Mercedes F1 director Toto Wolff has admitted that, had the team known what was to follow, it probably would not have attempted to help Pirelli with its tyre development programme.
While not accepting that it was wrong to complete the three-day, 1000km, test at the Circuit de Catalunya
directly after this year's Spanish Grand Prix, Wolff conceded that the fall-out – including an appearance before the new FIA Tribunal last month – had proven to be a distraction that Mercedes could have done without.
The Three Pointed Star, having been protested by both Red Bull
for using a 2013-spec car for the test – in direct contravention of the rules but, the team claimed, with the permission of FIA safety delegate Charlie Whiting – was subsequently banned from the forthcoming Young Driver test at Silverstone. Ironically, that session has now been hijacked by Pirelli and the FIA as the first opportunity to carry out tyre testing on safety grounds following the six blow-outs at the British Grand Prix…
“We have been given a penalty and we accept it,” Wolff told the official F1 website, denying claims from fellow director Niki Lauda that Mercedes would have accepted 'any verdict' from the Tribunal, “Three days not testing - yes it is with rookie drivers, agreed, and this is a big differentiation to our regular race drivers - but it is free testing, which means that you are allowed to use any car, allowed to put any part on the car and allowed to develop any part on the car.
“You can use the race car with rigs and sensors, you use the race tyres and are on a track where you have raced before, similar to us. So losing three days with unlimited mileage - probably 1500
kilometres - is a big hit. We have a long list of things we would have done, but now can't - something like 35 different programmes – and, if somebody says there are nobodies driving, well this test is not about squeezing out the last tenth, but about collecting data.”
Mercedes has claimed two race wins – in Monaco and Great Britain – since the controversial test, but Wolff insists that there is more to the success than simply having gained precious mileage where rivals couldn't.
“We were very busy the last couple of weeks getting prepared for the Tribunal [and] a lot of grey cells that normally concentrate on making the car better were working on the documentation for the Tribunal,” he said in response to the inevitable question of whether victory had come because of, or despite, the test, “That's why I settle for 'despite'.”
While the wins are welcome in a season where Mercedes has struggled with tyre wear, the repercussions of what it thought was a charitable gesture towards Pirelli and the sport in general have given Wolff reason to reconsider the wisdom of taking part in the test.
“Mercedes is about sporting competition, fair competition, and engineers competing against each other at the highest level, and definitely not about unfair advantages and malicious dealings,” he insisted, “We acted in good faith because we asked Charlie [Whiting] if that test was fine, [and] Charlie, I think, acted in good faith by telling us that the test was okay. We did the test and afterwards our microcosms collapsed and we found out that the matter could have been handled in a different way
“We really tried to help Pirelli. We shouldn't let them down. They were asked to provide spectacular tyres - to provide tyres that would enable lots of pit-stops - and that is what they did. Then everybody says we don't want that any more.
“We had some tyre failures - that was clearly a safety issue as well - and they asked us if we could help them out - and that is what we did. We didn't measure anything on the car, we didn't do what certain media wrote, but, clearly in hindsight, had I known about the avalanche of things that would result, we probably we wouldn't have done it because it diverts us from our core business.”