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What was behind Mercedes and Pirelli secret F1 tyre test?
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Posted By: James Allen  |  27 May 2013   |  10:01 am GMT  |  464 comments

The F1 paddock in Monaco was in ferment on Sunday over the story of Mercedes’ secret Pirelli tyre test in Barcelona the week following the recent Grand Prix.

Mercedes and Pirelli say that they got approval from the FIA for the test. The FIA disputes some aspects of this, while Ferrari and Red Bull launched a protest and on Sunday morning were seeking allies among other teams. But some bad blood over previous protests in which those teams did not support others meant that some other teams did not join them, despite wanting clarification too.

So what is this all about? Did the FIA agree to a test of more than 100km with a 2013 car and did Mercedes benefit in a way that will make them more competitive this season? And what is the likely outcome? Here is our analysis after extensive discussions around the Monaco paddock with leading figures on both sides of the row.


What is the nub of the issue?

The FIA F1 Sporting Regulations clearly state that teams are not allowed to test current F1 cars during the season, except for straight line aerodynamic tests and the Young Drivers test. They are allowed to run cars that are two years old or more.

In Pirelli’s agreement with the FIA they can call for a team to supply them with a car for testing, especially where there are urgent question marks over safety. After the recent spate of tyre failures – the first being Mercedes’ spectacular failure with Lewis Hamilton which caused him to take a five place grid penalty in Bahrain as it broke his gearbox – there was a need to test. Ferrari conducted a ‘secret’ 500km test with a 2011 car before the Spanish Grand Prix, while Mercedes ran for three days (15th-17th May) at Barcelona after the other teams had packed up and left.

The issues here are: 1. Why was there no transparency? 2. Why did Mercedes use a 2013 car for an extended test? 3. Did Mercedes gain any competitive advantage for this year’s championship by doing this? 4. What exactly did the FIA sign off on and how much of their plans for this test did Pirelli and Mercedes share with the FIA?
The Stewards in Monaco, which included Tom Kristensen as driver steward, heard from Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari on Sunday evening and filed a report for a competent body such as an FIA special tribunal to consider.

The transparency issue was answered by Pirelli. They say that in the current climate, if they openly discussed such a test beforehand it would be engulfed in politics and discussion and would never take place. So they preferred, along with the FIA and willing teams, to quietly do the test to get the data they need and then do the talking afterwards.

The FIA says it was not aware that Mercedes would use a current car for this amount of running; it signed up for 100kms only. It was also not aware it would be conducted by its current race drivers and states that its approval was conditional upon the test being run by Pirelli, not the team. (NB- Last year Pirelli used a two year old Renault with Jaime Alguersuari driving, engineered by the current Lotus race engineer Mark Slade.)

Why Mercedes? And did they get any advantage from the test for this year?
When I spoke to Pirelli’s Paul Hembery about this he said that he wrote to all teams last year inviting them to make themselves available for this kind of work. Some said yes and others said no. After the failures in Bahrain emails went around and Pirelli was granted the opportunity to test. The tests were set up with Ferrari and Mercedes, although neither knew about the other’s test. Ferrari ran a 2011 car with Pedro de la Rosa at the wheel.

Mercedes is known to be hardest on its tyres with peak temperatures some 20 degrees above what other teams have been experiencing and it was the victim of the Hamilton failure in Bahrain. The tyres tested in Spain were a mixture of development products; some solutions for Montreal addressing the delamination problems, some ideas for 2014.

Pirelli says that they did not tell Mercedes what tyres they were testing, so they had no reference points. However some rival teams told this website that they know that Mercedes made changes in their approach to the tyres this weekend in Monaco, in areas like the suspension, for example, which showed that they had learned from the 1,000kms test.

Although Monaco would not really show up gains very clearly, as it is the most gentle track of the season on tyres and Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg set a very slow pace in the race to manage the tyres, we are likely to be able to see in Canada and especially Silverstone how much Mercedes learned from the test – equivalent to more than three Grand Prix distances – from how much their tyre wear in races has improved as a result.

