Five key findings from the Racing Point case
The decision of the FIA stewards reading the Renault Formula 1 team's protest of Racing Point's brake ducts has been eagerly awaited by all teams, and while the verdict of a €400,000 fine and loss of 15 world championship points is certainly no small matter, there is a much bigger picture.
The case revolves around the fact that for 2020 brake ducts became listed parts, and as such teams have to be able to prove that they have been "designed by it".
As the FIA notes in its decision, that change happened because it was that felt that brake ducts had "an enormous aerodynamic effect and the FIA and FOM thought that it was an anomaly of the rules that these parts were supplied between teams as they required significant wind tunnel resources to develop and that could help another team."
From the start Racing Point has made no secret of the fact that in 2019 it received CAD details of the Mercedes W10 brake ducts, a transfer of information that was legal at the time. Whether or not it is legal to use those designs on its 2020 car was the question that the case addressed.
The verdict runs to 14 pages and over 6000 words, and thus it takes some digesting. So what are the key conclusions that we can glean?
Firstly, a quick guide to the shorthand used in the FIA's document as quoted here: BD – brake ducts, FBD – front brake ducts, RBD – rear brake ducts, LP – listed parts.
1. Racing Point used the W10 front brake duct design in 2019
An intriguing revelation is that the front brake ducts used on the RP20 are regarded as legal on the basis that they were derived from those already used on the 2019 car.
The FIA notes: "This was entirely legitimate, because at the time the CAD models were shared by Mercedes and subsequently used by Racing Point for the RP19, the FBDs were not LPs.
"When Racing Point came to focus on development of the RP20 in the last quarter of 2019, its starting point was the RP19, including the FBDs in the RP19. Small changes needed to be made, because Racing Point changed the uprights used in the RP20, and because the FIA had slightly changed the rules for FBDs for 2020. However, there were no material changes."
The FIA makes it clear that it regards using the Mercedes-derived brake duct design in 2020 as permissible: "If the FIA had been asked at that point if the change in status of BDs from non-LPs to LPs meant that Racing Point had to rip out their 2019 FBDs and start again, because they had based them on CAD models obtained from other teams, the FIA would have said no they did not, because (a) the FBDs had been incorporated into the DNA of the RP19; and (b) to the extent they had been obtained from competitors, that copying had been legitimate when it was done.
"The FIA would have issued guidance to that effect to allow those parts to be 'grandfathered in' out of fairness given the unique circumstances created by the change in classification of the BDs. On that basis, the FIA would have considered that such parts could be used in the 2020 cars."
The FIA admits that it could have made things clearer: "It is fully acknowledged that the regulations are not black and white in this area and, therefore, are open to interpretation. However, the preponderance of evidence seems to suggest that the foregoing analysis is correct."
Racing Point RP20 brake and Mercedes W10 brake comparison
Photo by: Motorsport.com
2. Racing Point didn't use the W10 rear brake duct design in 2019
In stark contrast the FIA notes that Racing Point didn't use the W10 rear brake duct design last season, and that is the heart of the matter – the FIA says couldn't be 'grandfathered' in the same way and used in 2020.
"Although Racing Point received the CAD models for the Mercedes W10 RBDs at the same time as the FBDs, it chose not to use RBDs based on the Mercedes models in the RP19 (possibly because the aerodynamic rake of the RP19 was much higher than the W10 and so the aerodynamics were very different). Instead, it used a considerably different RBD philosophy for the RP19.
"When Racing Point came to develop the RP20 in the last quarter of 2019, however, it decided to replicate the rear of the Mercedes W10 (as well as most other aspects of the Mercedes of the W10).
"Therefore, it took out the CAD models of the Mercedes W10 RBDs, and used them to develop RBDs with very similar surface dimensions/shapes (unsurprisingly, since it also did its best to copy the aerodynamic aspects of the rest of the Mercedes W10, including all of its other LPs)."
Crucially the stewards note: "Since the RP20 RBDs were not run on the RP19 in 2019 and since the stewards believe that the design effort expended by Racing Point in adapting the RBDs originally designed by Mercedes for the W10 pales in comparison to the significance of the original Mercedes work, the stewards conclude that the principal designer of the RP20 RBDs was Mercedes, not Racing Point."
Nico Hulkenberg, Racing Point RP20
Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images
3. The FIA says Racing Point didn't ask the question
The FIA is adamant that during the design process of the RP20 Racing Point didn't formally check with the FIA about using the W10 rear brake design in 2020 – and had the team done so, it would have told that it couldn't.
"If Racing Point had asked the FIA at the time (September-November 2019) if it could use the CAD models of the Mercedes W10 RBDs as the basis for the RP20's RBDs, the FIA would have said definitely not, because (in contrast to the position in respect of the FBDs) Racing Point was not refining a component that had already been incorporated into the DNA of the RP19.
