Testgate: The answered and unanswered questions from Mercedes & Pirelli's 'secret' test
Making sense of F1's latest installment of high politics and intrigue
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 28/05/13 7:52am
Why do Pirelli and Mercedes believe the test was legal?
Both Pirelli and Mercedes insist they received permission from the governing body to run the test prior to its staging and that, despite the ban on in-season testing, the test was legal because, as the FIA have themselves acknowledged, Pirelli have authorisation to run 1000km of testing with any team.
But if the FIA admit there is a stipulation within the rules to run a tyre test, why the threat of further sanctions?
Because, as ever, the devil is in the detail. According to the FIA, the test would only have been permitted had a) 'Pirelli, as opposed to the team that would provide the car and driver', carried out the test and b) every other team was offered an equal opportunity to take part.
And this wasn't the case?
No. The FIA state that, having briefed both Pirelli and the FIA on the parameters in which the test could have legally taken place, they were kept in the dark by both parties and, 'furthermore, received no confirmation that all teams had been given an opportunity to take part in this test'.
According to Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery, other teams were approached about holding a test. "We asked the teams if they were interested," he told Sky Sports F1 on Sunday. "Some said yes, some said no."
However, it is unclear precisely when the invitation was made, and Sky Sports F1 Online spoke to at least one team boss in Monaco who was adamant that his team hadn't received an invitation to take part.
Why was the test held?
Mercedes have been at pains to make clear that they were approached by Pirelli, rather than vice versa, to take part in the test after a spate of tyre 'failures' this year with F1's sole tyre supplier, according to Ross Brawn, concerned that the "car they had been using was unrepresentative."
So who carried out the test? Pirelli or Mercedes?
This very debatable point is one of the crux issues - note the wording in the FIA statement: 'Pirelli and Mercedes-AMG were advised by the FIA that such a development test could be possible if carried out by Pirelli, as opposed to the team that would provide the car and driver.'
Speaking after being summoned to see the stewards in Monaco, Mercedes boss Ross Brawn was at pains to specify "it was a Pirelli tyre test, it wasn't a Mercedes test".
However, it is understood the test was run using one of Mercedes' 2013 cars, the W04. Although it's also believed that Ferrari took part in a tyre test after Bahrain, they are reported to have used a 2010 car.
Who drove at the test?
This is another unknown - and the absence of any clarity perhaps suggests the answer will be critical in determining whether the test was, in effect, carried out by Pirelli or Mercedes.
Could Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg have taken part?
Hamilton has been quoted as telling reporters on Sunday night: "We were required to do some work and we did and it was good fun."
It is an established fact the test took place between Wednesday May 15 and Friday May 17 - the week immediately after the Spanish GP - and Hamilton flew to America on the Monday. It is possible that he then flew back to Barcelona to take part on either the Thursday and/or the Friday - the test was extended to a third day due to rain.
Was it a 'secret' test?
The answer - as you might expect - depends on who you listen to. Brawn is adamant it wasn't a secret - to quote the Mercedes boss: "While we were setting up to do the test, all the other teams were still there. Why didn't they see that our trucks weren't going home? There was no attempt to make it a secret test. It's up to Pirelli to inform people if they wish to. It's not our responsibility to advise people. There was no attempt to make it a secret."
Red Bull's Christian Horner, on the other hand, described the test as "underhand", and neither Mercedes nor Pirelli acknowledged the test had taken place when they faced the press in Monaco prior to news of its existence breaking.
And nobody spotted Mercedes testing for three days at Barcelona?
Seemingly not - which is rather remarkable given that the Circuit de Catalunya is an open facility and F1 cars make an awful lot of noise when in operation. Indeed, perhaps the most baffling aspect of this remarkably intricate and confused business is that news of the test only broke on Saturday night.
Did anyone from the FIA oversee the test?
Another critical unknown. However, the stern line in the governing body's statement detailing that, following their briefing to Pirelli and Mercedes in early May about the terms under which a test could be conducted, 'the FIA received no further information about a possible test from Pirelli or from Mercedes-AMG' would seemingly indicate that no representatives from the FIA would have been present.
What were the tyres tested at Barcelona?
A half-unknown. To quote Ross Brawn: "We didn't know that when you do a Pirelli tyre test that you don't know what tyres you are testing. You are given codes. Each day there was a batch tested and we still don't know what the conclusions were."
Mercedes' rivals, however, are likely to be more vexed by Brawn's additional comment that "the majority of the tyres we ran were next year's tyres".
