The FIA has taken the rare step of disqualifying both Renaults from the last race after ruling its brake bias system functioned as a driver aid.Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi lost their points-scoring finishes in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix when their rear wings failed post-race checks.
Renault’s situation is unusual for a couple of reasons. First, because it involved a protest from a rival team.
Last year Renault successfully brought a protest against one of its rivals, Haas, at the Italian Grand Prix. It led to Romain Grosjean being disqualified when his floor was found to be illegal. (The team’s other car might have faced the same protest but Kevin Magnussen was the last car running at the finish so no one had anything to gain from his disqualification.)
At the time Haas accused Renault of breaking with convention by not flagging a potential area of dispute before a race instead of resorting to an acrimonious post-race protest. In that respect, some might argue Renault have reaped what they sowed.
However the team which brought the protest which led to both Renaults being thrown out of the Japanese Grand Prix, Racing Point, would surely not agree. Last year the team’s technical director Andrew Green rubbished Haas’s claims such a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ applied in that case.
“[Haas] broke the regulations,” said Green at the time. “It was a technical directive from the FIA telling everybody these are the regulations and you need to abide by them by Monza. Plenty of time.
“That’s a completely different scenario from thinking someone’s illegal and then doing a sneaky on them at the end of the race. Which tends not to happen, we tend to talk to the FIA and the FIA will talk to the team and sort it out.”
The other reason Renault’s situation is unusual is that they have been disqualified for breaking the sporting regulations, rather than the technical rules.
Technical infringements almost invariably lead to disqualification as Renault well knows. Just two races earlier Daniel Ricciardo’s RS19 was found to have broken the technical regulations during qualifying and he was thrown out.
The team, and Ricciardo, clearly felt their Singapore punishment was excessive. But FIA race director Michael Masi was clear in his opinion that infringements of the technical regulations, however minor, must lead to disqualification, which is consistently with long-standing precedent.
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But in this latest case, while Racing Point alleged Renault’s car broke the technical regulations, the stewards ruled they hadn’t, but had actually infringed the sporting regulations. Specifically, article 27.1, a blunt nine-word clause which states: “The driver must drive the car alone and unaided.”
The stewards admitted that disqualifying the two Renaults for this was an unusual move. “The stewards acknowledge that the penalty assessed in this case is more severe than other recent cases involving a breach of article 27.1 [of the] FIA Formula 1 Sporting Regulations,” they stated.
There have been few other such breaches. The most recent example was the 30-second time penalties given to both Alfa Romeo drivers after the German Grand Prix when their clutch performance at the start was deemed to infringe the same rule.
In Renault’s case, the stewards gave a clear sign that they found the nature of their infraction was serious enough to merit a severe penalty: “The relative benefits gained under the breaches of Article 27.1 in those previous cases and the two resulting from this race were specifically assess and the penalty here resulted from that assessment.”
But while disqualification is the “more severe” decision as far as sporting infringements go, it is clearly less severe than disqualification from multiple races. An unanswered question remains how long Renault has had this system on its car.
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Racing Point may have known about the system for some time and chosen not to protest it until they stood to gain a significant haul of points. As the table below shows, in the two races prior to the Japanese Grand Prix, Racing Point stood to gain comparatively little from protesting Renault.
So just when were Renault rumbled?
Consequences of a Renault double disqualification at all races so far in 2019
By successfully protesting Renault in Japan, Racing Point ensured they gained four points while their rivals lost nine – a 13-point swing. Did that influence the timing of their protest?
Here is how the same verdict would have changed the points scored at all of this year’s races.
|Race||Renault loss||Racing Point gain||Total swing|
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