Monaco: The Aftermath and Bernie’s Predicament

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This installment is coming a bit later than usual, but this week has dished out copious amounts of surprises, most of them surrounding Pirelli. The Monaco Grand Prix itself did little to drown out the noise surrounding the secret tire test conducted in Barcelona by Mercedes and Pirelli. FIA regulations stipulate that if a test between a team and the tire constructor is to be conducted, all teams must be informed of this opportunity. Rumblings have given strong indications, firmly denied by Pirelli, that not all the teams were informed of the possibility to test development tires. Strike one for Pirelli. It has also been highly rumored that Mercedes used their 2013 car for the test; also a big no no to the regulations. Strike one for Mercedes. There is certainly scope to place the blame on both parties involved in this unfortunate scandal, and suggestions that the Monaco Grand Prix result, now understood to be untrue, was influenced by this very test did not do Pirelli’s already tainted image any favors.

Today, the FIA received a letter from Christian Horner that clearly explained Red Bull’s, and certain other teams’, grievances regarding this unfortunate testing mess. The Red Bull team principal cited the fact that Mercedes used a current car with current drivers as the source of his dissatisfaction, and made it clear that any advantage gained from this is totally unacceptable.

Strike two for Mercedes? It may seem that way. There’s no getting around the fact that Mercedes is subject to FIA regulations. That is fact. They don’t, or shouldn’t at least, get any special treatment from Pirelli. The fact that Pirelli picked up the tab for this three day test, however, suggests otherwise. That both Mercedes and Pirelli said nothing of this test in the days leading up to the Grand Prix is telling as well, and has ultimately resulted in a full FIA investigation of both parties’ blatant breach of sporting regulations. Along with the regulations mentioned earlier in this blog, the FIA makes it very clear in their rules that any testing during the racing season with a current car unless all teams agree to it with a change of regulations. This did not happen.

Yesterday, It became known that in the FIA’s investigation of the Mercedes test, they have also requested the data from an earlier test conducted by Ferrari that immediately followed the Bahrain Grand Prix. Strike one for Ferrari, it seems. Do they really want to run the risk of coming under fire for a eerily similar test, yet demand Mercedes’ punishment. It seems a bit hypocritical in the eyes of an unforgiving sport.

Ferrari are not the only ones who are demanding some sort of investigation of Mercedes and Pirelli. Red Bull, as they often are, is at the very center of the anger surrounding this test. This leaves us with three distinct entities, all vying for some sort of satisfaction, that are integral to the sport itself. On one side is Mercedes, arguably the most important team to the sport, as an entrant, engine supplier, and primary source of marketing. The German manufacturer’s presence in Formula One gives the sport a more respectable appearance and also ensures a loyal advocate for the sport’s longevity.

On another side is Red Bull, in particular, Christian Horner. The Red Bull team boss is close to Bernie Ecclestone and has, for the last few years, pushed for extended testing. This makes the fact that they want Mercedes punished for their test and his desire for more of it an awkward scenario to explain. Finally, on the last side is Pirelli who, through three years of criticism, has remained loyal to making the sport a more viewer friendly experience. I won’t go into the details of if they have done a good job or not, or if they are ruining the sport, because that is a never-ending debate these days, and it also detracts from the immense implications of the FIA’s investigation, but the situation is easy to understand. Pirelli have remained loyal when, at times, no one could have blamed them for walking away without looking back. This sense of loyalty has been reciprocated by Bernie Ecclestone who, in his own strange way of conveying his opinions, has also remained loyal and faithful to Pirelli’s modus operandi.

These three entities all have enormous pull in Formula One, and in any other isolated case concerning other parties, they would likely get their way. But because this strange and fascinating turn of events involves all three of them, we must brace ourselves for a long and possibly painful legal battle. If this case is brought up to the recently-insituted International Tribunal, fans of Formula One potentially face months of uncertainty regarding what has been coined ‘Testgate’. This has the potential to make history in Formula One. All very exciting, it seems, but not for those involved. The ramifications could, and probably will, be wholly penetrating, threatening the precarious equilibrium the sport now “enjoys”.

For now, we must wait. The Canadian Grand Prix is just a week away and the results will probably, but not seriously, be doubted because of the test four weeks ago.

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