• GP Week

Tyred of all the scandal

Kate Walker
June 14, 2013
It's not just Mercedes which has felt the strain as a result of the tyre test © Sutton Images
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As a Formula One journalist (and one who's spent a fair bit of the past few years obsessing over tyres), everyone expects me to have an opinion on The Great Tyre Test scandal of 2013. But I just can't bring myself to care.

There's no denying it's big news. After all, whatever happens when Mercedes and Pirelli state their cases in front of the FIA's specially convened International Tribunal is going to have a dramatic outcome on the season as a whole. No one is entirely sure what penalties are likely to be issued should the test be found to have been illegal, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility that the Silver Arrows will find themselves excluded from this year's World Constructors' Championship.

But the problem with the story is that while it's going to become big news when the Tribunal meets, hears the cases stated by Merc and Pirelli, and decides whether or not rules were broken, at the moment it's little more than rumour, conjecture, and hearsay. But rumour, conjecture, and hearsay are a great way to fill column inches, generate page views, and keep F1 a major talking point.

Over the Monaco Grand Prix weekend I was told unequivocally by one source that Pirelli had written confirmation from the FIA that the test was legal, which was why they went ahead with it. I was also explicitly told that the FIA had not granted permission for such a test.

Rumours spread around the paddock like wildfire, and have hardly abated since. For a few moments, it was 'official' that Ferrari's secret tyre test had involved one of the Corse Clienti cars, and not a recent Formula One car. Then it transpired that the car was recent(ish), but that it had been run by the Corse Clienti team, not the race team, and with Pedro de la Rosa behind the wheel. Source contradicted source until it was impossible to know what had really happened.

All that we can say for certain is that Ferrari conducted a secret in-season tyre test that has since been found to have operated within the full letter of the law, while Mercedes conducted a similar test whose legality is currently under dispute.

What has been most interesting about this from a personal perspective has been the impact it has had on certain relationships within the paddock. As journalists, we spend our days building relationships with people who are in the position to give us the inside scoop - or as much of that scoop as has been deemed safe to give us at the time.

They're odd relationships. On the one hand, a good journalist knows that a lot (all…) of the information they are given off the record is not the full story. We're given enough of the story to know that there's something to pursue, but we listen in the full knowledge that certain elements will have been emphasised or left out with a view to protecting a public image, to creating a certain spin.

It is then up to the individual journalist to chase down the rest of the story, to find out as much as they can in order to paint as full a picture as possible for you, the reader.

That is the point at which we start to rely on those relationships that have been proved trustworthy over the years, to approach those sources who are willing - off the record - to provide the sorts of explanations that become the foundations for our on-the-record conversations, our questions, our investigations.

So what does one do when one of those sources discredits him or herself by passing on Top Secret information that has little to no relationship to the truth?

While a bid for self-protection (or the protection of one's employer) is understandable, deliberately passing on misinformation to the media is damaging in the long-term. Relationships that take years to build can be destroyed in an instant, and in a 'you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours' sort of world, an individual with no backs to scratch can find themselves very lonely, very fast.

Whatever the fall-out from the decisions of the FIA International Tribunal, one of the less visible outcomes of The Great Tyre Test Scandal of 2013 has been the breakdown of trust between a number of key F1 stakeholders. Misinformation has been deliberately spread in an attempt at self-protection that looks an awful lot like self-destruction from inside the paddock gates.