Tomorrow, in Paris, the FIA’s International Tribunal (IT) will meet to deliberate the case of Mercedes & the secret tyre test, where the German motorsport giants and the sole current Formula One tyre supplier will face whatever punishment the elected members of the panel choose to dish out.
The IT was created by the FIA in 2010 to deal with matters which fall outside the race steward’s area of expertise, which includes the events following the Spanish Grand Prix earlier this season.
Everyone is talking about what will happen to Mercedes, and to Pirelli. It’s all about punishments and repercussions but nobody seems to have noticed just how much unrest present within the German team right now might be responsible for the whole sorry saga. There have been so many comings and goings from the Silver Arrows outfit, it may have been prudent to fix revolving doors to the front of their factory, the short cut garden leave of Paddy Lowe is an excellent example of how Mercedes have been shifting their staffing around all season.
I’m not going to beat about the bush. Mercedes blatantly want Brawn out, but realistically they can’t push him out like they did with Vice President of Motorsport; Norbert Haug.
Ross Brawn is an incredibly well respected man within the pitlane and beyond. He is a legend of design, who is somewhat eclipsed in recent years by the dominance of Adrian Newey and his well funded Red Bull, but the fact remains that, alongside Schumacher, Ross Brawn was responsible for six consecutive titles and the rebuilding of a Ferrari team which many thought was well past it’s best. This is before we even begin to talk about the manner in which he pulled the smouldering remains of Honda out of the ashes and turned it into a championship winning phoenix with Jenson Button at the helm.
The concern begins in February when speculation about Ross’s future begins to build momentum, causing Toto Wolff (Norbert Haug’s successor) to publicly back the Englishman;
“On the pit wall everything will remain the same,”
Mercedes’ 2012 season was a massive step forwards. Nico had won his first race, which was by no means a fluke, in China and the exit of Michael Schumacher at the season close with Lewis Hamilton filling his empty cockpit, could only bode well for the team in terms of moving towards ‘top four’ status aspirations.
Why would Ross’s position within the team be under threat if under his control the team was now winning?
It all has to do with Daimler, who as the parent company to Mercedes have stated that they only wish to remain backers of the team whilst it remains competitive. No pressure then.. The slump in performance at the end of 2012 was the spark which ignited into a major restructure within the team at Dalmer’s request during the 2012-13 off-season months. As team principle, they presumably saw him as a major cause of the problem and by bringing in Wolff, not to mention Niki Lauda’s increased presence, it suggested a shift in the management structure was imminent at garage level. There appears to be no respect for technical pedigree for this servant to the sport and much as I dislike Schumacher the Ross’s achievements are unavoidable. What he did with the Ferrari at the tail end of the 90’s was nothing short of a miracle. He doesn’t fit the team, so they want him out, presumably replacing him with Wolff, who says he doesn’t want the job, but who actually believes him?
But Brawn stayed put and the rumours died down, but now with the allegations of underhand tactics by Mercedes for using the 2013 cars to test Pirelli tyres at Barcelona have erupted it has been surprising to see Ross standing up to be charged with sole responsibility for what happened.
“It was my decision to do the test, that’s a fact. Let’s see what occurs at the tribunal and go from there.”
The words ‘sacrificial’ and ‘lamb’ have been banded about a little too freely for this blog author’s liking in regards to this subject. The IT was not born yesterday, it is impossible for them to even consider that the blame for the rule breaking falls squarely on the team principle’s shoulders. There are many, many, factors which I believe prove otherwise; for example, Pirelli Motorsport are just as educated in the rules and regulations as every team currently taking part in Formula One. If Ross Brawn agreed the test, then he did it with Pirelli in the full knowledge that they were breaking the rule too, but what is the rule?
“Article 22.1 states: “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.”
Put into simple language, you can’t test tyres on a car being used during that season. There is also written specification later in the text that stipulates that the period of time that this testing is not permitted is between ten days prior to the first race of the season and December 31st. So no testing in the 2013 cars. That’s pretty clear, yes?
So regardless of Brawn permitting the test to take place, Pirelli knew the cars being fitted with the rubber were 2013 spec, which the IT must raise against Paul Hembery during cross examination tomorrow in Paris.
Also, Ross Brawn is not the top of the Mercedes totem pole, far from it in fact. Much as Ron Dennis would have reservations about the actions of Martin Whitmarsh, it is not plausible to think that Wolff would simply allow this breach of regulations to happen without having something to say about it.
Finally, the last man to be implicated in the saga, Charlie Whitting. In Monaco it was speculated that the Race Director and FIA Safety Delegate knew about the test and had given it his blessing to take place. It could be argued that in terms of his responsibility to protect drivers from potential injury he would be in favour of the test going ahead, given the number of tyre failures which had taken place in previous races. However, Charlie, as an FIA employee, should be more aware of the rules and regulations than anybody.
Taking this all into account it is ridiculous to accuse Ross Brawn of sole responsibility, he simply could not have authorised that test, breaking that many rules, directly under the noses of the sport’s governing body.
He isn’t that stupid, so could it be that this whole situation has been constructed by a devious team looking for a way to remove an incumbent which, if they were to go through normal methods to relieve themselves of, would cause international outcry from within the sport and fans alike.
I have a horrible feeling that’s exactly what is happening and am pretty certain it’s going to take a miracle to keep Ross Brawn’s backside on that pit-wall in 2014.