Mercedes and Pirelli escape severe sanctions
FIA ruling mirrors that suggested by F1 team’s legal counsel at Thursday’s hearing
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.