What happens next?
The FIA will convene a tribunal to consider the Stewards’ report from Monaco and assess whether a breach of Article 22.4 h of the FIA F1 Sporting Regulations has taken place. They will hear from Pirelli and from the FIA’s Charlie Whiting, who gave Mercedes permission to test, about exactly what he permitted them to do. If a breach of the Sporting Regulations is found to have taken place there is a tariff of penalties available but Rosberg will not be stripped of his Monaco win.

Mercedes and Pirelli are likely to argue that only a 2013 car would do for this test because they needed to replicate the conditions that led to Hamilton’s failure in Bahrain and subsequent failures (mainly on the left rear tyre) to address the problem for the new products from Montreal onwards.

What is the bigger picture here?
Many things are up in the air in F1 at the moment; there is no Concorde Agreement six months after the last one expired, there is dissent over the new 2014 hybrid engines and their significantly higher costs and there are some mixed views to say the least about commercial rights holder CVC wanting to float the sport on the Stock Market – so the FIA, Bernie Ecclestone and the 11 teams are very far from aligned at the moment and there is turmoil behind the scenes.

In this context, Pirelli is fed up with the failure of the sport and the teams to agree a new contract for 2014 and for being painted as the problem. They argue that the dysfunctional relationship between the teams and lack of trust between them over testing means that they are being put in an impossible situation by being asked to produce safe racing tyres which also provide a certain amount of ‘strategy’ in the racing, but without being able to test them on a race track. Previous tyre suppliers in F1, like Bridgestone did hundreds of thousands of miles of testing.

Their recent pronouncements have shown that Pirelli are fed up with being the whipping boy and are getting tougher in their stance; on Thursday Hembery said that Pirelli might not be in F1 next year if the teams, Ecclestone and the FIA don’t get their act together. That would put F1 in turmoil as it would be difficult for a new supplier to come in and tool up to produce F1 tyres at short notice in time for February testing, especially if they too have no opportunity to test the products on a race track.

Complicating matters further is the fact that the 2014 cars will make very different demands on the tyres due to new aerodynamic rules and totally different power delivery from the new hybrid engine and drivetrain units. They will have much higher torque, for example.

Pirelli clearly made a mistake by being more “aggressive” with the 2013 tyres despite having limited opportunity to test them beforehand due to the restrictions and it has suffered some reputational damage as a result. But now the matter has become intensely political and is about far more than whether the races are two stops, three stops or four stops.

This issue is not about testing, it’s about F1’s dysfunctionality at this moment.

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1

Hi James,

Can merc really use the safety issue as a reason to use this year’s car? They stated that they are testing spec not currently in use and presumably not to be used this year (or else there would definetely be an advantage for merc) so this argument would be null.

2

It’s maybe the only one that would wash, but Pirelli says the use of a 2013 car was not something they requested, rather that it was the result of communication between the FIA and Mercedes themselves

3

whilst awaiting for some decisions and some further details re the tests the definitive answer can be distilled, as james has said, into a simple result.

the rules state that no test can be carried out with a 2013 car and mercedes drivers.

both of these conditions were not met. mercedes should therefore attract a severe penalty and pirelli should not escape either as they were complicit in facilitating this illegal event.

unless there is an unknown technical legality that gets mercedes off the hook then it should be rather simple to finalise this matter and move on to the next scandal. if the FIA don’t act then it becomes an even bigger joke…..on us as supporters of F1.

4

James I agree with you regarding the state of F1 at the moment but if you disregard the nonsense and take a realistic approach you can still enjoy it anyway. One of the first questions I asked myself about the tyre nonsense was why would Pirelli favour Mercedes in the first place and if they did, what did they have to gain. Anyway there was no secret test, they just didn’t broadcast it. If there was an FIA representative present as was suggested by Mercedes then it was done with the full knowledge of the FIA and therefore above board.

The FIA representative is the legal approval and if there was an issue with cars, drivers or anything else it was up to him to step in. But because there was no real advantage to be gained by MB and the information gained by Pirelli would add to the overall show in a more meaningful and relevant way there was no objection raised during the test. Quite right too.

