News that Pirelli had carried out tests with the Mercedes team came to light at roughly the same time as the team's tire wear issues and overall performance improved considerably, leading some teams to cry foul.
However, Pirelli has issued a statement explaining that "Pirelli, in development testing with teams carried out in 2013, has not favored any teams and, as always, acted professionally, with transparency and in absolute good faith. The tires used were not from the current championship but belonged to a range of products still being developed in view of an eventual renewal of the supply contract. Further, none of the tests were carried for the purpose of enhancing specific cars, but only to test tire solutions for future championships. The use of the car utilized by Mercedes, in particular, was the result of direct communication between FIA and the team itself. Pirelli did not ask in any way that a 2013 car be used: not of Mercedes nor FIA nor the teams, which, during the year, were offered the opportunity of participating in tests for the development of tires for 2014."
So Pirelli claims neither itself nor Mercedes requested that the current 2013 Mercedes chassis be used for the test. However, the subsequent improvement in form undoubtedly appears suspicious to teams not invited to get extra test miles, particularly Red Bull, which has seen a downturn in performance relative to Mercedes. Of course, this could be the result of ongoing developments by the Mercedes team, but the coincidence is clearly open to interpretation.
Pirelli addressed this concern in the following statement: "The 2013 Mercedes at Barcelona was the subject of discussions between the team and FIA. Pirelli made no requests and had no way of knowing if rules were being violated.
"The type of car used during the tests was the subject of these direct discussions between Mercedes and FIA, as shown in the exchange of emails between the team and Pirelli. In particular, Mercedes informed Pirelli that its 2011 car could not be used and that it had already contacted FIA regarding the use of the 2013 car. There is no doubt that the questions relating to the vehicle were the exclusive domain of the team, and that Pirelli was excluded from these questions (notwithstanding Pirelli's need, from a technical point of view, to have a representative car in terms of impact on the performance of the tires)."
"The Barcelona test was conducted in cooperation with Mercedes between May 15 and May 17, 2013. The team made available one car and two first tier drivers, who alternated at the wheel on different days. The team did not obtain any advantage with regard to knowledge of the behavior of the tires in use in the current championship."
"To confirm that this was an ordinary development test and not aimed at specific interventions, Pirelli made no specific requests about the drivers or about the type of Mercedes staff that would be present during the tests, and had fielded its normal team for development testing."
A clue to the nature of the tests, and why Mercedes might have benefited can be seen in the next statement. "The tests were conducted in observance of the contract between Pirelli and FIA, which gives the supplier the possibility of carrying out tests for the development of tires with each team of up to 1000 kilometers, without specifying the type of car to be used, nor sanctioning the simultaneous presence of all the teams for the running of the tests." So the additional 620 miles of testing for the Mercedes team certainly came at an opportune time, although everybody is keen to point out that this wasn't a strategy, but merely part of ongoing testing: "Since 2010 Pirelli made it clear that it is neither possible nor useful to carry out this type of test with all the teams simultaneously. In fact, this type of testing aimed at technological development and researching new solutions, involves many tires of different types, must be tested with a single car at a time. Testing for championship specifications is different, and occurs in winter testing, requiring the participation of all the teams in order to find the most satisfying solutions for all the cars in the competition. For this reason, Pirelli insists on the need for winter testing under conditions that are representative of the situations that will be met during the championship.
"In March 2012, Pirelli sent an email to all the teams, FIA and FOM, inviting the teams to indicate their availability for testing for the development of tires in 2013. Further, the company explained that it was necessary to conduct the tests with the teams' cars because it did not have a suitable car of its own (Pirelli has the use of an adapted 2010 Renault and, before that, a 2009 Toyota). The invitation was subsequently repeated in various official contexts and repeated to some teams last March for the development of tires for 2014."
Pirelli continued to explain that the tests themselves were expressly for the development of 2014 tires, and not the current 2013 rubber. Again, Pirelli emphasized that it "Feels the need to reaffirm the indisputable need to carry out tests for the development of tires, which are adequate and regulated by rules, which are clear and shared by all the interested parties. The company confirms its availability, as communicated to the teams many times in the past, to organize tests for the development of tires for 2014 with all the teams in the championship.
As for the test itself, Pirelli explained that it was "As always, carried out with a single compound never used in a championship, regarded structures not in use in the current season and not destined to be used later during the 2013 season. The teams had no information on which specifications were being tested or about the goal of the testing; nor did they receive any type of information afterwards.
"Pirelli always asked for representative cars, that is, with performance comparable to those of the cars being used in the championship underway, without ever referring to those effectively used in the 2013 races."
As for concerns over recent tire delamination, the Italian company addressed that as well. "The tests did not regard delamination in any way, as that problem was dealt with and resolved by Pirelli's technicians through laboratory tests, with the support of data gathered during the first races of the season."
In an attempt to fend off even more controversy, Pirelli has made a pre-emptive statement and the new experimental tires that will be used in the Canadian GP. They are keen to point out that they have never been used before. "The tires have new a kevlar structure and will be given to the teams during the free practice at the Montreal Grand Prix. This is the first time they will be track tested following laboratory development. The new tires have overcome the problem of delamination. This phenomenon in no way compromises the drivers' safety, but risked damaging the company's image. At the Canada tests, the teams will have the opportunity to express their opinions and make observations."
On a final note, Pirelli has explained that there will be "No change to the duration of the tires." Pirelli, is ready to make changes at any moment, but has made no modifications that effect the duration of the tires and, consequently, on the number of pit stops during the race because of a lack of unanimity on the part of the teams."
So the F1 circus continues to play its politics in public, with an enthralled public watching every move with fascination. Did Mercedes, and formerly Ferrari, benefit from extended testing during the season? And was subterfuge involved in Mercedes being allowed to use its 2013 chassis? We can guarantee these questions will never be fully answered but it undoubtedly adds to the absorbing season as it unfolds in front of us.