Pirelli test secrecy – James Bond… or Johnny English?

In Friday’s Pirelli teleconference Paul Hembery did his best to dismiss suggestions that the Barcelona Mercedes test was a “secret,” notwithstanding the fact that neither the other competitors nor the FIA were informed about it.

The story only emerged after a third party supplier, someone seemingly not bound by the conspiracy of silence woven by Pirelli and Mercedes, mentioned it to the governing body.

Pirelli may blame the media for emphasising it, but the level of secrecy involved is an issue that the FIA will be looking at as it examines the Ferrari and Mercedes tests, and considers whether the contracted tyre company has fulfilled its obligation to maintain sporting equity.

“Some people have described the test as secret,” said Hembery on Friday. “Well, I don’t think we would have won any James Bond prizes, because we booked the circuit in our name, two days after an F1 race.

“We turned up in our trucks, dressed as Pirelli people, with a brightly coloured Mercedes car, at a circuit like Barcelona where when you hear an F1 car fans turn up and take photos. We’d be very bad spies from that point of view.”

So how relaxed was Pirelli about fans “turning up,” either at the Mercedes test, or the Ferrari session that preceded it?

There’s no better man to ask than Pius Gasso, a former racing driver who lives virtually next door to the Barcelona track, and who takes a keen interest in what’s going on.

Apparently nicknamed the ‘all-seeing eye’ by friends on the Spanish motor racing scene, he knows the people who work at the circuit, he knows how to get in – and he knows how to get spy photos that 007 would be proud of.

It was Pius who grabbed a few shots of the Ferrari test, which emerged on the web, but attracted very little comment. Old F1 cars are often in action for filming and so on, and it didn’t seem to be of interest for the simple reason that no-one expected Pirelli to be running full-on F1 tyre tests, ‘secret’ or otherwise.

The Mercedes test was a different story. Despite his best efforts in the end Pius could get only a snatch of audio of an F1 car going round, along with some fuzzy snaps from a hillside some 2kms distance away.

Although he put a picture on Twitter, again there was no red flag, since nobody believed that pukka F1 tyre testing could be going on – with the exception perhaps of Ferrari…

So what was security like at the two sessions?

“At the Ferrari test I could take pictures from the gate on the corner of New Holland [the final corner],” Pius tells me. “But because of the security cameras four security men were quickly sent to me, and they told me it was a private test and I had to leave the area. They told me, ‘Please, Pirelli does not want photos, this is a GP2 test, and the truth is it’s nobody famous.’ I had the picture, so I left!

“At the Mercedes test the door was fully closed at New Holland, covered with a red canvas that made ​​it impossible to see who it was. There were people from ISS, a company dedicated to the monitoring and control of the circuit, who did not let me stay over 10 minutes in the ‘street’ by the gate. I recorded the audio, and decided to climb a mountain to make those pictures.”

Hembery says that his company wants to protect “proprietary information for Pirelli,” even from the attention of teams.

And yet he also says that there was little to be gained from inviting observers from other teams to the Mercedes session – as it did with previous Renault/Lotus testing – because they wouldn’t know what tyres were being used.

In other words Pirelli believes that rival F1 engineers, invited to attend a test and watch from the pitlane, would learn nothing useful about the tyres.

Therefore one wonders quite what anybody standing outside the gate – or sitting in the grandstand – could have learned about Pirelli’s R&D by watching a Mercedes droning round.

So why the excessive security measures? Why stop members of the public from observing from outside the venue, never mind wandering around the spectator areas, enjoying the chance to see the car that was on pole a few days before?

One might conclude that this was little to do with Pirelli protecting its IP – and rather more with not letting the outside world know which car/driver combination was going round, or indeed what was going on in the garage between runs.

Crucially, what invited observers from other teams would be able to do at such a test of course is a) verify that everything was being run to the data protection standards promised with the Lotus testing (see earlier story), and b) confirm that Mercedes was not testing different parts and set-ups, and thus this was a genuine tyre test…

54 Comments

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54 responses to “Pirelli test secrecy – James Bond… or Johnny English?

