It has been an interesting first day of testimony at the International Tribunal as Mercedes and Pirelli state their cases in defense of a private test after the Spanish Grand Prix. The test included a 2013 chassis with both Mercedes drivers wearing plain, black helmets that the team says they regret but claim it had its reasons:
“We regret now the decision of our drivers to wear black helmets… we regret it and we apologise.
“We had our reasons – it was about the lack of bodyguard and security personnel. We do acknowledge that this part of the test aroused suspicions and it is regrettable.”
Mercedes claimed they did ask the FIA’s Charlie Whiting about the test but the FIA’s legal representative, Mark Howard, made it clear that race director Whiting is not in a position to approve such a test as that has to be ratified by the World Motor Sport Council.
“Whether or not Whiting consented, it is irrelevant, because testing in relation to Article 22 is a breach, unless it [a rule change] is granted by the World Motor Sport Council,” he said.
Brawn wasn’t completely convinced of the process saying:
“Charlie is the go-to reference for all the sporting matters, particularly when at a race track because there are numbers of issues that come up on a race weekend, and Charlie deals with them as race director.
The FIA pressed the Mercedes team boss on whether they benefitted from the test in a way that would have given the team an advantage. Brawn categorically denied that they did but when pressed, admitted that running a current chassis for any length of time is a benefit:
“I think that is unavoidable, and was a consideration taken into account when we had permission from the FIA to do the test. But it does need to be kept in proportion.”
Mercedes feel they’ve done nothing wrong but Red Bull and Ferrari have a differing opinion of the situation. In a bit of a twist, Red Bull’s team boss Christian Horner appeared at the hearing and it is unknown whether he will testify or is present as an observer.
Perhaps the most key evidence offered by Mercedes was the commets made by FIA legal advisor Sebastian Barnard when queried by FIA’s Charlie Whiting about the test being ran by Pirelli and not Mercedes:
‘Yes, we could take this position, it is not an undertaking from the competitor’.
Mercede also offered a defense that implicated Ferrari for their test after the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ferrari ran a 2011 chassis with their test driver Pedro de la Rosa. Article 22 states:
“Any track running time not part of an event undertaken by a competitor entered in the championship, using cars which conform substantially with the current Formula 1 technical regulations in addition to those from the previous or subsequent year.”
Mercedes suggested a parsing of words and argued that a 2011 chassis substantially conforms to the current chassis specification:
“Our position is if we are wrong on interpretation of what [article] 22 means and there was track running by us, such as we are in breach, it follows that Ferrari were also in breach.
“They ran their car on track and we argue their car followed substantially with the regulations… I put the marker down.
“It does not follow that if Ferrari runs on track a 2011 car, that that 2011 car does not confirm substantially to either the 2012 or 2013 regulations.
“There was only half [a second] difference between the 2011 cars and 2013 cars, showing the changes between 2011 and 2013 are minuscule in terms of performance.”
For Pirelli’s part in the private test, they offered a different testimony that was a more aggressive position draped in befuddlement:
“Pirelli cannot understand the disciplinary action,” said Pirelli’s lawyer Dominique Dumas. “Pirelli is only acting with the rights it was given by the FIA.
“We are unable to understand the disciplinary process. Ferrari and Red Bull have confirmed that they have no grievances against Pirelli, and it is also impossible to understand the procedure.
“The claims are unfounded because it has been recognised that Pirelli has not violated the code.”
As evidence of their position outside of FIA regulatory discipline, Pirelli offered the 2009 hearing against former Renault team boss Flavio Briatore for his role in the infamous “Crashgate” saga:
“In the framework of the case, FIA versus Flavio Briatore, an expert gave his opinion that the FIA, under French law, could have jurisdiction for sporting matters and statutes, but no jurisdiction or sanctioning power on people who have not accepted to comply with the regulations.”
The FIA feel that Pirelli are, to the contrary, bound to the regulations as Mark Howard claimed:
“We suggest it is clear that Pirelli are to be bound by the regulations – the F1 Sporting Regulations and the International Sporting Code,” he said.
Pirelli feel that the only restitution the FIA have in the matter against the Italian tire maker is in Civil court as they are not a competitor or FIA member.