5

Its always difficult with all the politics surrounding F1 to actually know what is going on here – but – Ferarri did a ‘secret test’ as well, but with an older car and test driver. Mercedes and Pirelli both say that they could not change the car setup during the test. They may well have gained some advantage, by setting up the car in a different way or with a new part to start with -plus both drivers, especially Lewis would have benefited from time in the car, however, the issue here is political gamesmanship, I believe. It has even been suggested that Ross Brawn has been ‘set up’ to take the fall in order to pave the way for Paddy Lowe to slot in and there may even be some truth in that.

Personally, I believe that Mercedes took advantage of both Pirelli’s position and subterfuge as well as the FIA’s incompetence.

It’s playground politics games that got them the test – the other teams are making a bigger deal of it than it really is.

As to the outcome, who knows, its a farce at the mo and it deterring from the racing action that the real fans want to see. I think that there is blame to be apportioned on all sides in reality and I hope that Mercedes do not become a scape goat in this.

6

What I have read so far about, suggests,that Mercedes could probably not have had great help from the tests, apparently these tests could have been conducted the same way, as they do when they launch the car, i.e. keeping all the telemetry or what ever recording equipment they have off, James do you know if this could have been/or is the case?

7

James, I have 2 questions. Would appreciate your views.

1. What is the situation with race drivers participating in a test outside race weekends and FIA authorised events. Will they have any obligations in their super licencing agreement not drive the current season’s car outside these FIA oked events?

2. What key obligations would drivers with Superlicence have in terms of FIA compliance for racing, testing, any promo stuff etc?

Thanks for a nice perspective on the situation. It certainly outlines how Pirelli is caughtup in the middle. They should have been more vocal in backing their tyre choices as these are mandated by FIA. Plus, I see a very low key role from FIA on this testing matter and on these volatile tyre situation as well. Are they waiting for these issues to go away as the season goes on?

8

The obligation is carried in the Sporting Regs, not to test a current F1 car. Onus is on the teams really.

The superlicence question is a good one, as is the question of what engines were used.

9

But James Pirelli had tested a 2011 car with Ferrari and said it wasn’t representative enough. Therefore it makes perfect sense to test as they did with FIA approval. How specific that approval was seems to have been left to a grey area in the proceedings but neither MB or Pirelli is stupid enough to blatantly flaunt the regulations to give one of them an unfair advantage other that which the test was set up to do. The very idea is ridiculous IMHO. The Mercedes was the perfect car for the test because of the way it eats the tyres and any improvements made from the test will help their rivals more because of that. This is especially true when you consider the amount of stops in current races. Mercedes might be able to go a bit longer in future but so will everbody else and a lot of them are closer to their pit stop targets. It would be absolutely impossible for Mercedes to fix the issues with their car in those conditions. Before the test was known the favourites for Monaco were MB but there’s nothing to suggest that tyres wont be a problem on other tracks. If one test is all it took to fix the Merc then it would have been done long ago. I dont see any change to the grid hierarchy going forward.

10

thanks james….details eagerly awaited. the other point of contention is brawn’s statement that, ‘we didn’t test any upgrades’? so who is there, from an independent source, to validate that?

that ranks alongside ‘the dog ate my homework’.

11

Five Words – Ross Brawn Wise Old Owl

12

I don’t see how people can think that Mercedes gained anything from this test – if they only supplied the car as it was setup in Spain ( very poorly I might add ) and then weren’t actually allowed to tweak, adjust anything or run new parts then they can’t benefit – its not like they were testing any new parts or ideas and as far as I know the test was run by Pirelli with all data from the sensors going straight to Pirelli – Mercedes never got to see the data so from what I see they gained nothing except giving their drivers some extra mileage in Spain. If anything they should be praised for being the only team that has actually gone to some effort to help Pirelli in developing a tyre for 2014. We continuously bitch about how bad the tyres are this year and something should be done about it but when when efforts are made to do just this we bitch about it some more?

13

The only thing that should be ditched is KERS IMHO. I think it’s not necessary and there’s more than enough strategy in the tyres to keep overtaking at a decent level. I like the job Pirelli is doing,well done to them.

14

They do need to bring some testing back, if only they could agree.

Maybe the FIA should allow all but the top four teams in the championship to test after GPs throughout the year? Say, Barcelona, Nürburgring and Monza

That could well spice up the championship, they could even make the teams do tyre testing for Pirelli if required as a condition.