  1. Simon B

    Great piece Adam, you’re all over this story with some great scoops. One of your fellow F1 bloggers could learn a lot from your integrity and lack of pomposity…

    • Gedi

      Said fellow blogger continues to say it’s a “Storm in a teacup” and yet we know he’d be writing from a completely different angle if it was Red Bull who were testing, of if it were Ferrari who had used a 2013 car.

      Thankfully Adam at least is actually doing some investigative journalism. And at the risk of sounding sycophantic, it was his freelance article on the BAR/hidden fuel cell for Autosport many years ago, that enticed me to subscribe to Autosport Plus every year…. first with the Liegate story too.

    • Funny you should use the word pomposity, I have a running joke with a colleague regarding the blogger I believe you are talking about, and that’s the very word we always use. We have all known each other approx 28 years…

      • Domenico

        I was questioning the said bloggers “storm in a teacup” position and the validity of his view that apparently to him the test was all sanctioned by the FIA. After numerous requests to substantiate this view he never did. He arrogantly expected everyone to take his view on the matter without question, which within 1 day was shown to be incorrect given the statement put out by the FIA themselves.

        This “Average Joe” never justified his view, continually dodged questions posed to him on this issue by me and others simply because he didn’t want to admit he either couldn’t answer the questions or got it wrong altogether.

        He later failed to approve posts of mine that questioned his “official view”.
        The icing though was when he then went off on a rant qualifying how good he is and how other F1 journalists (including you Adam) had to wait in the wings at Autosport because of how good he was as an F1 journalist before banning any further posts of mine. This was probably brought on by me advising him to visit your blog which had very useful information that he should be across… Probably bruised his ego a little with that one, especially seeing as according to him you and many others live in the shadow of his self professed greatness. :)

        Looks like he took his bat and ball and went off for a whinge.

        Adam your site is fantastic as there is no bias, it is backed up with independent and well researched information and you seem to have checked your ego at the door.

        Well done mate! I can see how this blog will continue to gather followers and perhaps remind the old dogs in the F1 blogging world what real independent journalism is all about!

        I can’t thank you enough for the work you have done to bring F1 to the rest of us and uncover the story behind the story.

  2. Steve

    mmmmm, seem’s to make a mountain out of a mole hill. Weak journalism.

  3. Pius and a few of us, f1 fans, produce a weekly Monday evening podcast in Spanish (“Safetycast”). When Pius told us what he had first heard, then seen and subsequently photographed, and the lengths and efforts he had to go in order to obtain the pic we simply could not believe it. Naturally we did because Pius is not only a former racing driver (with a family involved in the history and current sport), a motor sports expert but also a lovely human being and friend.

    Thanks Adam Cooper for bringing Pius’ achievement into light! Much appreciated!

  4. Brenda

    Excellent piece! I’m going to post a link of your post on my blog if that’s ok :D

  5. “Conspiracy of secrecy woven by Pirelli and Mercedes” Nice! Great article, Adam. Your coverage of this has been exceptional.

  6. Hmm, I tend to think it’s a direct consequence of F1′s abstinence from actual testing (despite multiple claims from various camps in the paddock that real life testing sucks). I’m with Trulli on this one: if you can’t feel the wind on your helmet’s visor, it’s not testing.

    Kindergarden stuff from multi-billion business, very disappointing. Not a fan of Pirelli or Mercedes works team, but I can’t blame them here.

    Give F1 testing a chance. Give away your simulators.

    • Pirelli 1 Championship

      You cant blame them for breaking the rules?

      Ok, then RBR can break any rule they want too, like v10 engines revving to 21k? They go faster, so you should support that too.

  7. Chesterton Robert

    Well, if one of the tyres had a failure, as happened recently and the whole world saw the Pirelli internal workings, and a ‘tog was there to capture the moment, Pierelli’s brand new 2014 technology would be shown to the world. Maybe that’s why they understandably wanted privacy. But you keep fueling the fire like the tabloid hack you are Adam and pandering to your simple readership and you’ll do just fine. Gotta put food on the table, eh?

    • Tabloid hack? Simple readership? Classy. You don’t have to come here and read my stuff do you? BTW I wonder how much I paid myself to write this story, perhaps you can add up the value of all the advertising on this site…

    • Domenico

      Robert it seems that the blog you want is Joe Sawards. Here you will find all the unsubstantiated, arrogant, one sided views on F1 that it seems you crave. Just be sure not to question his position.

