Mercedes rumored to have letter permitting tire test

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Just when you thought tiregate was nearing its conclusion, some new evidence may have come to light. Mercedes are rumored to have a letter from the FIA’s race director Charlie Whiting permitting the test undertaken at the Circuit de Catalunya following the Spanish Grand Prix.

As reported by The Guardian, the letter could give Mercedes a better chance of escaping the FIA tribunal, due to be held in four days’ time, without any major charges. The team is thought to be facing a big penalty after they completed a 1000km tire test in Barcelona using their 2013 car, which, under the regulations, is strictly forbidden.

However, Pirelli’s contract with the sport is rumored to allow such a test to take place, relying that all of the teams are informed and agree to it. With Red Bull and Ferrari both lodging protests over the matter at the Monaco Grand Prix though, it appears that this may not have occurred.

The letter would undermine the FIA’s attempt to prosecute Mercedes, with their very own delegate (Whiting) allowing the test to happen. Additionally, Ross Brawn has made clear on more than one occasion that he would not have gone ahead with the test unless he was confident that the team remained within the rules.

Either way, tiregate could be set to rumble on.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”