15

what really upsets me is that we, the enthusiasts/dedicated followers of F1 will never get to hear all the details of what actually happened, how the tests were carried out and all the other questions that are being asked.

james, you can see by the level of interest and the questions put forward, just how much we all wish to be informed. hopefully your investigative powers and all your ‘insiders’ could help us out here. you do a great job already but i am sure that we would all like you to dig deeper…on our behalf.

16

We will get to the bottom of it

17

“…on Thursday Hembery said that Pirelli might not be in F1 next year if…”

As I have repeatedly predicted will happen.

Frankly, if *I were a supplier in such a situation I would have already made that decision. The situation is unfairly hurting their reputation, costing them lots of money, and tons of agro.

For me (as Pirelli)it’d be AMF and don’t let the door hit you in the…

18

One the one hand I do have some sympathy for the position Pirelli are in, trying to satisfy all the different teams plus the FAI without the benefit of any proper tyre testing. It’s a near impossible task.

On the other hand Pirelli have made numerous noises suggesting that they see their job this year as stopping Red Bull from winning, and that’s a serious breach of trust from the supposedly neutral tyre supplier. But that goes to the serious dysfunction within F1 which Allen mentioned.

It seems that the F1 authorities have outsourced a lot of responsibility to Pirelli which really does not belong with them. For instance setting race strategy for the teams SHOULD NOT be in Pirelli’s job description. If the FAI want two, three, or more pit stops per race then the FAI should write that into the regs, not have a private word with Pirelli behind the scenes asking them to take care it.

Likewise if the FIA do not want Red Bull to win this season (and of course they don’t) then the FIA can – and have – made various rule changes to try to get their desired outcome. But again they should NOT be pressuring the supposedly neutral tyre maker to take on the role of king-maker. (And king deposer)

19

I hope the FIA makes them start from the back of the grid every race for the rest of the year and kicks them out of qualy.

20

And they could send them to bed early and not let them have jam on their bread for a whole month 🙂

21

No Jam …… for a month ……..TIM you sadastic Bad man! Im sure the top teams will get a bit of testing and we can all play nice until next months technical catastrophy. Im not sure what it will be but have no doubt the villian will be Christian Horner in most posters eyes. In fact if catherham had ramjets attached to their car at the next race it would be Christian Horners fault either for helping them or far complaining about it. A side story would be the amazing FA dodging the supersonic catherham due to his amazing skill while the Redbulls avoided it mearly due to their cars, it couldnt catch the mercs due to the extra speed they gained during the barca testing.

22

James do you feel that the FIA court ruling could make Pirelli leave F1, due to the politics involved. As FIA did send a letter out ruling no 1000KM Testing and any other testing (private)for tyre purposes should be agreed with everyone.

Do you strongly feel that Pirelli did this test due to Mercedes had the worst de-lamination? but in doing so, Pirelli should have requested the rest of the teams and FIA to do so.

One final tired related question,,,,

Are the any other tyre companies on stand by if Pirelli decide to leave or if FIA do not grant them an extended contract?

Thanks James.

23

Depends whether they have eg Michelin lined up

I suspect not. Pirelli is close to a new deal

24

What input is FIA president John Todt having into all these issues? He seems totally invisible recently. At least Max Mosley, love him or hate him, was actively involved. Who is actually responsible at the FIA for agreeing a new contact with Pirelli?

My sympathy is with Pirelli on these issues. I think they are doing a good job, under very difficult circumstances. That the FIA and the teams expect Pirelli to be able to produce safe tyres, without any testing with current cars, seems crazy to me. Its up to the FIA and the teams to agree how this can be achieved.

25

Does anyone know what engines Mercedes used for the test. Will they come out of their allocated 8 engines for the year?

26

Poor Lewis.

1st year at Mclaren – Spygate.

1st year at Merc – Testgate.

27

It would be so funny if we got to Canada and Merc were as bad as ever

28

It could be so, just to hide what they have learned on the test, not bringing any attention now.

Then, they could apply that knowledge and nobody understand have they themself solved 3 year’s issue or that test had helped.

