While we wait for Jean Todt to decide whether or not the case against Mercedes is passed on the International Tribunal, Pirelli could also find itself in serious trouble with the FIA over the affair.
Pirelli is not a competitor and can thus not be sanctioned through the normal FIA channels. However, there is an alternative scenario. Crucially, as a sole supplier Pirelli has a contractual obligation with the FIA to guarantee ‘sporting equity’ – and if the FIA ultimately deems that that this has not been the case, then it could in theory take legal action.
Understandably the FIA may be reluctant to follow such a course, but if Pirelli is deemed to have not fulfilled its contractual obligations one could speculate that the Italian company’s bid to retain its role as sole supplier from 2014 could be weakened.
That would leave the door open for Michelin to bid for the tender for the new F1 contract, although as the FIA’s tender system makes clear, any new supplier would have course first have to conclude a commercial deal with Bernie Ecclestone, for trackside advertising and so on.
Clearly Pirelli will be now be called to account to the FIA for how it behaved over the decision to run the Mercedes test, and then to subsequently keep quiet about it – and as Jean Todt has confirmed, the FIA submitted questions to Pirelli earlier this week, and is expecting answers by today.
Meanwhile some evidence of how Pirelli may struggle to prove that it has maintained its usual standards of sporting equity in the Mercedes case is provided by an intriguing document seen by this blog.
It concerns how Pirelli usually conducts its regular development testing with the 2010 Renault/Lotus chassis, as driven by the likes of Pirelli test drivers Lucas di Grassi and Jaime Alguersuari.
The contents underline the huge contrast with how the Barcelona Mercedes test was run, in total secrecy and with the regular team and drivers involved. It also poses a few questions about Ferrari’s late April Pirelli test in Barcelona, run somewhat less contentiously with the 2011 car – and thus within the sporting regulations – but without the knowledge of rivals.
The letter, written to all the teams on April 27th 2012, shows the lengths that Pirelli went to in order to ensure that Lotus F1 gained no advantage from the testing, something that rivals were concerned about when a car from a current team was chosen to replace the outdated 2009 Toyota.
After lengthy debate all the teams – including Mercedes and Ferrari – agreed that a Renault/Lotus was a good compromise. At the time the ex-Kubica/Petrov car was a midfield challenger rather than title contender, but one fast enough with which to conduct representative testing. Clearly Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren and Mercedes did not want one of their established immediate rivals to conduct the testing, so paranoid were they about the opportunity providing a possible advantage.
Pirelli went to considerable trouble to demonstrate to teams that it would ensure that Lotus gained no benefit.
The letter stresses that the car is run by the Lotus show car team – who usually take part in demos and street events – and emphasises that no data from a test is passed to the main race team.
It also goes to great lengths to stress that key tyre data is handled not by Lotus but passed direct to Pirelli via an independent infra-red camera system run by a German company called RennWerk Gmbh, set up by former Toyota employees.
Pirelli even includes a diagram to illustrate the flow of data, and demonstrate how the Italian company and RennWerk control it, with Lotus given access to what the engineers require to be able to run the car. But special software means that even the data that Lotus works with cannot be accessed “outside the specified test events” thanks to the way it uses a data system called Atlas, which is provided by McLaren Electronics.
Crucially Pirelli gives the dates of the planned 2012 tests in Jerez, Spa, Monza and Barcelona, and offers an invitation to teams to send representatives to observe any test.
The conditions are that that are only allowed to talk to one Pirelli representative, and are not allowed inside the garage, but every effort is made to make them feel welcome – even the provision of wi-fi, somewhere to work, and a free lunch…
Pirelli also confirms that it will send a report by email, outlining the results of the test, no earlier than a week after it concludes.
Pirelli told the teams: “As already anticipated, we are happy to have one representative from each Team attending our development tests. We need to know the name of the person no later than one week before the beginning of each Test, to guarantee their access at the circuit.