"Instead, it was introducing a completely new component for the RP20, which it knew was classified as a LP under the SRs (because they had been issued on 30 April 2019)."
The FIA stresses that it is correct to use this interpretation, and that it was up to the team to check legality: "This is by no means an unfair or retrospective application of the rules. It is accepted that it was perfectly lawful for Racing Point to obtain the CAD models for the Mercedes W10 BDs in 2018 (because BDs were not LPs at the time).
"But Racing Point knew when it developed the RP20 BDs that those parts would be LPs in the 2020 Championship. It, therefore, knew then that the BDs for the RP20 had to be 'designed by it,' and so could not be designed using the CAD models for the Mercedes W10 BDs."
The FIA downplayed Racing Point's claim that there are some differences compared to the original design, as the key thing - the aero shape - is the same.
"The fact that certain mechanical design features of the RP20 RBDs are different to the Mercedes W10 RBDs is irrelevant. BDs are LPs because they have an enormous effect on the aerodynamics and therefore on the performance of the car.
"The CAD models of the Mercedes W10 RBDs gave Racing Point a 3D model of the surface dimensions/shape of the Mercedes W10 RBDs, which are the crucial aspects of the part from an aerodynamic perspective.
"Racing Point reproduced those aerodynamic aspects very closely in its own RP20 RBDs. On a fair reading of the sporting regulations, properly interpreted in line with their underlying purpose, that means the RP20 RBDs were designed in large part by Mercedes, not by Racing Point."
Racing Point has argued from the start that its brake ducts were given the nod when an FIA technical representative visited the factory in March, after the RP20 has aroused the suspicions of rivals in Barcelona testing. However, the FIA says that the visit did not amount to any formal approval.
"The FIA acknowledges that Racing Point told the FIA representatives during their March factory visit that the RP20 BDs (FBDs and RBDs) were similar to the Mercedes W10 BDs because they had used data that they had received from Mercedes when the BDs were not LPs, and the FIA representatives had not objected or said that was not compliant.
However the FIA points out that "the visit was undertaken to assess the similarity of the whole car with the Mercedes W10, and therefore the focus was on the car as a whole, not on the BDs," and adds that "it is not reasonable to take the passing exchange in relation to the BDs as any sort of settled or considered position by the FIA in respect of those parts."
It adds that "it would have been necessary and appropriate for Racing Point to raise the point in writing and ask the question specifically of the FIA."
Nico Hulkenberg, Racing Point RP20
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
4. The penalty punishes the "potential advantage" Racing Point gained
In essence the stewards have decreed that disqualification wasn't on the table as it was a breach of the sporting regulations, and not the technical regulations.
Crucially they state that Racing Point gained an advantage by not having to devote as much resource to designing the brake ducts as would normally be the case.
They noted: "The method of creating the RP20 RBDs accrued a potential sporting advantage to Racing Point by allowing it to allocate a wide range of design resources to other design efforts as opposed to executing the detailed design effort on the RBDs that would have been necessary to replicate the equivalent effort from Mercedes in the original W10 design."
The add later that the "penalty imposed for the Styrian Grand Prix is intended to penalize the potential advantage Racing Point may have accrued in the BD design process," and that they "see the focus of the infringement to be in the design process itself, which was completed some time before the Styrian Grand Prix.
"However, this breach of the rules continues to exist through the use of the relevant BDs during following F1 events. For the first protests in the Styrian Grand Prix, it is therefore appropriate to impose a penalty that covers the entire process of (non-)designing the BDs and making them available for use during the whole 2020 season."
5. Racing Point can continue to use its brake ducts
One conclusion that follows on from the above, and which might surprise observers, is that Racing Point can continue to use the existing brake ducts. The FIA points out that they are technically legal, and the offence related to the design process – and that the punishment already handed out, which related specifically to the first race where Renault protested, has dealt with that.
The stewards note: "The use of the BDs in further competitions remains an infringement of the sporting regulations, but a penalty of reprimand seems sufficient, because the actual infringement, namely the improper development of the BDs, is sufficiently covered with the penalty assessed at the Styrian Grand Prix."
They add that the team doesn't have the redesign the ducts: "The stewards acknowledge that since the RBDs are compliant with the 2020 FIA F1 Technical Regulations it is not realistic to expect Racing Point to re-design or re-engineer the BDs in a way that would effectively require them to "unlearn" what they already know.
"Therefore, the penalty imposed is intended to penalize the potential advantage Racing Point may have accrued in the BD design process which resulted in the use of LPs which were not designed by it."
Lance Stroll, Racing Point RP20
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
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