Protest looms over Rosberg's Monaco victory after secret tyre test

Nico Rosberg leads Sebastian Vettel during the Monaco GP
Nico Rosberg leads Sebastian Vettel during the Monaco GP

Red Bull made a formal protest at the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday after it emerged that Mercedes, who swept the front row in qualifying for the race , carried out a secret tyre test with Pirelli last week in Barcelona.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, who found out ‘second hand’ only on Saturday night, suggested Mercedes had gained an unfair advantage and said his team had sought a clarification of the rules.

“We feel it’s not in line with the rules, so that’s why we’ve protested before the race here. We just want clarity,” he told Sky Sports television. “I think it’s important (that it) be brought to a head. I don’t think we’re the only team that feels that way.”

The Formula One regulations ban in-season testing but Pirelli said their contract stipulated that they could do 1,000-km private tests with a ‘representative’ car and the three days in Spain were legal.

The clash between the regulations and the clause in Pirelli’s contract appeared to create a grey area.

Red Bull's Helmut Marko and Christian Horner not happy
Red Bull’s Helmut Marko and Christian Horner not happy

“What’s disappointing is it has been done in not a transparent manner that a three-day test has taken place with a current car running on tyres that are going to be used at the next grand prix,” an unhappy Horner told reporters earlier. Irrespective of what you call it, that’s testing.”

Mercedes GP non-executive chairman Niki Lauda said, however, that the team had obtained permission from the governing International Automobile Federation (FIA).

“It is very simple. We were asked by Pirelli, we asked the FIA: ‘Are we allowed to do the test?’ The FIA confirmed it and said ‘yes’ and so therefore we did the test. We think other teams have been asked too,” he said.

“Mercedes did nothing wrong – they asked the right people for permission. We asked the FIA, the FIA checked it legally and advised us we could do it so we can’t do any better.”

Pirelli motorsport head Paul Hembery, already under fire from Red Bull over the quick-wearing current tyres, said the test in Barcelona after the Spanish Grand Prix had not been the first of its kind.

“We’ve done it before with another team and we’ve asked another team to do some work as well,” he said.

Paul Hembery (GBR) Pirelli Motorsport Director with FanVision. Formula One World Championship, Rd 19, Brazilian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday 26 November 2011.
Paul Hembery

Hembery denied that Mercedes, who have struggled with tyre wear during races despite having now racked up four pole positions in a row, could have gained any competitive advantage.

“Absolutely not, no. Because it’s no relevance to what’s happening here,” he told Reuters.

Horner, whose cars qualified on the second row behind the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg on pole and Lewis Hamilton alongside, was more sceptical about that.

“Well, they’ve both cars on the front row of the grid so it’s not hurt,” he said.

“There is confusion between what is contractually permissible, and what a team is allowed to do in the sporting regs,” he said. “It’s a situation we need clarification on.”

Hembery said he did not know whether Mercedes had tested with this year’s car and the rain-affected test in Barcelona had been 90 percent aimed at the 2014 tyres.

“We were looking at next year’s solutions and trying a variety of different (things)… Mercedes haven’t got a clue what on earth we were testing in reality,” said Hembery.

Asked why the other teams had not been told in advance, Hembery suggested that would have been counter-productive.

“You know in Formula One that when you start talking about something six months could pass before you found a solution,” he said. “There’s also another point of looking at it… that things take far too long. In reality sometimes you just have to get on and do it.” (Reuters)