      Adam has (unlike other bloggers) simply provided the facts, how you piece them together in your mind is up to you.

      If you want to attack Adam do so on any unsubstantiated views or information he has presented… That will be a very tough task for you as it doesn’t exist!

      • Chris

        Did you also enjoy how he got his scoop on James Allison’s future completely wrong as well? “Mercedes for sure, 100% my sources never lie.” “OK I stopped trusting this source. I still don’t accept any wrongdoing or responsibility for rumor mongering.”

      • CTP

        perhaps “Chesterton” has a Parisian IP address…

      • Domenico

        Yes Chris, I did notice this Allison oversight also. He is quite full of himself and can’t admit it when he gets things wrong. The problem it seems is that he is in such a rush to be the first with a story that he fails to check the validity of his sources and then his ego gets in the way of presenting the actual facts or answering hard questions as it flies in the face of his “scoop”.

        CTP that was exactly what I was thinking when I read “Chesterton’s” post.

        Taking a swipe at Adam is one thing, but his readers also with the “simple readership” comment!.. It was a very immature post and seemed a little too targeted at those who support Adams work over his own which was made clear on Joe’s blog.

    • tamotu

      What brand new technology in 2014 tyres is going to be stolen by competitors.

      These arent the days of Bridgestone/Michelin when there were two tyre manufacturers competing to make the best tyres, they arent being sold to anyone, and Pirelli are not trying to make the best tyres they can, but the tyres that suit the brief best (multiple stope, high deg, varied racing)

      Theres absolutely no reason for them to have conducted this test in secrecy behind locked doors

  8. Sam

    I wonder what guaratees did Mercedes get to test with the current car. Bernie is probably here.

    • Kili Liam

      Very good point, and I was wondering why nobody have, yet, pointed the finger like you did! 100% sure he knew it!

  9. johnnybravo

    I was thinking along the same lines, being prototype tyres essentially you would think the chance of a failure would be higher so they may not have wanted to many photos just incase.

    It’s a 2 way street, if others had nothing to gain from watching what did Pirelli have to gain by having photographers there? I don’t really blame them for locking all of the doors.

  10. peterg

    I have asked this question before…..I wonder if/when Pirelli will reach the point where they say F1 is not worth the hassle?

    • Ago

      Very very soon I guess… Pirelli, I believe, have not interest in doing favours to any team, and it looks like they are damaging their public image and the PZero name on top of that. What a mess!

  11. max

    Excellent articles on this. Getting the story from Pius Gasso. Now that’s journalism rather than sitting there thinking you know it all like aforementioned blogger.

  12. Reblogged this on Speed… Stirred and commented:
    Why have Pirelli done a U-turn on their previous meticulousness? In their hope of being re-contracted for 2014 and shedding the bad publicity they’ve had in 2013, perhaps they’ve gone a step (or two, if Ferrari broke rules as well) too far?

  13. Vortex Motio

    Mr. Cooper, well done (again!) to bring light to this wrinkle of the story. I also ended up subscribing to autosport.com due in part to your excellent work on Spy-gate.

    This intriguing story leads to some questions, and per chance you know the answers:

    1) Was the track booked in Pirelli’s name for these tests?

    2) For perspective, is it known how often that interested neighbors such as Mr. Pius Gasso are prevented from observing other testing sessions?

    3) How did this test become initially known to the paddock Saturday at Monaco… who spilled the beans?

    4) One of your questions (why prevent the public from viewing the tests?), appears to have been fairly well answered by a reader who commented above (though unfortunately he also extremely rude). The explanation that Pirelli would not want to have a failing tire publicized seems fairly rational. Would that explanation seem reasonable to you?

    5) Final question… At the article’s end, you have apparently suggested that it would be proper for observers from other teams to monitor data transmission protocols of these tests. But my understanding (from your earlier article) is that the contract requiring sporting equality is between the FIA and Pirelli (not between Pirelli and the teams). If my understanding is correct, then it would seem appropriate for the FIA to monitor data transfer protocols at these tests, not the other teams.

