Mercedes accuse FIA of double standards at Paris tribunal

Ross Brawn with the Mercedes legal team during the FIA tribunal in Paris

Ross Brawn with the Mercedes legal team during the FIA tribunal in Paris

Mercedes accused Formula 1’s governing body of double standards on Thursday at a tribunal that could impose stiff sanctions on their team for allegedly breaking the rules with a ‘secret’ tyre test, the verdict is expected on Friday.

The team of 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton – preparing for his home British grand prix next week – and Germany’s Nico Rosberg – face anything from a reprimand to exclusion from the championship if found guilty.

Lawyer Paul Harris, representing Mercedes, suggested that the International Automobile Federation (FIA) had treated his team in a very different way to Ferrari – who face no action despite both having tested with tyre supplier Pirelli this year.

Mercedes are charged with breaking the rules by using their current car at a 1 000 km tyre test in Barcelona with Pirelli last month and gaining an unfair advantage from it, an accusation which they deny.

Ferrari, who have tested twice previously with Pirell1 including in April just before they won the Spanish Grand Prix at the same circuit, have not been summoned to the tribunal because they used a 2011 car.

“The key differences in treatment are plain,” said Harris, criticising a sporting body run by former Ferrari team boss Jean Todt.

“Ferrari were allowed to rely on a verbal confirmation from Pirelli that authorisation had been achieved but apparently we are condemned for this.

“Ferrari’s dealings with the FIA were non-specific as regards dates, location, names of drivers. They are not criticised but apparently we are,” he added.

“Ferrari was even more involved in the actual testing than we were, they booked and paid for the circuit. [Yet] they are not criticised.”

The lawyer went on to say that Ferrari’s test in 2013 was not just a Pirelli test.

“One can see from the run sheets…that in the middle of the day they were doing their own thing,” he said. “But they are not criticised. They also exceeded the 1 000 kilometres.”

The rules ban teams from testing with a current car, or one from the previous year, during the season but Pirelli is entitled to carry out a number of tyre tests.

Pirelli argue that they are not competitors in the championship and are therefore not subject to the same regulations as teams – which the FIA disputes.

“It was a test or track running by Pirelli,” said Harris. “It wasn’t undertaken by Mercedes, there’s no case.”

Mercedes say that they did not know what tyres were being tested and their drivers used unmarked helmets to avoid unwelcome attention from fans rather than to avoid discovery by rivals.

The FIA’s lawyer Mark Howard had earlier accused Mercedes of breaking the rules and gaining an unfair benefit, a charge made by champions Red Bull who protested with Ferrari when they found out about the test.

He told the four judges and tribunal president Edwin Glasgow that there was little factual dispute in the case.

“There is not much room for doubt that the Mercedes 2013 car was a car covered by the regulations and that the car was subjected to track running time in Barcelona,” he said.

“Track testing is deliberately defined as track running time,” Howard explained. “It is a term used deliberately because it is unambiguous…any running on the track is deemed to be testing.

“It is difficult to say that Mercedes gained no benefit from the test.”

The tribunal heard that Mercedes sporting director Ron Meadows and principal Ross Brawn, both at the hearing, spoke to FIA technical head Charlie Whiting on May 2 to ask whether testing with a 2013 car was permissible.

“What is very odd about all of this is that on the basis of the telephone calls, both Mercedes and Pirelli went ahead without getting back to Mr Whiting and making clear precisely ultimately what they were intending to do,” said Howard.

He added that any authorisation to test should in any case have been sought from the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council and secretary general Pierre de Coninck rather than Whiting – something Mercedes has said that Ferrari did not do either.

Red Bull principal Christian Horner, whose team made a protest against Mercedes at last month’s Monaco Grand Prix, was attending the hearing along with Red Bull chief engineer Paul Monaghan.

Ferrari sent two lawyers while Mercedes-powered McLaren and Williams also sent legal representatives.

The official F1 website has revealed that the verdict will be made on Friday. (Reuters)

Also on the sport’s official site they summarised the day’s proceedings:

  • The FIA reiterated its stance that it had not granted official permission for the test and argued that although FIA race director Charlie Whiting had informed Mercedes that such a test could in theory be possible if all teams were given similar opportunity, this did not constitute agreement. Furthermore, the FIA argued that Pirelli had not invited other teams to participate in the test.
  • In conducting the test “without the knowledge, consent and participation of other competitors,” the FIA argued that Pirelli and Mercedes could have contravened Article 151c of the International Sporting Code, which states that a breach is: “Any fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motorsport generally.”
  • The FIA clarified that there was no suggestion that Pirelli had breached their contract as Formula One racing’s sole tyre supplier.
  • Mercedes argued that the test had been undertaken by Pirelli and not the team, hence they had not breached Article 22.1 of the sporting regulations which states: “Track testing shall be considered any track running time not part of an Event undertaken by a competitor entered in the Championship…” Pirelli are not a competitor in the championship. Mercedes are.
  • Regarding the use of its 2013 car, Mercedes argued that if this is considered a breach of the regulations, then so should Ferrari’s test with Pirelli earlier this year using a 2011 car, claiming that the changes between a 2011 car and a 2013 car are “miniscule” in terms of performance. Article 22.1 precludes the use of cars “which conform substantially with the current Formula One Technical Regulations in addition to those from the previous or subsequent year.”
  • Similarly, Mercedes argued that if their test had breached the aforementioned Article 151c of the International Sporting Code, then so had Ferrari’s. They also claimed that Ferrari had conducted non-tyre specific work during their Barcelona test and that the Italian team had discussed tyre data from the test with Pirelli.
  • Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn claimed that they could not have benefitted from the test data. Although car telemetry was active during the test for safety reasons, the telemetry data had subsequently been archived on a secure server at the team’s factory to prevent future use. Brawn did concede that there was an unavoidable benefit in using a 2013 car, but said this was “a consideration taken into account when we had permission from the FIA to do the test” and that it needed “to be kept in proportion.”
  • Mercedes admitted that with hindsight it was regrettable that race drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton had used black crash helmets, conceding that it may have added to the air of suspicion surrounding the test. The helmets were used to help avoid security issues.
  • Pirelli argued that as a supplier/third party to the championship they do not fall under the FIA’s jurisdiction for such disciplinary matters, citing the governing body’s ban on former Renault team boss Flavio Briatore, which was overturned by the French courts on the same grounds.
  • In the closing submissions, Mercedes reiterated their assertion that they had not broken the regulations, adding that in contacting Whiting and gaining what they perceived to be FIA approval for the test, they had been careful to ensure they had not breached Article 22.1. Should the IT decide otherwise, Mercedes said that any punishment should be minor since the team had acted in good faith, suggesting that exclusion from some or all of this year’s young driver test could be a suitable sanction.

Subbed by AJN.