith’ as did Mercedes. In fact this act of defiance would surely lead to a charge under Article 151c and Red Bull would be accused of, “any fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition to the interests of motorsport generally”. This is the clause that cost Honda a 3 race ban and McLaren a $100m fine.
Lose #3. There’s a rule of common sense expressed as follows, ‘Don’t bite the hand that feeds you’. Red Bull were the primary cause of Pirelli ending up in the dock, which no doubt was not an inexpensive affair.
Whilst there will of course be no retributive action from Pirelli, but as the teams opinions are sought on the matters of tyres, it would be hard to believe any previous advantage Red Bull had in terms of influence due to their status as triple world champions is now somewhat diminished.
In fact Paul Hembery speaking today on Sky Sports News when asked about the verdict included in his comments that Pirelli must remain neutral, no matter how loud the voices were from “certain teams to change the tyres, because they would like to gain a performance advantage”.
Only Horner and Marko will really know why having found out about the Pirelli/Mercedes test late Saturday night, they acted hastily to lodge a formal protest before the Monaco race. If they believed Mercedes were likely to score a 1-2 in the race, they may have believed their drivers in would benefit from an FIA sanction and be promoted in the final standings.
Now seeing the big picture, those who made that decision may feel differently.
Is this a good result for Mercedes? For Mercedes this may be seen as a win-win-lose. It’s a win #1 because had the Judges agreed with the ferocious attack made on Mercedes and been pursauded by the FIA counsel that they were in breach of Article 151c, the verdict could have been most harsh.
Yet it emerged today that Lauda had negotiated some back door deal which would have prevented Mercedes from having to appear before the IT, so long as the management in Brackley admitted they were guilty of a regulatory breach.
If we are to believe Lauda, Brawn and Wolff chose refused this solution and chose to face the music in Paris. Their motive was for the facts to be heard in full, and they were justified in their confidence in the procedure to which they submitted themselves.
Win #2. Mercedes have emerged with their reputation in tact, and this was a concern for many who felt the global manufacturer may withdraw from the sport were their image to be tarnished.
It’s a lose #1 for Mercedes because the sporting penalty that has been handed down – namely they are excluded from the young driver test – is in reality a real disadvantage. Horner commented last night that exclusion from this event next month, “would be no penalty at all”, yet is this the case.
As has been observed here, Mercedes have tested in Barcelona with a 2013 car with experienced drivers but with no opportunity to try new parts and driving on prototype rubber which is an unknown variable. They lose the opportunity to test – yes with inexperienced drivers – on the rubber they have found so troublesome in this year’s competition.
One other matter worthy of note is that following the hearing yesterday, a number of commentators were confused as to why Mercedes had suggested if found guilty an appropriate penalty would be to miss the young driver test. They believed this to be an admission of guilt.
It is important to understand in many judicial processes a verdict is declared and then mitigating circumstances are presented by the guilty party for considering before the sentence is passed. This is not the process for the IT.
Mercedes merely accepted they would be found guilty (as discussed above) but were arguing that acting in ‘good faith’ meant they should receive a minimal penalty. This clearly sat well with the Judges, who may not have considered this option without it being suggested.
To Ferrari. We must remember this was Marko’s decision to demand a formal protest be made. He stated after the event he spent hours on the Saturday night in Monaco studying the relevant regulations to see if he had missed something. Ferrari were contacted in the morning and agreed to join the protest.
Yet Dominicali quickly backed off, and repeatedly called for ‘clarification’ unlike the Red Bull demands for sporting penalties. Could it be having been suckered into joining the protest they hoped the matter would be resolved prior to a tribunal hearing.
The Tribunal commented that had Ferrari adopted the same approach as Mercedes when testing in 2012 and 2013, “it would appear to be equally unsatisfactory that this consent was also given by Charlie Whiting”.
Ferrari have chosen not to comment, except by way of a rather incoherent and rambling rant from the Horse Whisperer who appears to have learned a whole new communication style. That may be because his original incarnation has been banished to India.
Maybe there is a sigh of relief in Maranello tonight.
Shortly after the verdict the FIA issued a short statement as follows,
‘The FIA duly notes the decision handed down today by the FIA International Tribunal against Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team and Pirelli Tyres.
This decision follows (i) the disciplinary proceedings instigated by the FIA, on the basis in particular of the report by the Stewards of the Monaco Grand Prix, forwarded to the FIA following the two protests made by Scuderia Ferrari Team and Red Bull Racing respectively, and (ii) the hearing that took place yesterday before the International Tribunal with the participation of all the parties concerned.
The FIA wishes that lessons are learnt from this case and from the decision handed down. To this end, the FIA will make sure, in association with all F1 teams, that its control of the testings is strengthened.
It is recalled that the notification of the FIA International Tribunal’s decision opens to each of the parties concerned the possibility of bringing an appeal against this decision before the FIA International Court of Appeal within 7 days.’
The FIA does not say it accepts the decision, as have Mercedes and Pirelli. Of course they can appeal the matter within 7 days should they so wish. This would appear to be a most foolhardy thing to do, but you never know, and the statement clearly hedges their options.
It is clear that the FIA are culpable in this matter, and their statement appears to suggest they are prepared to move to address the incoherent testing rules. Of course this may not be as simple to do as to say because the agreement of the teams will be required and as we’ve seen over tyres – that is a tricky path to tread.
The FIA should have resolved this matter prior to the Tribunal, however they appeared incapable of managing this. There may be changes in the way the teams interact with the FIA over regulatory matters, and Charlie Whiting will surely no longer operate as the ‘interpretative opinion’ of the FIA on regulatory matters.
Yet Jean Todt is to be commended. The International Tribunal was part of his reform programme and it has been a tremendous success in it’s first sitting. The randomness of conflict resolution over regulatory matters should now be part of Formula 1 history – and to underestimate the monumental importance of would be to be ignorant of what really faces F1 in the coming days.