Explaining the FIA International Tribunal hearing into the 'Testgate' controversy
Ahead of Thursday's hearing into Mercedes and Pirelli's contentious Barcelona test, we provide a guide to the Tribunal process
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 18/06/13 2:29pm
What is the International Tribunal?
The International Tribunal serves as the FIA's main disciplinary arm, in effect the governing body's court. It was established for the start of the 2011 season as part of an overhaul of the FIA's judicial system, a policy which had formed a key part of Jean Todt's manifesto during the last presidential election of 2009.
Thursday's hearing into 'Testgate' will be the first F1-related case the Tribunal has ruled on. Previously disciplinary matters, such as the 2007 McLaren 'Spygate' scandal and 2008 Renault 'Crashgate' affair, had in the first instance been heard by the World Motor Sport Council, but the International Tribunal now represents a panel independent of the other bodies of the FIA.
What are Mercedes and Pirelli being charged with?
In confirming the date of Thursday's hearing, the FIA confirmed that charges were being brought against both Mercedes and Pirelli in relation to their participation in a three-day test at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya on May 15-17. The case centres on the use of Mercedes current car, the W04, and Mercedes' alleged contravention of F1's in-season testing rules.
While there is an additional agreement among the teams governing testing, Article 22 of F1's Sporting Regulations headlined 'Track and Wind Tunnel Testing' contains a number of subclauses outlining the in-season constraints:
'22.1: Track testing shall be considered 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 One Technical Regulations in addition to those from the previous or subsequent year. The only exception is that each competitor is permitted up to eight promotional events, carried out using tyres provided specifically for this purpose by the appointed supplier, to a maximum distance of 100kms per event.
'22.4 No track testing may take place... h) 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 with the following exceptions... [young driver test, straightline aerodynamic tests, mid-season driver substitution].'
The exact charges being brought against Pirelli, F1's sole tyre supplier, are less clear but are thought to relate to a possible breach of their own contract with the FIA which reputedly permits 100km worth of testing with each team provided they make all competitors aware of the plans - a disputed element of this particular event.
What powers does the Tribunal have and who sits on it?
The Tribunal can rule on any case irrespective of whether it has been dealt with by the stewards of a Grand Prix meeting and which has been brought to it for consideration by the FIA President, who acts as the FIA's prosecuting body.
Before a hearing is convened, the FIA President must have completed an initial inquiry into the suspected rules breach to determine whether it should be brought before the Tribunal which then "applies and interprets the present Rules with the aim of enforcing the Statutes and Regulations of the FIA, including the International Sporting Code".
The International Tribunal itself consists of 12 members, elected by the FIA General Assembly on three-year terms, along with a President and Vice-President but for each individual disciplinary hearing the President of the IT appoints a panel consisting of a minimum of three members to rule on the matter, one of whom is appointed the President of the Hearing. Members with the same nationality as one of the main parties in the case are excluded from consideration.
The FIA President, in this case Jean Todt, will be present at the hearing to represent the governing body but doesn't rule on the case.
What do Mercedes and Pirelli say about the case?
Since news of the so-called 'secret' test first broke on the morning of the Monaco GP, the two accused parties have maintained their innocence in the matter, with both since welcoming the opportunity to present their respective sides of the story at the Tribunal.
Mercedes Team Principal Ross Brawn, who confirmed at the Canadian GP that he was the person who authorised the team's participation in the test, has insisted that evidence revealed during the course of the Tribunal will exonerate the Brackley team, while Pirelli chief Paul Hembery told Sky Sports News last week that he hoped the outcome of the hearing "will mean we have a better chance of doing our job better".
What does a Tribunal hearing entail?
Once the notification of charges has been served by the prosecuting body, the judging panel will call on the relevant parties - Mercedes and Pirelli - to set out their respective arguments in the case. Respective witnesses, knowledgeable parties, experts and third parties can also be heard in the case.
The judging panel can also "hear, as a third party, from any competitor in a major FIA Championship who so requests and who could be directly and significantly affected by the decision to be taken". This therefore means that theoretically any of Mercedes' rivals, such as original protesters Red Bull and Ferrari, could make their own views heard at the hearing, provided a prior written request has been sought and subsequent written submissions submitted, although it is not clear whether any other team has taken up this opportunity. At any point in the hearing the Tribunal can also decide to request further information or postpone proceedings to a later date.
The hearing gets underway at the FIA's Paris headquarters at 9.30am on Thursday.
How is a decision reached?
Once all the relevant submissions have been heard, the judging panel will then deliberate on the matter in private with a majority verdict winning out. The President of the Hearing has the casting vote.
What penalties are open to the Tribunal?
Should the panel rule that a rules breach has been committed, then it has a multitude of potential sanctions open to it under Article 153 of the International Sporting Code. The full range of sanctions is as follows:
− reprimand (blame);
− time penalty;
For the FIA Formula One World Championship and the FIA World Rally Championship, a penalty consisting of the withdrawal of points over the whole of the Championship may be imposed.
The FIA statutes also make clear that "unless otherwise stated, offences or infringements are punishable, whether they were committed intentionally or negligently".
When will we know the outcome?
At the end of the case the President of the Hearing will announce the likely time and date that the decision will be announced. The FIA have already indicated that the verdict will be "published as soon as possible after the hearing" and naturally SkySportsF1, Sky Sports News, and this very website will be bringing you the breaking details as soon as they emerge!
Can the Tribunal's decision be appealed?
In short, yes. Should the FIA or the prosecuted parties want to challenge the verdict then they can appeal against the decision to the governing body's International Court of Appeal. Should that occur than the sanction imposed will be suspended, although the Tribunal nonetheless does have the power to order the provisional enforcement of all, or part, of its decision.