What is the International Tribunal?
During the 2010 season, the FIA adopted a new judicial system which includes an International Tribunal [IT]. The IT ‘applies and interprets the present Rules with the aim of enforcing the Statutes and Regulations of the FIA, including the International Sporting Code [ISC]’. The IT operates independently from the governing body and their decisions can be appealed through the International Court of Appeal. The IT consists of 12 members, most of whom are experienced lawyers with a history in motor-racing. The tribunal will be held at the Place de la Concorde in Paris on Thursday. It is the first major high profile case to be heard by the IT. Previous cases, such as the Spygate scandal, were ruled on by the World Motor Sport Council.
Why is there an International Tribunal?
An official FIA statement reads “On 5 June 2013, further to protests lodged during the 2013 Monaco GP by Red Bull Racing and Ferrari Scuderia Team against cars n°9 and 10 (Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team) for having conducted with Pirelli a three day tyre testing using a 2013 car on 15, 16 and 17 May in Barcelona, the President of the FIA, acting as the FIA Prosecuting Body, sent to the President of the International Tribunal a notification of charges against Pirelli and a notification of charges against Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team. On 5 June 2013, Pirelli and Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team have been convened by the President of the International Tribunal to appear before a judging panel of the International Tribunal.”
The primary issue is not with the fact that Mercedes conducted a Pirelli-run test, but that three days of running took place in a 2013 car. Sporting regulations claim that testing is not permitted 'in a car which conforms substantially with the current regulations'. Rivals claim Mercedes's test is against sporting regulations, irrespective of any agreement that exists with Pirelli. Mercedes claimed they had authority from the FIA – with several sources claiming this is an email from race director Charlie Whiting – while other teams, as well as an FIA statement, dispute this matter. Ferrari also conducted a tyre test for Pirelli between the Bahrain and Spanish Grand Prix, but they used their 2011 car and therefore have been cleared of any wrong doing.
Who is saying what?
Mercedes and Pirelli have been increasingly tight-lipped since the revelations came to light on the morning of the Monaco Grand Prix. “There are some facts that will become apparent in the tribunal that I don't believe Red Bull has access too, and then things will become clearer,” Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn said in Canada. “I can say that the decision was based in no way on the track performance that we had, I think everyone in Formula 1 is concerned about the delamination we're seeing so I think that's a worthy objective. But certainly [it had] nothing to do with the performance of the car because nothing was aimed at addressing that.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner expressed his disappointment with the lack of transparency involved in the test, something which Brawn contests. “There's been an unfortunate branding of a 'secret' test - it was a private test, it wasn't a secret test,” added Brawn. “If anyone believes you can go to Barcelona and do three days of testing, or 1000km of testing, and not have anyone become aware of it is naive. So it was a private test, not a secret test.” Monaco winner Nico Rosberg, who took part in the test alongside Lewis Hamilton, claims that “it was a full on Pirelli test - they dictate what we do. We have no say whatsoever - they say you are doing that, that, that and that and the engineers that they have run our programme. So it is not for us to learn anything or to decide on anything that we do.” Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery says that “there are a lot of things being said that aren't quite correct and we would like the opportunity to explain our situation in particular and we will participate with willingness.”
Horner believes that Mercedes is clearly in breach of the sporting regulations. “We believe it is the responsibility of the entrant to comply with the regulations, so when it came to light that a test with the current car had taken place, our interpretation of the rules was that that was in clear breach of them,” he said in Canada. “It is really an issue between the team and the FIA and obviously Pirelli have asked several teams to test - ourselves included - but we have declined to do so as we felt it wasn't in line with the regulations, certainly with the current car. So that is the situation, it has gone to the tribunal and we trust the FIA to make the appropriate decision regarding it.”
Ferrari has generally kept a lower profile with regards to the IT than Red Bull, but last week President Luca di Montezemolo said he has faith with the system. “Let's hope Formula 1 can maintain its professionalism and we have faith that those who attempt to circumvent the regulations are pursued and prosecuted, or rather more prosecuted than pursued,” he said.
What can the International Tribunal do?
If the IT finds there has been a breach of rules, a variety of penalties can be handed to Mercedes. For Pirelli, it is less clear as unlike Mercedes they are not a competitor. If Mercedes is found guilty of the charges, the IT can punish the team according to the ISC. This means that penalties can range from reprimands, to fines, exclusion or even disqualification.
“For the FIA Formula One World Championship, a penalty consisting of the withdrawal of points over the whole of the Championship may be imposed,” the FIA regulations state. “The International Tribunal may also directly impose bans on taking part or exercising a role, directly or indirectly, in events, meetings or championships organised directly or indirectly on behalf of or by the FIA, or subject to the regulations and decisions of the FIA.”
A decision from the IT will be published as soon as possible following the hearing, which is likely to be on the same day (Thursday).
What is the potential fallout?
Reaction from the IT’s decision will obviously depend on whether or not they deem Mercedes to have transgressed and what punishment, if any, is handed out.
Mercedes is an important asset for Formula 1 and the sport will be keen for the Silver Arrows to remain long-term. FIA president Jean Todt has been keen to distance himself from the matter, perhaps wary of Mercedes’s commitment to the sport in the form of entrant, engine provider as well as the supplier of safety and medical cars. Fellow defendants Pirelli also face an uncertain future. Their contract expires at the end of 2013 and although they have been working to continue in 2014, that isn’t a given. Ironically, the entire ‘testgate’ scandal seemingly arose from teams’ inability to provide Pirelli with a more relevant car – they currently have a 2010 Renault R30 – to help satisfy their testing needs.
“They [Pirelli’s bosses] are unhappy with some of the comments and a lot of those are largely unjustified,” says Hembery. “We will see how things progress over the next period of time to see how the mood changes. But we came into Formula 1 to stay in the medium-term and we still want to be in the sport medium-term.”
"An easy reaction would be to say 'this is madness, get out,' but we are a company that likes to provide solutions and we want to use this as an opportunity to take things forward and make a change for the better of the sport.
"We have some long-term agreements in place with a number of parties involved in the sport - we are trying to refine all of those and make sure we complete all of those - and we can all work together for the future.”
Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko claims that a ‘Pandora’s box’ could be opened as the level of any potential sanction could sway rival teams into action.
“If this test is waved through without consequences all the talks about cost reductions would go out of the window - it would be the reopening of Pandora's Box which would be hard to ever close again. Renault would definitely like us to test their new engine, and so on and so forth...”
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