Mercedes and Pirelli escape severe sanctions
FIA ruling mirrors that suggested by F1 team’s legal counsel at Thursday’s hearing
Mercedes GP have been reprimanded and banned from Silverstone event for young drivers after tyre testing with Pirelli. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Mercedes have also been banned from competing in the forthcoming young driver test session to be held at Silverstone on July 17th-19th, the world governing body confirmed in a statement.
Friday’s announcements came the day after a specially convened International Tribunal sat in session for over six hours to determine whether Mercedes and Pirelli violated F1’s sporting regulations during the Barcelona tyre test held between May 15th-17th.
A statement on behalf of the tribunal read: “The Tribunal, after having heard the parties and examined their submissions, decided that: Mercedes be reprimanded; Mercedes be suspended from participating in the forthcoming “three day young driver training test”; Pirelli be reprimanded... and rejected all other and further conclusions.”
The verdict fits precisely with the recommended punishment set out by Mercedes’ legal counsel Paul Harris QC during Thursday’s hearing.
“It is a three-day test, and it is a car test over which teams have full control and teams know everything about the tyres and cars,” he said of the Silverstone young-driver session. “If we are in this territory then it is open to the International Tribunal to impose exclusions from events that are under FIA jurisdiction, and the young driver test is that.”
The judgement also appears to have steered F1 clear of any potentially choppy waters, with heavy sanctions for either Mercedes or Pirelli likely to have brought with them wider ramifications.
It has been reported Mercedes’s largest group of shareholders would have sought to urge the company to quit F1 in the event of a severe punishment, while Pirelli was facing an uncertain future with its deal to continue to supply tyres to the series in 2014 and beyond still to be finalised.
The FIA, which called for the tribunal to rule on the matter following a protest from Red Bull and Ferrari ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix, responded to the verdict in a separate statement in which the body expressed hope that lessons can be learned.
It read: “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.”
While the right of appeal is open to both, it seems unlikely either will elect to go down that route - particularly Mercedes, who had been at the mercy of a range of sanctions, from a fine through to a points deduction, race bans or even exclusion from the world championship.
Mercedes were brought before the hearing on suspicion they contravened the FIA’s ban on in-season testing by using their current car and regular drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in the 1,000-kilometre test organised by Pirelli - Formula One’s sole tyre supplier - at the Circuit de Catalunya last month.
Mercedes maintained throughout the process they had not benefited from any of the data gathered, that they had the permission of FIA race director Charlie Whiting to use their 2013 car, and that their motivations for undertaking the test was primarily to assist Pirelli in resolving a tyre delamination issue that had given way to widespread safety concerns.
The German team’s prospects nevertheless looked bleak yesterday when the FIA’s legal counsel Mark Howard QC branded Whiting’s apparent approval “irrelevant”, and claimed they had gained an “unfair” advantage over their rivals.
The FIA was pushing to sanction Mercedes under the provisions of article 22 of its sporting regulations, which outlines the ban on in-season testing. The body said Mercedes had also fallen foul of article 151c, which prevents competitors committing “any fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motor sport generally”.
Pirelli were summoned on the grounds they failed to offer the opportunity to test to other teams.
Pirelli’s lawyer Dominique Dumas repeatedly asserted that the FIA had no jurisdiction during his submission to the court yesterday, but the tribunal rejected that view by stating the company was bound by the terms of the International Sporting Code under the terms of its contract with the FIA, and by consequence also bound by the F1 sporting regulations.
In its full explanation of the punishments handed down, the tribunal noted that the testing “was not carried out by Pirelli and/or Mercedes with the intention that Mercedes should obtain any unfair sporting advantage” and that “neither acted in bad faith at any material time”.
It continued: “Both Pirelli and Mercedes disclosed to FIA at least the essence of what they intended to do in relation to the test and attempted to obtain permission for it; and Mercedes had no reason to believe that approval had not been given. The actions taken on behalf of FIA by Charlie Whiting (having taken advice from the legal department of FIA) were taken in good faith and with the intention of assisting the parties and consistent with sporting fairness.”
Yet the tribunal went on to say that they nevertheless had grounds to bring sanctions against both Mercedes and Pirelli as a result of their actions.
“By running its car(s) in the course of the testing, Mercedes acted in breach of article 22.4 h) SR; insofar as FIA expressed its qualified approval for the testing to be carried out, that approval could not, and did not, vary the express prohibition stipulated by article 22 SR and neither Mercedes nor Pirelli took adequate steps to ensure that the qualification was satisfied,” the statement read. “Mercedes did obtain some material advantage (even if only by way of confirmation of what had not gone wrong) as a result of the testing, which, at least potentially, gave it an unfair sporting advantage, to the knowledge and with the intention of Pirelli.”
The tribunal also took account of an email sent from Pirelli engineers to their counterparts at Mercedes.
“It is plain beyond sensible argument that Pirelli had intended confidentially to pass some data to Mercedes, which Pirelli expressly regarded as being of high importance even if, as we accept, it was in fact of limited value to Mercedes because it was unaware of the tyre(s) to which the report related,” the report added.