Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis
The tech fallout from the Racing Point F1 verdict
The decision to uphold Renault’s protest on Racing Point's brake ducts has sent significant shockwaves through the paddock, and looks like it will do for some time to come.
The FIA’s extensive stewards statement outlined its arguments in detail, but it is clear that just as many questions as answers have been prompted by the outcome.
There is no denying it is a complicated matter. The main defence from Racing Point relates to the transition of brake ducts from non-listed to listed parts for 2020.
Its argument is that under the 2019 regulations it could purchase brake ducts and CAD drawings from Mercedes as non-listed parts, and in doing so be able to use that knowledge to assist in the design of it 2020 parts which would then be considered listed.
The FIA acknowledged that the transitional nature of these regulations did leave the door ajar for some ambiguity. However, the overriding factors that must be taken into account given that brake ducts are now considered listed parts, are whether the team carried out enough work of its own for the design to be considered theirs and not that of another competitor.
As such, the FIA decided that only the rear brake ducts are truly in breach of being exact replicas of the design used by Mercedes in 2019 and have applied penalties and fines on that basis.
This is based on a view that Racing Point had access to data from Mercedes late in 2018 / early 2019 that allowed it to design, build and optimise its own brake duct design in a way that not only complimented its chosen heat management targets but also its aerodynamic package for that season.
The development lineage of the brake ducts throughout 2019 was fundamental in the FIA’s decision. So whilst the RP20 and W10’s front brake ducts are also very similar in design, Racing Point had conducted enough of its own research and development for them to be considered an independent design.
However, if we take a look at the timeline involved, it becomes ever clearer that there’s a very fine line that’s been trodden to come to that conclusion.
To fully understand the Racing Point transition, we need to venture a little further back than just last season. As we can see from the image on the left, the 2018 VJM11 did not feature the same outboard suspension and upright architecture as Mercedes did that season. Instead this was at a point when Force India was still deploying resources to design its own parts, rather than buy them in.
The image on the right shows how the team, now under new ownership, has changed tact and opted for the outboard suspension and extended upright used by Mercedes. However, the brake duct design seen here is still very much a Racing Point design, with a much larger inlet set back from the front of the vertical fence.
Meanwhile, over at Mercedes (left image) the team expended significant resources on optimising its brake duct design, not only in order to reap the heat management rewards on offer but also in an effort to improve the aerodynamic output of the car too.
With a closer relationship forming between Racing Point and Mercedes, the former opted to purchase CAD data from the latter, as was allowed at the time.
This was used to help fast-track Racing Point’s performance, with a new set of front brake ducts deployed as part of its update package for the Spanish GP (right image). These bear an uncanny likeness to the ones used by Mercedes since the start of the season.
Mercedes then went on to optimise its design further still, introducing a new version, with a much larger inlet at the German Grand Prix. Further aerodynamic changes were made in Japan (left image) which included a row of small vortex generators within the crossover trench.
Meanwhile, continuing to develop its own solution, based on information from its own research and data from Mercedes, Racing Point introduced its own version of this design in Singapore and continued to race it throughout the course of the season.
Racing Point RP20 front brake drum
Photo by: Giorgio Piola
Where the FIA’s decision is unclear is on why it has interpreted this year’s front brake ducts as a Racing Point design, owing to the development it did of its own during 2019.
If we look back at what it designed on its own last season, albeit with the guidance of the data made available to it by Mercedes, the designs used were only a facsimile of the original, with alterations clearly made to accommodate its own DNA.
Crucially, a version of the front brake ducts being used this year never featured on the RP19. Yet the ones on the RP20 are as close to a replica of the brake ducts introduced by Mercedes in Japan last year as you’re going to find, suggesting there’s more Mercedes DNA coursing through them than Racing Point’s.
Always being just one development step behind the sport’s front runner is never going to be a bad thing for a team like Racing Point, which has always punched above its weight.
But, where it goes from here will be one of the most interesting aspects, as without the access to Mercedes data going forward, its design is inevitably going to be more disconnected.
In the images above we can see both 2020 designs, with Mercedes having taken the next step forward in order to deliver better heat management for the brakes and tyres, and aerodynamically, to assist the various flow structures that are built up around it.
Unable to capitalise on using Mercedes rear brake ducts last season due to its differing ride height philosophies and the aerodynamic impact it would have had on the likes of its diffuser, Racing Point used a design completely of its own making in 2019. However, for 2020 it decided to apply the same formula as it had at the front and alter the Mercedes design for which it had the CAD data.
This is where the FIA consider that Racing Point accrued a sporting advantage over its competitors, with too much carry-over from the original design present. As listed parts are governed by the Sporting Regulations and the rear brake ducts are legal from a technical standpoint, the FIA has allowed Racing Point to continue to use them without penalty.
This is far from the end of this matter
Other teams have been angered by the FIA’s stance, as the governing body has already admitted that in copying the Mercedes design Racing Point received an advantage in terms of being able to deploy resources elsewhere.
Allowing it to continue to use this design, even though Racing Point cannot unlearn what it already know, gives it an advantage that it will carry right throughout 2020 and 2021 and even into the design of the all-new car for 2022, as it will spend significantly less resources to chase performance compared to if it had stayed on it own development trajectory.
The more alarming part of this protest is that with Renault having only protested the brake ducts, there are still a multitude of parts that teams could still protest on this year's Racing Point.
The nose, for example, is another structural element of the car that not only requires a crash test but is also a listed part. Furthermore, it is almost identical to the W10’s design and is considerably different to the design used by Racing Point during 2019.
With the matter already heading to the FIA’s International Court of Appeal, this story is far from over.
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