Formula One is a complex sport, for many one that cannot be easily understood. A myriad of regulations, be it sporting or technical, allow the stewards to govern the actions of teams and drivers. However, on rare occasions there are situations that live in the grey and more confusingly for fans then it becomes about how each person interprets them.
So how did we get in this mess in the first place?
The controversy at Spa that saw Sebastian Vettel's tyre fail, whilst in touching distance of completing a one-stop race and collecting a podium, saw both Pirelli and the FIA make admendments to the minimum pressures that the tyres could be run at. As performance is so heavily linked to the available tread platform an increase in pressures was derided by the teams and as such the benchmark fell throughout the Free Practice session. Initially they intended to raise the pressure by 5psi, a figure that steadily declined until such point it was a mere 1psi increase. The intent? well that's where the waters muddy and the one-size fits all regulation 12.5.3 comes into play:
If, in the interests of maintaining current levels of circuit safety, the FIA deems it necessary to reduce tyre grip, it shall introduce such rules as the tyre supplier may advise or, in the absence of advice which achieves the FIA's objectives, specify the maximum permissible contact areas for front and rear tyres.The result of Pirelli's investigation into the tyre failures of Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel in Belgium centred around a staggering quantity of cuts in the tyres (63), caused by debris that littered the track. This was given as one of the reasons for the pressure increase, however, as the teams have continued to develop their cars and push the operating envelope of the tyre it was high time to reel them in, especially on a circuit that increases the demands on the tyres at high speeds. A Trojan horse if you will, as although it does have a bearing on safety this certainly seemed to have some sway toward removing performance too.
So, how did Mercedes 'get away' with it?
As tends to be the case with these changes of protocol they aren't within the regulations framework, making them difficult to penalise. Furthermore, there is an area of variability in the taking of the measurements because the full protocols hadn't been structured. Having been given the green light by the Pirelli engineer as they left the garage Mercedes believed their task was complete, conducting their procedures on the way to the grid, at which point the tyres were placed back in the blankets. The blankets were unplugged around the 5 minute warning, whilst other teams can and will keep the blankets on for longer. This cooling period for the tyres is simply an operating criteria of Mercedes, they opt to do this as is their choice (we'll get onto why later). The left rear tyre of the Mercedes and Ferrari cars were then tested for both pressures and surface temperatures, which should be 19.5psi or more and no more than 110 Celsius.
I can only assume that these tests were conducted in grid sequence (based on the chronological images below, copyright FOM/Sky Sports F1), starting with Lewis Hamilton down to his team-mate Nico Rosberg.
|The teams have received the 5 minute warning and begin to disembark
|A representative from the FIA having already tested the tyre pressure, tests the surface temperature of Vettel's left rear tyre, another FIA representative and a representative from Pirelli are in attendance
|A Mercedes engineer returns the tyre blanket to its usual position having just been removed for the FIA/Pirelli tests
Where from here?
When the news of the infringement first surfaced I thought Mercedes and moreover Lewis' victory were in jeopardy, however, the tests conducted ahead of the Italian GP were far from thorough, lacked protocol and moreover inadmissable given the time delay between each measurement and the requisite loss of temperature. Therefore, Pirelli and the FIA need to have a rethink. For this to work on a consistent basis tyre blanket procedures must also be considered, which in itself brings headaches considering different teams use different suppliers.
Even worse the increase in pressure for Monza may be withdrew going forward in any case, simply because they were changed to meet the demands of the high speed circuit. However, I don't think we have seen the last of this with the FIA/Pirelli likely looking at ways to have better control protocols going forward (think 2016 and beyond).
Pirelli have already insisted on better test conditions going forward should they retain their sole supplier contract and what we saw at Monza, for me at least, was Pirelli flexing their muscles, showing the teams that they won't sit in the shadows if their product is being bad mouthed. Instead they'll come out fighting, adjusting things to suit their requirements rather than being led down a dark alley by the teams and drivers and coming out covered in bruises.