'Majority' is not 'all', and if even a small minority of the tyres run were the beefed-up compounds Pirelli are intent on introducing for the Canadian GP then the other teams will inevitably argue - with apparent good reason - Mercedes received an unfair advantage. "What's wrong is that a team, in an underhand way, consciously tested tyres that are designed for this year's championship," complained an angry Horner.
How did the other teams find out about the test?
There was a telling clue in Sebastian Vettel's interview with Sky Sports News on Sunday night in which the World Champion described himself as "the second person" to learn of the test. It's unconfirmed at present, but it's believed that one of the two Mercedes drivers may have let the 'secret' out in Saturday night's drivers' briefing.
What happens now?
Although the result of the Monaco GP has been officially upheld, the Monaco race stewards - Jars Osterlind, Jose Abed, Tom Kristensen and Christian Calmes - are preparing a report for the FIA after hearing depositions from Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and Pirelli on Sunday night. The governing body has, though, already pre-empted receipt of that report by issuing a statement which makes clear that, not only is the issue likely to be put before its 'International Tribunal', but that 'the Tribunal may decide to inflict penalties that would supercede any penalty the stewards of the meeting may have issued'.
What might those penalties be?
They range from a heavy fine to stripping both the Mercedes team and their drivers of points with an outright expulsion from the championship the most severe - but very unlikely - outcome.
Could Rosberg be stripped of his victory?
As the result has been officially upheld, no. It's also important to stress that the protest launched by Red Bull and Ferrari on Sunday wasn't against the result of the race but an alleged infringement of the Sporting Regulations. However, it is still possible that Rosberg - along with Hamilton and Mercedes - could lose the points won on Sunday.
If the rules have been breached, are Mercedes or Pirelli mainly to blame?
A particularly intriguing question. Although Christian Horner has specifically cited Mercedes as being primarily at fault, declaring "it's a team's responsibility to comply with the regulations so the issue isn't so much with Pirelli", Mercedes cannot be blamed for Pirelli's alleged failure to offer an equal opportunity to all the other teams to run a tyre test.
Yet a conspicuously striking feature of the FIA's statement was their refusal to separate the two parties, indicating the governing body believe both Mercedes and Pirelli are equally culpable - if, that is, a rules breach has been committed.
Perhaps the most critical line in the FIA's statement is their declaration that they 'advised' both 'Pirelli and Mercedes-AMG' of the specific terms and conditions in which a test could be held - terms and conditions the governing body apparently believes were not observed.
That seemingly rules out any plea of ignorance from Mercedes if, as now seems probable, they are summoned to appear before the FIA's International Tribunal.
Could the saga result in Pirelli leaving F1?
Only Pirelli themselves can provide an answer to this question, but it would be naive to separate the furore from the fact that F1's sole tyre supplier, having endured a recent PR battering, are still yet to sign a contract for 2014. In his press briefing on Thursday night, Hembery described the failure to agree a new deal as "extremely serious" and there is already a widespread suspicion that this latest controversy, highly damaging to Pirelli's reputation, may ultimately culminate in their exit from the sport.
Did Mercedes win the Monaco GP as a direct result of the tyre test?
Although Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko has opined the test was worth a second per lap to Mercedes, the general consensus - echoed by Sebastian Vettel - in the paddock on Sunday was that they would have won regardless of their extra Barcelona running.
A salient reminder is that, because of their already-established superior pace in qualifying, Fernando Alonso billed Mercedes as favourites for victory in Monte Carlo during his post-victory press conference in Spain and Pirelli described Monaco as the calendar's least demanding circuit in their own pre-event media briefing. With overtaking a near impossibility, and the two Mercedes drivers thus able to protect their rubber by running ten seconds off their optimum pace during the opening stages of Sunday's race, any link between the test and victory is misleading. In short, it's a racing certainty Mercedes would have won anyway.
The irony, then, is that Mercedes might have risked losing the spoils of victory by engaging in a test which, although beneficial in the long-term, was irrelevant in the short.
Having struggled throughout the season to maintain their tyres, Mercedes' acid test will occur in Canada and Silverstone, two tyre-demanding circuits, but by that stage detecting a correlation between any improvement in the W04's rate of tyre wear and the test will have been further clouded by the introduction of Pirelli's new compounds and the team's own independent tweaks to their car.
Rightly or wrongly, there is also every likelihood, judging by the tone and content of the statement released by the governing body on Sunday evening, that Mercedes, in the company of F1's sole tyre supplier, will have been summoned for an appearance in front of the governing body by the time the sport arrives in Canada.
This tangled web will take a great deal of unravelling.