Following Spygate (2007) and Crashgate (2008), Tiregate is set to become the talking point of the 2013 season, and we’re not even a third of the way through this year’s championship. With Mercedes and Ferrari both facing inquiries from the FIA, it appears that two of the title contenders could be under pressure, yet there are many finer points which make their cases very different.
The details of Mercedes’ test came out on the Sunday of the Monaco Grand Prix, immediately triggering protests from Red Bull and (ironically) Ferrari. After the Spanish Grand Prix, the team had completed 1000km of testing at the Circuit de Catalunya using their 2013 car( the W04), 2013 tires and their 2013 drivers (Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton). This is a clear example of an in-season test, the like of which is banned, and Mercedes have made no secret of their actions. Instead, they are fighting their case on the grounds that Pirelli’s contract with the sport allows for such a test to be undertaken.
Ferrari’s test has two great differences. Firstly, it was not completed using the 2013 car. Instead, the team used the F150 Italia, which they ran in 2011. Under the regulations, teams are forbidden from completing any running with a car used in the last two years (i.e. 2012 or 2013). Subsequently, Ferrari are clear on this point. Additionally, the rumor mill has suggested that Pedro de la Rosa completed the running, not Fernando Alonso or Felipe Massa.
How much of a benefit would the test have given Ferrari though? Although the car is two years old, and there have been changes made to the regulations since then, there may have been some benefit considering this was the first year in which Pirelli tires were used. Ferrari have been pushing for in-season testing ever since it was banned, with their use of Fiorano proving highly fruitful during their golden years in the early 2000s.
Ferrari are certainly not ‘as guilty’ as Mercedes, meaning that the decision ultimately rests with the FIA. Should they choose to take a particularly strict stance, both teams could face some sort of fine or penalty, but it would be Mercedes who are worse off as they did use their 2013 car. Ferrari have a tradition of being ‘cute’ with the regulations – i.e. keeping in the rules, but pushing them to the limit – and this is a classic example. The car used does not break the rules (unlike Mercedes), putting them in the clear for now. It does set a precedent for the future though, and Red Bull may be blowing the dust off the RB7 should the FIA deem Ferrari to have done no wrong.
It’s the idea of Mercedes being ‘more guilty’ than Ferrari which means that the two teams cannot be treated as equals. It is ultimately up to the FIA to decide what course of action to take, but Tiregate is set to rumble on well into the summer.