Contradictions – Mercedes and the Young Driver Test

As you probably know by now, following the Spanish Grand Prix, Mercedes carried out a test for Pirelli using their current cars and race drivers (Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg).  The tyres were prototypes, though, as the test was supposed to be for Pirelli’s benefit, to help develop new tyre compounds.

ross and lewisMercedes team principal Ross Brawn and Lewis Hamilton.
Photo credit: Official Blackberry Images via Flickr

There is currently a ban on in-season, on-track testing in Formula One.  This measure was implemented to control spiraling costs for the teams, although whether it has done so is questionable.  According to Pirelli’s contract, they were allowed to ask teams to assist them in a test, although the offer had to be extended to all teams.  And that is the issue: it seems most teams only found out about this test through a drivers’ briefing in Monaco, two weeks after the test.  They were not happy.

That is how we ended up with Mercedes and Pirelli called before the FIA Tribunal this week to determine whether the team had contravened the sporting regulations and, if so, what sanctions they might receive.  Prior to their hearing, Mercedes offered to skip the upcoming Young Driver Test as a self-imposed punishment (implicitly acknowledging some form of guilt).

Picture 11

Following the hearing, the tribunal agreed that Mercedes had at least violated the spirit of the regulations, gaining an unfair advantage, and accepted the self-imposed penalty, banning the team from the young drivers test.  Almost immediately, Ferrari and Red Bull made it known that they were not happy with the sanction; nor should they be.  Mercedes is now protesting that, if given the choice, they would rather participate in the Young Driver Test.  But this excuse rings hollow.  Why?  Because every Friday of a Grand Prix weekend is, effectively, a young driver test: all teams are free to run their reserve drivers in place of their race drivers during the free practice sessions.

But how many times has Mercedes taken advantage of this option in 2013?  Zero, just like all the other top teams.  This is not a surprise; it is much more important for teams’ race drivers to get time at the wheel than it is for their reserve drivers.  So Mercedes cannot claim, on one hand, that they would prefer a young driver test to a test with their race drivers and then, on the other hand, refuse to let their young drivers, like Sam Bird, test the car when given the opportunity.

Red Bull, Ferrari, and any of the other teams are certainly within their rights to be upset about the Mercedes test and the decision of the FIA Tribunal.  McLaren, on the other hand, has supported the Tribunal’s decision, as they are not in favour of a return to in-season, on-track testing.  Instead, they have invested the money saved from the lack of on-track testing in their simulator.

In the end, no punishment will satisfy all the teams, but Mercedes should not try to convince us that they would prefer a young driver test when their actions say differently.

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