These are the slowest news days in Formula One. Instead of commentary about racing in the week ahead, the sport’s media is firmly focused on Paris. Even with the 24 Hours of Le Mans beginning in just over a day, you’d be forgiven to think there was no motor-racing at all this weekend.
Formula One has once again seen itself embroiled in scandal and this time around the stakes are as high as ever. The ban on mid-season testing is as black and white as the paper in the 45-page document that summarises the sporting regulations for the 2013 Formula One World Championship season.
Mercedes’s defence that Pirelli controlled the entirety of their Barcelona test is a single-blow cover. It either works or it doesn’t.
Pirelli are only a customer to the sport and, as such, cannot be punished under the rules of the series and cannot be touched for both the sake of legality and necessity; should the Italian manufacturer be prompted to resign their position as sole tyre supplier, the series will be left motionless. No replacement has yet raised its hand to fill the position should Pirelli leave Formula One at the end of 2013 and with little time left for tyres to be tested, it shouldn’t be expected that one would happily approach the challenge.
Mercedes, while claiming Pirelli conducted the test after they said it wouldn’t be realistic to test in a two-year-old chassis, are relying on the imputation of the word “subsequent” within the sporting regulations to absolve themselves of any wrongdoing.
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.
Their defence that Ferrari were in breach of the regulations by testing with a 2011 car requires the tribunal lawyers to accept that, in this case, it is reasonable to believe “subsequent” meant the car preceeding that of one complying with regulations for the previous season. Simply: Mercedes believe the rule disallows the use of a 2012 car as well as a 2011 car.
Unfortunately for Ross Brawn and Mercedes, ‘subsequent’ carries the definition of ‘after’. Had the regulation used the word ‘preceeding’, then their case would have strength.
But the regulations didn’t.
For the moment Mercedes seem to be at the mercy of the tribunal. Their brief contact with FIA representative Charlie Whiting, who apparently gave the team the okay in regards to testing with Pirelli, looks to be of little importance in the grand scheme of things. McLaren found out the hard way following the 2008 Belgian Grand Prix – you can’t rely on Whiting as the final verdict on whether or not an action is acceptable under the sporting regulations.
Though Brawn exited the Paris hearing seemingly with confidence in his team’s defence, something tells you this incident has been far too publicised – and has been far too much of a blatant disregard for the explicit rules – for all parties to walk out today with clean hands. Somebody is going to fall – it’s just a matter of who and how hard.
At least there’s some motor-racing going on south of Paris this weekend – well away from court rooms and lawyers.