The International Tribunal today held a hearing in Paris concerning the alleged breach of the sporting regulations by Mercedes AMG F1 and Pirelli. While there is no decision yet, the defendants fought hard to make sure they limit the damage as much as possible.
The problem is of course the 1000km tyre test that Mercedes and Pirelli held days after the Spanish Grand Prix, at the same Circuit de Catalunya. Both Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton were behind the wheel of the 2013 Mercedes F1W04 to test a number of unmarked Pirelli tyres which the company says were all aimed at 2014 development.
When the news leaked to other teams at the Monaco GP, many were annoyed, leading to Red Bull Racing and Ferrari filing an official complaint about the testing on the grounds of it being a breach of the sporting regulations, as those forbid any kind of in season testing. The FIA immediately started a few interviews and soon wrote a public letter, noting that the test was indeed a likely breach of the regulations.
What followed was the summoning of Ferrari to explain what they did earlier in the year at the same circuit. They were soon given the all clear as the team ran its 2011 F1 car. Pirelli subsequently also released a lengthy statement explaining why it needs to test, why Mercedes was invited and how it thought of the situation. Additionally, a leaked document later also revealed that Mercedes had breached a gentlemen's agreement among F1 teams.
Today's hearing allowed the FIA to state its claims, followed by defenses from Mercedes and Pirelli.
FIA arguments First off was the FIA who were allowed to argument why they feel the test is in breach of the sporting regulations. The first point made by their lawyer, Mark Howard indicates that the FIA believes they did not approve the test and Mercedes did not receive explicit permission to stage the test. Furthermore, Charlie Whiting said in 'informal communications' via phone with Ross Brawn that such a test would be permissible if all teams were informed and given an equal opportunity to test. The governing body maintains that permissible conditions in which the test could take place were not met.
Mercedes fights back The Mercedes F1 Team's defence was mainly trying to make the distinction that the test was actually a Pirelli test, rather than one conducted by the Fomula One team. By this, they rely on article 22 of F1's Sporting regulations, which states:
The main culprit here is the wording 'undertaken by'. The test in essence was done by the team, but Pirelli was in charge of organising and running the test and specifying what track action took place and what tyres were being used. They in effect were governing the telemetry and even though Ross Brawn confirmed Mercedes had access to the data that was coming back from the car that was only to ensure the safety of the car during the test. The claim of not having learned anything from that test was challenged however by the FIA's lawyer upon which Ross Brawn agreed that the team did gain some knowledge from the test.
A second point the team made was that it cannot be found in breach of Article 151c alone, as Ferrari would be guilty as well. The team states that even though Ferrari ran a 2011 car, such a car is not 'substantially different' from a 2013 car. Mercedes also claim that whereas they only tested tyres during their Barcelona test, Ferrari tested other components.
Thirdly, the team claims they didn't need to check if a test was permissible but 'cautious' Ross Brawn did anyway. On behalf of the team, Paul Harris explained what emails had gone on between Mercedes and the FIA. In essence, Mercedes made the request to Charlie Whiting, who according to Ross Brawn is 'the reference point on all matters concerning the Sporting Regulations, to run the 2013 car.
Whiting was unsure and consulted the FIA's legal team about the matter, expressing his own view as 'such testing could not be undertaken by a current competitor, and if allowed could be argued to be a Pirelli test, putting the FIA in a difficult position'.
Sebastian Barnard, the FIA's legal advisor responded to Whiting, noting the the FIA could indeed take such stance as it would be considered to be done by Pirelli, the current F1 tyre supplier.
Finally, the team also mentioned the repeated Pirelli tyres failures in the first races of the season and worries from drivers about safety.
Pirelli trying to stay out of it Pirelli immediately set the tone at the beginning of their statement, saying that "we do not come under the jurisdiction or authority of the FIA". The company's lawyer, Dominique Dumas, also cites the 2009 FIA case against former Renault boss Flavio Briatore as proof the FIA can't take action against third parties/non-licence holders.
Pirelli also stresses that there are no restrictions in Pirelli's agreement with the FIA about what car can be used for its permitted tests.
The FIA's lawyer however countered by claiming that Pirelli's submissions are 'confused and miss the point'. They say that Pirelli's contract is subject to the Sporting Regulations and therefore cannot be left out of this court case. The governing body states that a tyre test is quite a different matter when it involves a current competitor. This, according to the FIA, makes it an in-season test, which is clearly banned.
Outcome The hearing took somewhat longer than many expected. Starting at 9:30 it lasted nearly 7 hours in total. At the end, it was stated that a decision would be made public on Friday.