“We kindly ask you to understand that the level of confidentiality during a development test is very high, and we are obliged to define clear rules for the attendance, I hope you appreciate this. We will share a run plan in the morning of each test day and we will keep representatives updated with a short briefing during the lunch break (if planned) and at the end of each test day. We will communicate the timetable of the briefing in due time.
“The briefing will be managed by our F1 Team Coordinator, Massimiliano Damiani, and no other people involved in the test from Pirelli, Lotus, Renault, Rennwerk or McLaren Electronics will be authorized to speak with anybody unless specifically decided by Pirelli.
“Our test drivers are not authorized to speak with Teams’ representatives and Teams’ representatives won’t be equipped with radios. The plan is decided by Pirelli at its sole discretion and can be modified only by Pirelli test coordinator.
“After each test we will supply a short report to summarize the results achieved. This short report will be sent by email not earlier than one week after the end of the test, when we have completed all our analysis.
No telemetry data will be shared with the Teams’ representatives.”
In further emphasising that Lotus does not gain any advantage, Pirelli told the teams:
“They will do a normal “reliability” debrief with the driver at the end of each day but they will not be involved in the results and findings from the test, so this part of the debrief should be done exclusively by the Pirelli Race Engineer with the driver.
“They will not participate in any kind of post analysis of the data.
“They will not know tyre compound or construction in the Runplan unless it has a consequence on ride heights.
“They will send us a basic pre-event analysis containing fuel effect, expected laptime and base setup.
“At the end of each day, they will send us the Runsheet containing laptime, driver comments and setup changes.”
Pirelli goes to great lengths to show that the data cannot be used by Lotus.
“LOTUS is running usual data processing during the event (vTAG). RENNWERK is monitoring the data processing to avoid unwanted data generation
“LOTUS cannot export any data due to specific ATLAS licenses with data export functions disabled
“The only exception is the generation of statistics for safe running of the car and lifing purposes. RENNWERK is monitoring these exports to avoid unwanted data generation and export.
“Apart from the above exception, PIRELLI is the only user to be able to export and transfer data out of the LOTUS Show Car Team Network
“All data are retained inside the LOTUS Show Car Team Network
“Mechanisms like encrypted hard discs, locked USB ports and monitoring of network traffic are installed to prevent unwanted data removal
“Usage of PIRELLI owned ATLAS licenses ensures that data cannot be accessed outside the specified test events
“RENNWERK will monitor licence usage and data security mechanisms during the events
Given the above provisions it’s perhaps not surprising that rivals were somewhat taken aback when news of the Mercedes test emerged, and indeed the Ferrari session, even if it was conducted with an old car.
The other teams were not told it was happening, they were not invited to attend as observers, and they have yet to receive any reports about either the Ferrari or Mercedes tests, in apparent contradiction of Pirelli’s usual policy, as outlined above.
The crucial question however is did Pirelli and its partner Rennwerk follow in detail the above data security provisions when running the Ferrari and Mercedes tests? The provisions that Pirelli clearly worked so hard on because they (and all the teams) knew exactly how Lotus or anyone else could benefit by participating in a tyre test, even with an old car.
Questioned by this blog, spokesmen from both Mercedes and Ferrari stressed that it was a Pirelli test and thus they were not willing or not able to make any comment about how the tests were run, and thus not in a position to confirm that the same standards were applied, or that RennWerk was involved in monitoring the data. However, both did stress that the teams were not told what tyres Pirelli was putting on the car.
I also asked Pirelli whether the recent tests were conducted under similar conditions to the usual Renault/Lotus testing, specifically with regard to the involvement of RennWerk in controlling the flow of data.
A Pirelli spokesperson told me: “Apart from the comments Paul has already given you on the recent events, we have nothing further to add for the time being as it is company policy not to give any details about our R&D programme to the media.”
However it is due to hold a press conference today.
As noted, the FIA has asked Pirelli some questions – it will be interesting to see what the next step is…