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Published on May 27th, 2013 | by F_Zanier


TOP’s Guide to The Pirelli-Mercedes Test Row

So, as if there wasn’t already enough tension between FIA, Pirelli, and some of the F1 teams, the Monaco weekend dropped the biggest bomb in modern F1 since the McLaren-Ferrari spy-story: a team, namely Mercedes, conducting an illegal test with the help of Formula One’s official tyre supplier, Pirelli.
A lot has been said on the Pirelli-Mercedes test row in the last 24 hours, so here is a quick recap to better understand the situation.

The fact: right after the Spanish GP (from May 15 to May 17), Mercedes and Pirelli conducted a three day test in Barcelona to help the Italian company in evaluating development rubber. The 1000 km test was carried out using Mercedes’ 2013 car and saw use of prototype 2014 tyres, together with limited running of the tweaked 2013 rubber that Pirelli plans to use from Canada onwards.
Pirelli insists that as the team didn’t know what kind of specs they were using, they will have no advantage whatsoever from this “secret test”. The Italian tyre manufacturer and Mercedes also insist that FIA had been informed and had given the parties the green light to go on with their plans.

New parts: Mercedes arrived in Monaco with a revised rear-end of the car: the carbon skin that covers the gearbox case and hosts the rear wishbones mounting points was made stiffer, hoping to improve the tyre wear situation. Did Mercedes use that Barcelona running to test new bits? Hard to know for sure.

The Protest:  Ferrari and Red Bull lodged a protest, based on the fact that according to their understanding of the rules no testing at all is allowed with current F1 cars or with cars from the previous season.

The Rules: Actually things appear even easier in the F1 Sporting Regulations: the testing matter is ruled by Art.22, which states that no testing is allowed “Between the start of a ten day period which precedes the start of the first Event of the Championship and 31 December of the same year”. Only exceptions are 8 promotional runnings of 100 kms each, to be completed with special show tyres, a three-day young driver test, 4 single days of aerodynamic straight line testing, and one day of running on a non-championship track if a team appoints a new driver with no previous F1 experience. The Mercedes-Pirelli test doesn’t fit in any of these definitions.

The contract: from our understanding, the FIA-Pirelli Tyre Supply Agreement covers tyre testing much more specifically than the Sporting Rules, thus creating an ideal situation to spark controversy. According to reports and quotes to the press from the involved parties, the contract states that in spite of the aforementioned testing ban each team can ask Pirelli (or vice versa) to stage a 1000 km test, as far as they do it with a car that is at least three years old.

Ferrari: Questioned on the test, Pirelli Motorsport director Paul Hembery said “we’ve done it before with another team”. Investigations quickly led to Ferrari, that is said to have tested in Barcelona too in the period between Bahrain and the Spanish GP. Anyway, everybody seem to agree that Ferrari conducted that test with a 2011 car, so in compliance with the interpretation of the rule they share with Red Bull Racing. Maranello didn’t confirm such test actually happened.

FIA: After being silent for a while, a few hours after the Monaco GP the FIA issued a statement that did cast a new light on the matter: the International Federation reported that at the beginning of May Pirelli asked if any testing was permitted using current F1 cars. The FIA answered that per the supply contract Pirelli had the right to carry out 1000 kms of running with any team they wanted, but that the use of a 2013 spec car would have been allowed only if such vehicle was run directly by the Pirelli test team, with no intervention from the F1 outfit apart from providing the car itself and the driver. The FIA added that after receiving this reply, neither Pirelli nor Mercedes issued any further communication to confirm that the test was going to take place or that other teams had been made aware of the opportunity.

So, that’s what all the fuss is about. In the statement  the FIA also referred to the possibility of taking the matter in front of the International Tribunal, a judging body that won’t be able to overturn the result of the Monte Carlo race but could apply heavy sanctions for the events to come. But did that test really play any role in leading Mercedes to yesterday’s winning form in Monaco? Christian Horner hinted at it after the race, and Toto Wolff reacted calling him a bad loser. If Pirelli are true when they speak about the tyre specs used in the Barcelona secret test, it’s very unlikely that data gathered there by Mercedes made a difference in the Principality.
The whole paddock knows that no other track in the F1 calendar is as gentle on tyres as Monaco: the lack of long, hi-speed corners and a very worn circuit surface due to everyday’s traffic are responsible for that, making it the ideal venue for a car like the W04 to shine. Horner knows that too, but he’s a clever man and he’s trying to use the rivals’ win against them, making the most of it to prove his point with the public opinion.

Sadly, the only point really proved by what happened is that F1 rulers left an important topic like private testing in an unclear limbo, with Sporting Regulation saying one thing and a private contract stating a different one and actually overriding the rules. Does that make sense?

Mercedes tried to make the most of the confusion, and rumors are already revolving around a possible one-race ban for Canada. Anyway, what happened could bring even more serious trouble to Pirelli. It’s hard not to believe that taking such a strong position on a matter that involves the championship’s official tyre supplier, the FIA are distancing themselves from the Italian company, and that isn’t a good signal considering that the new supply contract hasn’t been signed yet. After being praised for the last two years for turning F1 in an entertaining show again, now Pirelli are facing the other side of the coin. Things change quickly when living in the fast lane…

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About the Author

In love with racing since I was a kid, from 2004 on I was lucky enough to make it my job. A motorsport reporter for Italian magazines (SportAutoMoto, Paddock) and websites, I’ve also experienced working on the other side of the fence, mainly as Series Coordinator and PR Manager for the Auto GP World Series (2010-2012) and as Event Coordinator for the Gulf 12 Hours in Yas Marina Circuit.

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