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Protest over tire testing could end up at tribunal
By JEROME PUGMIRE
Associated Press
2013-05-27 02:33 AM
The latest row engulfing Formula One could end up going before another hearing after Red Bull and Ferrari launched official protests against Mercedes on Sunday, alleging the team breached rules by conducting in-season tire testing with manufacturer Pirelli following the Spanish Grand Prix two weeks ago.

The three teams and Pirelli answered questions from stewards following the Monaco GP, which was won from pole position by Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg ahead of Red Bull pair Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. Following the hearing, motor sport's governing body said in a statement that "the stewards (present) will write a report to the FIA who may bring the matter before the International Tribunal."

The FIA gave no further details when this might happen. The next race is in two weeks' time in Canada.

Earlier, the team principals of Red Bull and Lotus _ which did not lodge a formal protest _ expressed their annoyance at what they felt was secretive testing by Mercedes.

"We feel it's not in line with the rules," Red Bull's Christian Horner said. "We just want clarity."

Mercedes has been lightning fast in qualifying _ securing a fourth straight pole for Monaco _ but had struggled with durability during races and Rosberg's win was its first of the season.

Rosberg would not be drawn on the issue, saying only "you'll have to ask Pirelli about this issue. I don't want to comment."

Like Horner before him, Lotus principal Eric Boullier underlined that the testing fell outside of regulations.

"At the end of the day it's a breach of the sporting code," he said, adding that he found out about the tests on Saturday night. "If they did it, I think it is maybe because they think they could get an advantage."

In agreement with Mercedes, Pirelli conducted those tests after the race in Barcelona.

Although this is not strictly permitted under the sport's rules, there is a grey area because Pirelli insists its contract allows it to conduct private tests with teams under special circumstances.

"It's a situation we need clarification on," Horner said.

Boullier backed him up by saying that, even if there was an agreement in place, it was still unfair on other teams.

"Whatever permission is given, it should be allowed to everybody, or at least to make it aware to everybody and not testing on your own somewhere," Boullier said, adding that Pirelli had not offered Lotus the same opportunity _ although Lotus has been one of the rare teams not to heavily criticize Pirelli's fast-degrading tires this season.

Pirelli's head of motorsport, Paul Hembery, maintains there has been no wrongdoing.

"We are allowed to do a 1,000-kilometer tire test with any team," he said prior to the race. "In the World Rally Championship contract it's exactly the same. We can do it with a representative car."

Hembery said the testing was to look at possibilities to develop next year's tires _ providing Pirelli is still the official manufacturer _ and in no way gave Mercedes any advantage for Monaco.

"Absolutely not, because it's no relevance to what's happening here," he said. "Mercedes haven't a clue what on earth we were testing in reality."

Niki Lauda, Mercedes GP's non-executive chairman, added on SkySports television that the FIA gave permission to conduct the testing. A claim that has not yet been confirmed.

"Mercedes did absolutely nothing wrong," the three-time former F1 champion said.

Pirelli has been under pressure in recent weeks because of its shredding tires _ with nearly 80 pit stops at the Spanish GP leading to chaotic scenes.

Horner and championship leader Vettel have been the fiercest critics, and the Italian manufacturer still does not have the backing of all teams _ or any word from the FIA _ over a new contract for next season. Pirelli has pledged to make modifications at next month's race in Montreal.

The fact that Mercedes has been struggling for race pace, and that Pirelli has been trying to improve the resistance of its tires, seemingly gives extra meaning to the private testing.

"They've both cars on the front row of the grid, so it's not hurt," Horner said.

However, Mercedes had been the best in qualifying in the three races before the tests, anyway, so it is debatable whether it made any difference to gaining pole in Monaco.

Red Bull had won the past three Monaco GPs. Although last year's winner Webber was sportsmanlike in praising Rosberg, he still feels there are questions to answer.

"We need to see how it came about and what the rules are to see why Mercedes thought it would be OK," the Australian said.

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