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Mercedes F1 awaits FIA verdict

Decision Looming
Mercedes F1 could face penalties from the FIA for its role in a Pirelli test.
FOX Sports ADAM COOPER
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The International Tribunal hearing into the Mercedes testing case took place in Paris on Thursday, with some heated debate led by the lawyers of the team, the FIA, and Pirelli.

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The FIA has confirmed that a verdict will be announced Friday, after Edwin Glasgow — the president of the tribunal — initially said that the four judges would reveal their conclusion “by tomorrow.”

Intriguingly, as part of his summing up on behalf of Mercedes, lawyer Paul Harris said that his client had tried to act in good faith and thus if deemed guilty something like a reprimand — or exclusion from the upcoming Young Driver test, where the current cars are used by all teams — would be an appropriate punishment.

As expected, Mercedes insisted it had permission to conduct the controversial test. Meanwhile, the FIA claimed it did not, and Pirelli was adamant that it cannot be sanctioned by the FIA.

Proceedings began early Thursday morning with the FIA’s legal counsel, Mark Howard, presenting the governing body’s case.

Intriguingly, in addition to outlining the breach of Article 22, related to in-season testing a current car, he also mentioned Article 151c, which involves bringing the sport into disrepute, or more specifically bans “fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motorsport generally.”

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Howard argued that: “Without the knowledge, consent and participation of other competitors, Mercedes and Pirelli may have engaged in activity that was prejudicial to the competition.”

In essence, he repeated what the FIA said in a media statement on Sunday evening in Monaco — essentially, that conversations took place between Mercedes and Charlie Whiting in early May, but Whiting did not formally sanction the Barcelona test with the current car. Howard stressed the FIA’s requirement that other teams be informed and invited.

He said: “Whiting was asked a general and non-specific question — the general question on the permissibility of using a 2013 car. His preliminary response was that such a test would comply with Article 22, providing the purpose was for Pirelli to test its tire, and he would check.”

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He added that even though Pirelli has a contract with the FIA which allows for 1,000-kilometer tests to be conducted by teams, the Sporting Regulations should take precedence.

Howard also argued that Mercedes had gained some knowledge from the test, saying: “We would suggest that it is difficult to say Mercedes obtained no benefit from the test.”

Speaking on behalf of Mercedes, lawyer Paul Harris claimed that the team did not break the rules, in essence because the test was arranged and run by Pirelli, and not by Mercedes in its role as a competitor.

The rules state: “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.”

Indeed, after talking to both Mercedes team manager Ron Meadows and Ross Brawn on May 3, Whiting had checked with FIA lawyer Sebastian Bernard on the relevance of the phrase “undertaken by the competitor,” and was told that if the test was deemed to be undertaken by Pirelli, it could be permissible.

Harris even claimed that Mercedes didn’t have to check with the FIA, given that it was a Pirelli test, claiming that Brawn took a cautious approach.

Harris also argued that if Mercedes is deemed to be in the wrong, then the pre-Spanish GP Ferrari test should be considered a breach in that, despite the fact it was done with a two-year-old car, the car did “conform substantially with the current Formula One technical regulations,” which is what the rules forbid.

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Harris also pointed out that the Ferrari test was booked and paid for by the Italian team, and this was in contrast to Pirelli’s arrangements for the Mercedes test.

Intriguingly, he also revealed that in 2012 Felipe Massa had taken part in a similar test on Pirelli’s behalf at Barcelona.

Harris also apologized for the fact that Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg had completed the test in plain, unmarked helmets, claiming — somewhat unbelievably — that it was to lessen interest from fans due to a lack of security and bodyguards.

When he took the stand, Ross Brawn was adamant initially that Mercedes gained no benefit from the test and that Pirelli had not told the team what tires it was running, although under question he conceded that inevitably there was some benefit.

Meanwhile, Pirelli lawyer Dominque Dumas then argued that it does not come under the jurisdiction of the FIA as a non-license holder, citing the 2009 ‘Crashgate’ case — which led to senior team personnel being licensed and thus subject to punishment. Briatore was banned by the FIA, but that was overturned in the French courts.

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