29

I think you may have, unwittingly, given yourself away with this comment. The real issue for you isn’t the alleged cheating etc.

It’s the fear that Mercedes might have cracked their tyre wear issues and consequently Red Bull won’t be able to keep up. Personally, I doubt you have much to worry about. Mercedes have not been able to resolve their problems over the course of several seasons- 3 days is hardly likely to provide a magic fix.

30

3 extra days isn’t going to hurt though is it?

31

Since I can’t reply to your comment in the other little thread, I’ll reply here. I assume you’re the same “Me”.

You suggested that I “look at the times” from previous years. I did just that, and they are very close (despite a myriad of potential factors that could affect the comparison – weather, types of rubber laid down from support races, etc); however, the 2013 tires have heavy steel belts, whereas the 2012 and older tires had kevlar belts. They’re going as fast now on the heavy tires as they were with the light tires. That’s pretty significant, and shows the leap in performance that the 2013 cars have.

32

No I haven’t given anything away, I’m not a redbull fan, a vettel fan or a fan of any team. I do have a soft spot for the force India though!! Loads of people just hate and I mean hate Redbull Vettel and Christian Horner for no reason other than they win. Case in point Ferrari and red bull complain about testing and people complain about Horner without a word to be said about Ferrari. I would love Nico Rosberg to win the world title next year, I think he is the perfect driver for Merc and hopefully he will. I just think it would be funny if merc were just as slow because it would make all the fuss about this seem silly, although that dosent make it right to break the rules, if rules were broken as the FIA claim

33

I apologise unreservedly for my comment, it was a case of mistaken identity. There is another poster who has a similar user name to yours who I got mixed up with you.

However, I would like to say I don’t hate Red Bull. I don’t much care for Mr Horner as he comes across, to me at least, as being very smug. So I always enjoy it when they have a problem – but I certainly don’t hate them or anyone else in F1.

Once again sorry for my mistake. 🙂

34

James, another point about this is that Pirelli are pushing the FIA for an agreement for 2014 so they have time to develop the tires yet they already say they are testing tires for 2014.

Don’t these two statements contradict each other.

35

They say that they have to do as much work as they can now otherwise they won’t have time if and when the deal ever gets signed off

The problem is they don’t know what a 2014 car vehicle dynamics will be like yet

36

sorry to double dip james but could you look into the minutiae of this actual test. i am sure that we would all like to know some of the details, for example…

1 did mercedes have all the backroom monitors hard at work studying the cars ‘vital signs’?

2 did mercedes log all the data for pirelli as well as themselves?

3 did mercedes allow the drivers to debrief for themselves and pirelli?

4 did mercedes make any changes to the set ups at the direction of pirelli and would that data be logged and kept by mercedes for future reference?

obviously there are many more questions that need to be answered if we are to fully understand whether or not mercedes gaine and benefits not shared between teams.

it does seem to be all too pat for my liking. why did pirelli decide to go with mercedes who were arguably the least able of the teams to get satisfactory results from the current tyres?

37

Go Pirelli. I love the current races. We even saw quite a lot of passing at Monaco this year – what’s not to like?

Any phooey to people like Red Bull who say they’re only driving at 70% because of the tyres – they still couldn’t catch Rosberg at Monaco.

38

Design the 2014 tires to last the race distance. Or race weekend if you like.

39

A real shame for Merc!

Looks like they wanted to solve their tyre issues (already lasted 3 years) at all cost, even breaking the sporting rules. New Merc management knows what to do, I don’t think Norbert H would go for that …

Good that Schumacher won 2012’s Monaco qualifying fair and square.

40

I can’t see why Pirelli would bother continuing. I remember when they came in Martin Brundle said they could be on a hiding to nothing as they were asked to produce high wear tyres to spice up the racing, and high wear tyres is bad PR for their core business.

To be fair, I think Pirelli have done exactly what is asked of them, yet have recieved all the criticism with no opportunity to test or change compounds.

Now they are dragged into this controversy, I just can’t see what they would gain from it. From Monaco it is too hard to tell if Merc gained any advantage, but their form there was largely expected even after qualifying at Spain.

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