    Please feel free to correct any of my misunderstandings. It’s why I’ve asked these questions! :-) Thanks again for the excellent work!

  14. damleda

    I love a good cheating story in F1. It’s one of the reasons I have always admired Ross Brawn and Michael (Maker of) Shoe. As long as no one is hurt, then what’s the problem. Honestly. I bet they’re all at it. I will be absolutely 100% honest here: RBR caught cheating would annoy me as they’ve been winning everything for the past few years, but the Enstone team, or Mercedes, or even Caterham or Marrusia? I love it. Particularly, when, as I suspect, there actually has been some validation of using a 2013 car, even it if was a lack of a direct ruling against a Mercedes request to the FIA. Wiggle Room. It’s there for the taking in F1, and always has been.

    N.B. When asking “what’s the problem?” above, I can understand that cheating in a ‘normal’ sport or activity is a bad thing, and that everyone expects not only a “level playing field” but also some decent human integrity, but since when has F1 been ‘normal’, and when has it had a “level playing field”? – NEVER!!!

    I cannot think of a single team that hasn’t been involved in some kind of rules-based bending over the last seven/eight years, never mind about the entire history of the sport, and the level playing field of F1 is about the same size as a briefcase full of cash-monies. ker-ching. In my experience, fully professional racing, using strictly policed regulations leads to one inevitable outcome: Single team/manufacturer dominance. In many cases this has led to the collapse of the series after other teams just walked away, unable to ever play catch up, and in F1, the equaliser against such series-ending tom foolery is the caveat that you can cheat. Honestly, I always thought it was the unwritten golden rule.

  15. I feel like throwing a bag of corn into the microwave every time some juicy piece of news comes out of the Pirelli/Mercedes stuff. Frankly, this is why I love F1: racing is not _that_ great at all for me as the hassle would suggest. I get my racing fixture in WRC, ERC and selected events of WEC, WTCC and IndyCar, too, but the hassle itself is always worth :)

  16. urlings_55@hotmail.com

    Good article, Adam.
    What I ponder about is who, outside the drivers themselves, “drove” the car? In other words, did Pirelli themselves monitored and kept track on the data of the car, like FIA wants them to, or did Mercedes “helped” in that regard and crucially got their hands on any of the data?

  17. Stone the Crows

    Thank you Adam for staying on top of this story and telling us how it came about.

  18. Andre

    What’s interesting is that the FIA said in their statement after the Monaco GP that :
    “At the beginning of May, the FIA was asked by Pirelli if it was possible for it to carry out some tyre development testing with a team, using a current car”

    But in Pirelli’s statement from Friday it says
    “the use of the car utilized by Mercedes, in particular, was the result of direct communication between FIA and the team itself. Pirelli did not ask in any way that a 2013 car be used: not of Mercedes nor the FIA nor the teams which, during the year, were offered the opportunity of participating in tests for the development of tyres for 2014″ and later “There is no doubt that the questions relating to the vehicle were the exclusive domain of the team and that Pirelli was excluded from these questions.”

    So did Pirelli ask or didn’t ask for a test with a current car? Or is there a difference between the ‘current’ from Pirelli and the ‘current’ of the FIA??

    The FIA statement continues “Pirelli/Mercedes-AMG were advised by the FIA that such a development test could be possible if carried out by Pirelli, as opposed to the team that would provide the car and driver, and that such tests (using a current car) would be conditional upon every team being given the same opportunity to test in order to ensure full sporting equity.”

    Pirelli said “the invitation was subsequently repeated in various official contexts and repeated to some teams last March for the development of tyres for 2014″

    So they asked the teams, but they did that before they asked the FIA about using a current car. So when they asked the teams they couldn’t have talked about the possibility for teams to use their current car.

    • The current car thing is a bit confusing, but as I understand it the bottom line is they did not extend the opportunity to everybody – other than what I’m told was a small reference at the end of a March 2012 email. And Pirelli keeps referring back to that as evidence of it giving everyone the opportunity to do a test that happened 14 months later… Or a bit less in the case of Ferrari.

