Tomorrow (Thursday June 20) at 9-30am local time Ross Brawn of Mercedes and Paul Hembery of Pirelli will appear before the first ever FIA International Tribunal in Paris.
This is the conclusion of a process started by Red Bull and Ferrari when they protested Mercedes’ 1,000 km test at Barcelona in the week following the Spanish Grand Prix.
The FIA Sporting Regulations explicitly prohibit the testing of current cars once the F1 season has started.
The hearing is set to last into the early afternoon and the FIA has indicated that a judgement will be made public as soon as possible, ideally on the same day.
There is a lot at stake. If Mercedes is found to have breached the FIA Sporting Regulations by testing a 2013 car, then it’s likely that veteran team boss Ross Brawn could be made to fall on his sword. He has shouldered full responsibility for the test, while team chairman Niki Lauda has distanced himself from it, telling German media he only knew about it once it had started.
From Mercedes’ point of view the situation is quite serious as they have put ‘sporting integrity’ at the heart of the agenda from their side over this issue.
They claim that the FIA’s Charlie Whiting gave them permission to run a 2013 car. The FIA contends that it did not give permission for the test to take place as they believe it did, rather for a limited distance Pirelli-managed test only. Mercedes have emails and they say that the test was managed by Pirelli.
The question of why Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg wore unmarked helmets needs to be explained, as it has given rise to the suggestion that the test was ‘secret’. This positioning is unhelpful for Mercedes and Pirelli as one of the FIA’s stipulations is that all the other teams were informed, which does not appear to have happened.
Pirelli says that it approached the teams in 2012 asking for help with testing, so they did offer the same chance to everyone.
A test with a 2011 Ferrari was also conducted but this doesn’t violate the Sporting Regulations, while there have been suggestions that further tests were lined up with Red Bull and McLaren, but as they never happened we will never know what car might have been used.
Pirelli is in a slightly different position from Mercedes. They question the procedure in place with this hearing; as they are not a competitor they cannot see why they have been called to appear before the IT. They already disclosed everything they know plus all email correspondence regarding the test.
They have a contract wit the FIA which allows them to ask teams to supply cars for 1,000lm tests. Somewhere in the gap between that document, the email permissions from Whiting and the Sporting Regulations lies the answer the IT must establish.
If Pirelli are criticised by the IT, there could be some interesting legal repercussions, while if they are not, they may seek explanations and possibly an apology for being dragged into the Tribunal.
What penalties could be applied? Other teams are calling for a sporting penalty for Mercedes – a points deduction for example, as a financial penalty would serve only to establish the going financial rate for doing a test with a current car.
There have been rumours that both Mercedes and Pirelli may withdraw from the sport if the judgement goes against them. Whether there is any truth to that we would only find out if and when it happens.
Pirelli has contracts in place for next season with FOM and with most, but not all of the teams and not yet with the FIA.
The FIA International Tribunal was set up in 2011 by Jean Todt as a way to distance the president’s office from the disciplinary process of the FIA. Under his predecessor Max Mosley, instances like the Flavio Briatore Crashgate hearing were seen to position Mosley as both judge and jury.
Now the FIA President brings the prosecution, but the statutes say that he must stay out of the process from there, leaving it to the legally qualified members of the IT.