Testgate verdict to be delivered after FIA accuse Mercedes and Pirelli of rules breach
FIA lawyer claims Ross Brawn testimony "gave the game away"; Mercedes claim test was held by Pirelli; F1's tyre supplier question validity of their summons to attend
By Pete Gill and James Galloway
Last Updated: 21/06/13 1:07pm
Although both parties continue to plead their innocence over their participation in the now-infamous three-day test which was held at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya in the week after May's Spanish GP, the FIA opened proceedings on Thursday by charging Mercedes with "obtaining information during the test" which was "self-evidently prejudicial to the sporting competition".
Mercedes' defence primarily rested upon their longstanding insistence that the test was hosted by Pirelli and, as such, they could not be held responsible for its staging or any alleged wrongdoing.
The team also seized upon the exact wording of Article 22.1, which both Mercedes and Pirelli were accused of breaking in their summons to attend the hearing.
It states that '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.'
"This was not a test undertaken by Mercedes. They are critical words in text of Article 22 - 'undertaken by'," argued Paul Harris QC, representing the Brackley-based outfit.
However, the FIA had earlier insisted that only the World Motor Sport Council had the authorisation to permit an exception to the in-season testing rules.
In a potentially-critical exchange that could be seen to provide Mercedes with an invaluable escape clause, it was also revealed that when Sebastian Barnard, the FIA's legal advisor, was asked by race director Charlie Whiting whether participation in the test could be considered to have been undertaken by Pirelli rather than a 'competitor', he replied: 'Yes, we could take this position, it is not an undertaking from the competitor'.
For their part, Pirelli begin their defence in the bluntest terms by stating that "we do not come under the jurisdiction or authority of the FIA". That announcement sparked a series of spikey exchanges as the FIA's QC Mark Howard dismissed Pirelli's testimony as "confused and missing the point", before thanking Ross Brawn for "giving the game away" with his admission that Mercedes would have gained "knowledge" through their participation.
In an unexpected twist, Mercedes also strived to turn the tables on Ferrari by accusing the Scuderia of breaching the rules surrounding in-season testing when they ran their 2011 car fol-lowing the Bahrain GP.
The team did, however, offer an apology for instructing their two race drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, to wear unmarked helmets during the three-day event in order to ward off attention from any prying eyes.
After a seven-hour long hearing Brawn gave a brief statement to awaiting reporters outside the FIA's headquarters.
"I'm pleased that Mercedes were able to demonstrate that we acted in good faith and that we gained no sporting advantage," the team boss said.
"I'd like to thank the Tribunal and its president for a very fair hearing and we're expecting a result tomorrow."
Pirelli's Paul Hembery, who didn't take the stand during the tyre manufacturer's period of submissions, said on his departure from the hearing: "It was a good hearing, we have always acted in good faith and we will have the result tomorrow."
A guilty verdict against either party could have serious and far-reaching repercussions for the sport.
In the closing part of their own submissions, Mercedes' lawyer suggested that should the independent judging panel rule against his client then the penalty imposed should be relatively minor, ranging from a reprimand to exclusion from next month's young driver test at Silverstone.
Pirelli remain F1's sole tyre supplier but are yet to sign a contract extension beyond his season while Mercedes' own future in the sport may be plunged into doubt if any punishment was considered too severe.