I doubt there has ever been time when Formula One was not surrounded by some sort of scandal, it became an integral part of the sport, and we are not just used to it, we desire it. Scandal is always an excuse to have an opinion even for those, who cannot claim to be an expert in the field, like myself.
I find it fascinating how quickly the Mercedes – Pirelli undertaking got to the -gate status, so that expectations to scope of the conflict have risen to a whole new level. We love conflict, we want it to be big, so that we all can moan about how bad it is for the sport. Funny enough, every conflict has a potential to evolve into a vital kick in the ass for the teams to get to agreements in the sports’ interest, or not.
Red Bull’s Christian Horner said the test was “totally unacceptable” because Mercedes, who run their current car with their current drivers, gained an unfair advantage. One can discuss whether there was any advantage, but I believe it’s fair enough to say that if there were none, Mercedes wouldn’t do this test. I believe this particular advantage, that Mercedes gained through this test, is not exactly why other teams are upset, it’s rather the whole idea of in-season testing that buggers competitors.
Martin Whitmarsh, as a FOTA representative, mentioned a couple of times that cost cap is essential for the survival of smaller teams and the sport as a whole, teams even seem to agree with at least the general idea. Whether this idea is implementable is questionable, to be honest, I don’t see the teams agreeing on the level of the cap or related auditing mechanisms any time soon. But ban on in-season testing is one of the agreements that actually go in this direction, and by breaching this agreement Mercedes have questioned the direction in which the sport attempts to go. Funny enough, none of the FOTA teams has officially filed the protest. Horner said the reason for McLaren not to do it is the fact that Mercedes are their engine suppliers. Maybe this is the reason, maybe McLaren have their own problems, or maybe McLaren themselves fancy a chance to do some in-season testing. They can afford it after all. I believe Red Bull and Ferrari, who are not members of FOTA, did not file the protest because Mercedes gained an advantage in this particular case, they did so because they want the same for themselves. Ferrari have been lobbying in-season testing for ages, and now with Mercedes breaching the ban, they could not let such a great opportunity to make their point pass.
The decision, which FIA is faced with, is crucial to determine the direction in which Formula One is about to go. If Mercedes are not punished, or the punishment is not severe enough, this will give a carte blanche for all the other teams to do this so-called tyre testing. And there is no way to control whether it is tyres that they test or anything else, Formula One teams are not too bad with keeping things secret. It is the signal that the decision will make, that matters. After all it’s all politics, and any guess-work what FIA will decide, is at this point in time a mere speculation. One thing is clear, the decision has a potential to kick the sport in one direction or another. I am not sure it’s a proper crossroad, though, it’s rather a choice of a traffic lane.