June 21, 2013

The end of Tyre-gate (we hope)

The International Tribunal delivered its verdict on Friday © Getty Images

The hearing is over, the verdict has been delivered and – as predicted here yesterday – both Mercedes and Pirelli got off with the sporting equivalent of some time spent on the naughty step, thinking about what it was they had done.

With luck, Pirelli will choose to stay on as F1 tyre supplier for 2014 and beyond, and the Mercedes board don’t need to worry about awkward meetings in Stuttgart over the wisdom of continuing in Formula One. In theory, life can go on unabated, and next week’s British Grand Prix will be a celebration of racing and motorsport, not a handbags-at-dawn tyre moan.

Given that the default position of a Formula One fan (nothing like tarring a diverse group of individuals with the same brush…) is to criticise the FIA for perceived favouritism – Ferrari International Assistance, anyone? – what I found most heartening about the process of the International Tribunal was its openness and transparency.

The small group of assembled journalists who travelled to Paris on Thursday were able to see and hear every stage of proceedings, and the FIA communications department did an excellent job answering our questions, making sure that we had everything we needed to be able to cover proceedings from an informed point of view.

But the FIA comms team is excellent, and the F1 press corps have come to expect nothing less from them.

Tyre-gate was the first time the FIA International Tribunal had been convened, a body set up by Jean Todt with the express intention of separating the FIA’s judiciary from its executive, much like Montesquieu’s system of checks and balances. Previous FIA presidents have used their position to assert power and influence, whereas Todt’s Tribunal exists to ensure that presidential power cannot be wielded as a weapon.

In the 20-page summary judgement currently available on the FIA website, the judging body laid out the arguments heard, the decisions taken, and the reasoning behind those decisions. What I found to be most interesting was the human aspect of the decisions taken, something that reflects the way in which the FIA has itself changed since Todt took the helm.

Over the course of the whole tyre test scandal no one has tried to deny that a test took place. The argument has been about the legality of that test, and – from a black and white point of view – the test did not pass muster. In theory, the Tribunal could have thrown the book at Mercedes and Pirelli.

Instead, however, the Tribunal acknowledged that life (and law) are often about the grey area. Rather than penalise for a broken rule, the Tribunal looked at why that rule was broken, whether procedures had been followed, and what the intentions of the interested parties had been at every stage. It is that human analysis that led to the punishments we have seen today.

According to the Tribunal, both Mercedes and Pirelli acted in good faith in the way they sought permission to test, and so did Charlie Whiting and the FIA legal department: “(1) The track testing, which is the subject of these proceedings, was not carried out by Pirelli and/or Mercedes with the intention that Mercedes should obtain any unfair sporting advantage. (2) Neither Pirelli nor Mercedes acted in bad faith at any material time. (3) Both Pirelli and Mercedes disclosed to FIA at least the essence of what they intended to do in relation to the test and attempted to obtain permission for it; and Mercedes had no reason to believe that approval had not been given. (4) The actions taken on behalf of FIA by Charlie Whiting (having taken advice from the legal department of FIA) were taken in good faith and with the intention of assisting the parties and consistent with sporting fairness,” the judgment read.


Posted by Dr. Aki Bola, Esq. on 23/06/2013

Tire-gate as an FIA trial may be over, but the F1 cars are still running these garbage tires at every race, and every other story is about useless Pirelli.

Posted by Darren on 22/06/2013

I was heartened by the outcome of this first test of the tribunal. This case was certainly not black and white. The sport is set up with so many contradictions and competing interests that it was in desperate need of an independent body to adjudicate situations like this.

Great job sharing your views and analysis of the case Kate. Being able to add a new and trusted source to get my F1 fix is a nice surprise. I look forward to your next post.

Posted by B@rney on 22/06/2013

The "end" of tyre-gate?

There yet remains the unanswered question of whether Mercedes benefited from that 1000 km of testing (hint: of course they did!). And _if_ they did, how does that affect the balance of competition? Or more directly, will Mercedes potentially receive a larger share of the pool of WCC prize money because of it?

Punishment or no, good faith or no, Mercedes were permitted 1000 km of in-season testing that no other team were allowed. It doesn't matter whether they tested on 2014-spec tyres or shopping trolley casters, unless they are complete imbeciles, they must have learned SOMEthing, whether about the engine or the KERS or the on-board systems or the drivers, or even just the on-board drinks system. And as a consequence, every WCC point Mercedes score(d) from Monaco onwards is tainted. And at season's end, every team who come worse than they have a legitimate claim to a share of the purse awarded to Mercedes.

Posted by Ian Billings on 22/06/2013

Mercedes and Ross Brawn were found GUILTY on both counts.

Only backroom dealings saw the punishment ridiculously non-existant.

Fabulous celebrating a team and principal breaking the rules and getting away with it.

An example to follow? NOT, imho.

Posted by Sid on 22/06/2013

Mark, you know nothing about F1 do you? A ban from the YDT is as good as a letoff. If the FIA had thought Merc were really guilty, a sanction would have been along the lines of 2-3 race bans/stripping their constructor championship points. Mercedes, have in more ways than one, "gotten off"

Posted by Laurie on 22/06/2013

The only punishment here is for the young drivers,,, who had nothing with the whole thing. One race ban should have been given

Posted by Sean on 22/06/2013

Mark, I think you need to calm down.

At no point did Kate state that the circumstances surrounding the events in question precluded the application of the rules.

A reprimand to both parties, and (effectively an acceptance by the FIA of a concession offered by MB) a skipped test fulfills the mandate that ensure the ongoing application of the rules.

What needs to occur now is the FIA needs to (at least to reassure the public) review and clarify the process, and chain of authority by which decisions are undertaken that may affect the sport.

Posted by Flavio Parigi on 21/06/2013

Kate, I want that you answer to a very simple question Why Mercedes wait untill the day they are in the court to say that Fia autorize them?

Posted by Cayman fan on 21/06/2013

I'd say she was 100% right:
Mercedes has to pay a small fee and skip a barely useful test and a reprimand is meaningless. So effectively Mercedes have got off no matter what determination was made about guilt.

Great insight Kate! Thanks for the continued good work.

Posted by Mark on 21/06/2013

You were 100% wrong yesterday. Here is what you said yesterday:

"Given that, how can Mercedes be punished for breaking a rule when it is patently clear that they took every step they thought necessary to ensure legality? Mercedes would not have gone ahead with the test had they been given the slightest indication from the FIA of trouble.
It’s a pretty convincing argument…"

Mercedes were found GUILTY and PUNISHED so you were 100% wrong!

Now, you can say the punishment was a slap on the wrist, but they were found GUILTY and they were PUNISHED and those are absolute FACTS.

As with any trial, many times the judge and/or jury will grant leniency due to mitigation and in this case the punishment of having the stigma of being found GUILTY of breachiing the rules and being banned from a similar test fits the crime.

Posted by Mark on 21/06/2013

What do you mean as predicted here yesterday?

You said Mercedes would "get-off" and they were found GUILTY so you were 100% WRONG!


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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'. Kate Walker