The FIA has summoned Ferrari and Mercedes to submit evidence into a disciplinary inquiry over both teams’ recent Pirelli tyre tests that have take place at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Mercedes’ secret test with Pirelli in the days following the Spanish Grand Prix triggered much of the paddock furore during the Monaco Grand Prix, when news of the test broke.
Ferrari and Red Bull Racing both lodged protests with the FIA Stewards that weekend over the team’s use of a current-spec F1 car for an in-season circuit test, while Mercedes and Pirelli flatly denied that they had done anything wrong. After the Grand Prix – which was won with a dominant performance by Nico Rosberg – the FIA Stewards referred the matter to the FIA Tribunal for a final ruling.
But it quickly emerged that Ferrari’s protest was somewhat hypocritical. Just weeks before, the team’s customer division ‘Corse Clienti’, provided a 2011-spec car to Pirelli for an earlier test session, held two weeks before the contentious Mercedes test. The team loaned reserve driver Pedro de la Rosa as the driver for that test.
Overnight, the FIA issues a statement indicating that it was investigating potential breaches by Ferrari and Mercedes, and instructed both teams to submit evidence for consideration.
“The FIA has asked Team Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 and Scuderia Ferrari Team which have taken part in tyre tests in the 2013 season to reply to a disciplinary inquiry in pursuance of the FIA Judicial and Disciplinary Rules,” the statement reads.
“This follows the Stewards’ Report from the Monaco Grand Prix and represents supplementary information required by the FIA in the light of the replies received from Pirelli, who were asked for clarifications on Tuesday May 28.”
Ferrari’s summons is perhaps more of a surprise, because testing on a two-year-old machine has previously been allowed. One interpretation of the FIA’s logic is that a 2011-spec machine might not be substantially different enough from a 2013 car to be exempt from the rules restricting testing, according to the wording of Article 22.1 of the F1 sporting regulations.
“Track testing shall be considered any track running time not part of an event undertaken by a competitor entered in the championship, using cars which conform substantially with the current Formula 1 technical regulations in addition to those from the previous or subsequent year,” is reads.
This disciplinary inquiry being referred to in the FIA summons will amount to a hearing where FIA President Jean Todt conducts an inquiry into any actions or conduct of a person under the jurisdiction of the FIA who is suspected of having committed an offence.
If, after his investigation, Todt decides that the case should be heard before the FIA International Tribunal, he will formally notify either Mercedes and/or Ferrari of the charges brought against them. Each team will have fifteen days to respond to the charges, and a further fifteen days (at minimum) between that response and the hearing date.
The hearing will be led by the Tribunal judging panel, which will have a minimum of three of its twelve-member group serving in the session. The parties in each hearing will set out their arguments without witnesses, before any witnesses are brought in for questioning by all parties in the hearing.
After the presentation of the case, the judging panel will deliberate, with a simple majority needed to reach a decision – in the event of a deadlocked vote, the appointed President of the Hearing (one elected member of the judging panel) has the deciding vote.
What is not known is whether the FIA actually has enough of a case to successfully commit Mercedes, Ferrari and/or Pirelli to the International Tribunal.
Mercedes and Pirelli will continue to argue – as they have done since the start – that the FIA gave them the go-ahead to perform the test, and that the FIA’s own legal counsel signed off on it. If both can prove this to be the case – irrespective of whether the FIA’s legal counsel was correct in its guidance – then Mercedes and Pirelli should be exonerated.
Ferrari, on the other hand, will argue that it has firstly committed less of an offence with the use of an older car, and that the test was conducted in complete independence of its race team through the use of its Corse Clienti customer arm. It will also argue that Pirelli paid for the test in full, giving it more of a distance from the actual goings-on in the test.
In all, there will need to be enough of a paperwork trail to justify the claims of the three parties to get them off the hook. All will argue that there was no intention to gain an advantage, and that the steps Pirelli took – such as refusing to disclose what kind of tyres were being tested – were done to ensure that any attempt to improve the teams’ understanding and development hopes of their own cars would be utterly meaningless.
Most sensible people in Formula 1 – with the notable exception of some laughably hysterical claims from Red Bull Racing – would agree that this is the case. However, proving that there was no intent by any of the parties to break the rules will be a tougher ask, particularly in front of an independent judicial body like the FIA International Tribunal.