A statement was issued by the FIA on Friday night which takes the story of the secret tyre tests conducted in May by Ferrari (with a two year old car) and Mercedes (with a current car) to the next level, in calling them to co-operate with a disciplinary inquiry.
Ferrari being drawn in is an interesting development, given that they were one of two teams, along with Red Bull, to protest against Mercedes over its test. On the face of it Ferrari’s test with a two year old car was within the rules.
At the same time Pirelli has issued a statement summarising the information it has already given to the FIA inquiry. It adds at the bottom that the revised tyres which will be tested in Montreal and then raced from Silverstone onwards are aimed solely at fixing the delamination problem and not at altering the number of pit stops, as was originally discussed.
The FIA statement says, “The FIA has asked Team Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 and Scuderia Ferrari Team, which have taken part in tyre tests in the 2013 season, to reply to a disciplinary inquiry in pursuance of the FIA Judicial and Disciplinary Rules.
“This follows the Stewards’ Report from the Monaco Grand Prix and represents supplementary information required by the FIA in the light of the replies received from Pirelli, who were asked for clarifications on Tuesday May 28th.”
At this stage the FIA is still establishing whether or not to launch an International Tribunal hearing into the matter.
Meanwhile Pirelli went onto the front foot on Friday with a live teleconference in which they were at pains to point out that they feel that they have done nothing to unsettle the sporting competition between teams to the advantage of one team by conducting the Mercedes test. They argued that the test was not secret, that all teams were given the chance to do the test and that they did not request a current car.
Their statement, issued during the conference spelled out a list of key points which they clearly wanted to get into the public domain and which formed the thrust of their case to the FIA submitted on 28th May, along with the email trail which they believe proves what they are saying.
Clearly the key issue and the one they are most at pains to avoid is that of favouring a particular team, which would be a violation of its contract with the FIA and of the Sporting Codes. If there is a sub-plot here involving an attempt to use this issue to force a switch to a different tyre supplier, such as Michelin, then this is the potential lever and Pirelli knows it.
Pirelli’s statement says that the tyre company, “Has not favoured any teams and, as always, acted professionally, with transparency and in absolute good faith.
“The tyres used were not from the current championship but belonged to a range of products still being developed in view of an eventual renewal of the supply contract. Further, none of the tests were carried for the purpose of enhancing specific cars, but only to test tyre solutions for future championships.
“The use of the car utilized by Mercedes, in particular, was the result of direct communication between FIA and the team itself. Pirelli did not ask in any way that a 2013 car be used: not of Mercedes nor Fia nor the teams which, during the year, were offered the opportunity of participating in tests for the development of tyres for 2014.
“The tyres that will be tested by the teams in the free practice at the Montreal Grand Prix have never been used by the teams before.”
Pirelli’s Paul Hembery was at pains to point out that the Mercedes test was focussed on 2014 tyre development and that the only tyres intended for 2013 use were the ones aimed at fixing the delamination issue, with the 2012 belt pack made of kevlar replacing the steel belt.
Pirelli adds as a final note that the new tyres to be raced from Silverstone onwards will not feature any changes aimed at reducing the number of pit stops,
“Pirelli, ready as it is to make changes at any moment, has made no modifications that effect the duration of the tyres and, consequently, on the number of pit stops during the race because of a lack of unanimity of the part of the teams,” it says.
There’s no doubt that the whole secret test situation has played badly both within F1 and the wider fan base because it highlights the lack of trust between competitors and gives rise to valid questions over whether unfair advantage has been gained.
Clearly the FIA has been part of the process and is under pressure to resolve it quickly. On the face of it the rules are clear: a team is not allowed to test a current car during a season.
If there are to be exemptions, then the circumstances in which they are permitted, need to be spelled out and quickly.