Formula 1 heads to the Australian Grand Prix under a cloud of controversy following the explosive response from seven teams to a confidential settlement between the FIA and Ferrari.
Legal action against the governing body of motorsport is not something that is threatened lightly.
However, McLaren, Mercedes, Racing Point, Red Bull, Renault, AlphaTauri and Williams – the championship’s non-Ferrari powered teams – have deemed it necessary to adopt a united front out of anger and shock.
They object to the FIA’s confidential settlement of an analysis into Ferrari’s 2019 engines, which emerged at the very end of pre-season testing last week.
The Race understands that as well as awaiting the FIA’s response to their statement, the teams also intend to write jointly to the governing body to seek further clarification.
Behind-the-scenes talks at the Australian Grand Prix, which hosts the season opener next week, are a given.
In the meantime, a public response from the FIA is considered likely.
The coordinated release of seven identical statements was a calm and considered expression of outrage.
Here is what was said, what it means, and why a serious and swift response is necessary.
We, the undersigned teams, were surprised and shocked by the FIA’s statement of Friday 28 February regarding the conclusion of its investigation into the Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 Power Unit.
This is a strong but unsurprising position for the seven teams to adopt.
The teams did not receive advanced notice of the FIA’s statement, but its contents were the source of greater indignation than the lack of pre-warning.
With its short statement, the FIA attempted to end the long-running saga over the legality of Ferrari’s 2019 power unit.
But it did not declare what Ferrari was doing legal or illegal, leaving rivals feeling robbed of closure and surprised the issue could be considered resolved in such a manner.
An international sporting regulator has the responsibility to act with the highest standards of governance, integrity and transparency.
In short, the lack of a definitive verdict harms the teams’ trust in the FIA’s work.
They rely on the regulator to ensure fair and honest competition, which means policing the rulebook and taking firm action where required.
The FIA is under no obligation to share each team’s technical queries with their rivals.
However, this issue centred on doubts from competitors that a rival was competing within the regulations.
Any investigation into such a matter should therefore be conducted thoroughly to a firm conclusion, but a settlement suggests this was either not possible or was avoided.
Either outcome raises its own serious question about how much teams can trust the process.
FIA president Jean Todt has spoken extensively about the need for greater transparency during his time in office, but the teams’ reference to these standards calls them into question.
After months of investigations that were undertaken by the FIA only following queries raised by other teams, we strongly object to the FIA reaching a confidential settlement agreement with Ferrari to conclude this matter.
Ferrari faced massive scrutiny during the second half of 2019 as it established a significant engine performance advantage, particularly in qualifying.
Rivals believed this was the result of exploiting rules relating to fuel-flow regulations and oil burn.
However, they were already frustrated around the time of the Russian and Japanese Grands Prix that the FIA had not taken what they considered appropriate action.
Now the teams are extremely unhappy to be in the dark about what the FIA’s conclusion is.
If Ferrari’s engine was fully legal in 2019, saying so and explaining why is not only the best way to draw a line under it, but the only acceptable outcome as far as the other teams are concerned.
Therefore, we hereby state publicly our shared commitment to pursue full and proper disclosure in this matter, to ensure that our sport treats all competitors fairly and equally. We do so on behalf of the fans, the participants and the stakeholders of Formula 1.
The matter is far from finished. If the FIA hoped its late-in-the-day statement would be enough to placate the rest of the grid, it was sorely mistaken.
One reason teams need a definitive answer on whether there was a breach of the technical regulations last year from Ferrari is because if there was, then its second-place finish in the championship would be in jeopardy.
There is significant prize money at stake based on the constructors’ classification and teams would not look kindly on missing out on that based on a competitor not being punished for a rules breach.
It is also interesting because there will presumably be a desire to know not just the FIA’s findings from its analysis of Ferrari’s engine, but what the settlement was and why it was made.
That will be important for teams to establish why Ferrari was treated in this way.
In addition, we reserve our rights to seek legal redress, within the FIA’s due process and before the competent courts.
This, unsurprisingly, is the most interesting part of the statement. It means the teams’ commitment to pursuing the matter has real teeth.
Whether it reaches the point of an FIA International Tribunal or legal action through civil courts, the teams are positioning themselves to go on the attack if necessary.
Asking the FIA politely for more information will be the next course of action.
Being prepared to take the matter further means the teams can back up that request with something tangible.
A court case could descend into a messy, drawn-out saga. It means the early part of 2020, at least, risks being overshadowed by a controversy that could and should have been left in 2019.
Whether that happens may rest on what the public and/or private response to the teams from the FIA is, but all involved in F1 – including Ferrari given it has always protested its innocence – need the matter to be fully resolved without any doubts.
The affronted teams will hope their unified response is the first step towards achieving this.