      • Andre

        I understand but what did Pirelli aks the FIA at the beginning of May 2013? The FIA statement says
        “Pirelli/Mercedes-AMG were advised by the FIA that such a test….”
        So they (FIA) specific advise the combination of Pirelli AND Mercedes AMG on “such a test”
        So whatever “such a test” is that Pirelli (and Mercedes AMG) asked the FIA about early May had to be different from the test it already had done with Ferrari (Clienti Corse) on April 23th 2013.
        So when they asked the FIA to “to carry out some tyre development testing with a team, using a current car” they meant more recent then a 2011 car.

  19. David Myers

    This situation becomes more mysterious by the day! Thanks for keeping us up to date :-)

  20. GeorgeK

    The answer to every mystery is found in the question “What did they have to gain”? What could Pirelli have gained by trying to keep the testing a secret?? Nothing obvious that I can see other then getting started on the design of their 2014 compounds.

    What did Mercedes hope to gain? Other then a shit storm (now in full play) of controversy criticism and negative publicity. No one has pointed out yet how the testing could have helped Mercedes this year, or next. So why participate? In order to help Pirelli advance the design of their 2014 tires,
    WHEN NO OTHER TEAMS WERE SEEMINGLY WILLING TO PARTICIPATE!

    After the fact the Piranha Club is joyously rending flesh and bone from both Pirelli and Mercedes because they can.The last important question to ask: Would any of this be so highly played up if Mercedes had not improved performance? No way of definitively answering, but in IMHO it would not have caused a ripple.

    Pirelli should graciously decline further participation in providing tires in 2014 and onwards, and let the self destroying teams of F1 figure out how to get tires for next year. And DQ Mercedes from all results for 2013; see if they have any interest in continuing in this alleged sport. I’m sure Ferrari and Renault could gladly supply engines to the field, and McLaren will relish their sole sourced Honda’s on their way to another title.

    Nice reporting Adam, you did shed light on an interesting twist with the Pius story.

    But can anyone clearly and simply articulate WHY Pirelli would run this kind of criticism and fallout?

    • Your guess is as good as mine re the last question, but you have missed the point on a few things. Mercedes had plenty to gain by running a three-day test with a current car – even if as we are led to believe that they were not told the specs of the ’2014′ tyres they were running. Any mileage, away from a race weekend, is like gold dust. And it is not the case that other teams were not willing to participate – the possibility of extra testing was mentioned in a March 2012 email and as we know from Paul H, ‘some replied and some didn’t.’ I don’t think legally this will be seen as a definitive offer re testing to take place 14 months later…

      The only team invited to Barcelona that week was Mercedes. I think we can be pretty sure everyone else would have gone, even Marussia if it made economic sense. The irony is of course that Ferrari did a test with the old car, went ballastic when they found out Mercedes ran a new car, and protested on the basis that they wanted clarity as they would be first in line to run the F138…

      • GeopregK

        Thank you for the cogent and nearly comprehensive reply Adam, much appreciated. The only unanswered part of my question is what did Pirelli have to gain in the way this incident was begun and handled?

        Massive lack of miscommunication as you point put below, is the only readily apparent answer.

    • peterg

      I’m beginning to sound like a broken record…….but when are Pirelli going to say we are done? At the end of the day they were asked to produce a control tyre for F1. Some teams have done a better job running it than others. One of those teams that has not done well is Merc, who qualify well and then slide down the order in the race, Monaco notwithstanding.

      The PR from all of this press cannot be going down well at HQ. Further, next year they can expect more of the same from the dysfunctional way that the teams work within the sport.

  21. Rob

    Great stuff Adam. I am still trying to figure if Pirelli and Mercedes were trying to pull a fast one. Or maybe just Mercedes. Or maybe just Pirelli. Or maybe this is the product of an excellent example of poor communication. “I thought you were going to contact the other teams”. Did the FIA actually have a representative there? Probably the summer student.
    If they thought they could do the test without anyone finding out….come on. Everyone has a camera in their pocket these days.

  22. Gman

    This is what makes articles interesting, not just arguing or copy/paste from other websites. Your investigations and your personal outlook is really appreciated! I also got subscribed to Autosport.com just for reading your articles there. Cheers!

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