Mercedes steering rack, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020

F1 shouldn’t limit the potential for innovation – Wolff

2020 F1 season

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Formula 1 teams say the sport must keep its spirit of innovation after F1’s motorsport director Ross Brawn warned some developments could be banned within one race from next year.

[f1tv2020testa]Earlier this year Brawn warned that teams who “exploit a loophole” in the rules could be “shut down at the next race” from 2021.

Speaking before the launch of the new Mercedes – and the discovery of its Dual Axis Steering system – Wolff said F1 should not discourage teams from pursuing innovations.

“Innovation will always be at the core of Formula 1,” he said. “This is what we do and it’s part of the DNA.

“I don’t think we should be limiting the potential for innovation. If somebody comes up with a clever idea they should be allowed to race it if it’s within the regulations.”

Toto Wolff, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
‘If somebody has a clever idea they should be allowed to race it’
The restrictive nature of the new rules for the 2021 F1 season have led some teams to warn car designs will become very similar. McLaren technical director James Key point out the cost cap which is due to come into force next year will also limit opportunities for development.

“We’ve got to leave the technical innovation of F1 to have its freedoms but I think that within limits which don’t end up being ridiculously expensive – with the cost cap, of course, you’re going to control some of that – or rely on technologies which only a few have got access to.”

Key hopes next year’s rules will continue to “leave room and space for innovation as well”.

“I do think you’ve got to allow innovations to, in some way, make a difference,” he said. “My personal hope is, and I’m sure we share that here and in other teams, that in an environment where you have slightly more restrictive regs in ’21 and you have a cost cap as well, it’s going to be more about the drivers, more down to the smart engineering and all the operational side, more down to the quality of what you’re doing rather than how much you’re spending. And part of that is to be able to innovate.”

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Renault sporting director Alan Permane admitted the team felt some envy over Mercedes’ DAS system, but doesn’t want the sport to prevent teams gaining an advantage on their rivals this way.

Alan Permane, Renault, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
DAS-style innovations may not happen in 2021, says Permane
“F1 is not all about, but it is about, innovation,” he said. “It’s about people differentiating, it’s about finding that edge on your competitors.

“So whilst we’re, let’s say, jealous or frustrated or whatever we are about Mercedes, they’ve clearly found something they think is a benefit and I think that’s one of the wonderful things about Formula 1.

“I don’t know how it’ll work in 2021, whether projects like that would ever get off the ground. If you go to F1 and say, ‘I’ve got this and it’s going to be worth a two-tenths of a lap to me’ and they’re going to shut it down in two races, you may not ever see that sort of thing.

“So I think there’s a line and I think we need to be careful that we don’t quash that sort of free thinking and that sort of spirit, because that’s part of the DNA of Formula 1.”

Mercedes could still face a legality fight over its Dual Axis Steering system. Read more in today’s RacingLines column on RaceFans

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2020 F1 season

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...
Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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18 comments on “F1 shouldn’t limit the potential for innovation – Wolff”

  1. Can’t say I disagree with Toto. If a team comes up with a genius idea – bravo to them!

    So long as rules and cost caps are adhered the continual pursuit of more speed, more downforce, more performance is a major draw and fascination with the sport for me.

  2. Brawn’s statement made it out like F1 is going to be like your local city council comittee deciding on the aesthetics of housing to be build, completely arbitrary.

    What I also wonder will teams get an increase in budget cap when they introduce an innovation and it gets banned immediately even though it abides by the rules?

    Otherwise you might as well make it a spec series immediately, coz that is what it will become when deviating from the norm gets punished so severely.

    1. Completely arbitrary? I certainly didn’t glean that from what Brawn said, so perhaps it might be you that wants to read that into his words. Banning certain innovations that cost too much for too little gain, is not turning the sport spec. It is keeping the sport reasonable at a time when they badly need to haul in the reins and try to achieve a better balance between the have teams and the have nots.

      1. Yes, completely arbitrary has been the thin red line in rules and regulations in F1 for the past 70 years. That is because F1 is more politics than sport.
        So e.g. Ross Brawn deciding which innovations get banned or not is just as arbitrary as Balestre arguing that racing driver should have turned around and reversed after going off track.

  3. Unfortunately it seems we are in for small steps evolution from now on. Nobody will develop a revolution system to have it ban the next race. I imagine it costs Mercedes quite a bit to come up with DAS (design, analysis, refinement, …). And even if it was worth a substantial amount of time, no team would develop that under cost cap to have it ban after a single race.

    If it is within regulation, it would make sense to allow the team to use it for a while before it gets banned. Either a around a half season (no other team would be incline to try and copy) or full season allowing other teams to react if they want to (takes less resources to copy than to create and might still be worth it). Next race ban is a bit overkill, especially that it means the team innovating is actually more penalized as it has to find a substitute quickly… Too quickly in my opinion. It’s not like teams find 1sec all of a sudden and even if they did and it is within regulation, good for them and too bad for the other not finding it.

    1. @jeanrien

      Next race ban is a bit overkill, especially that it means the team innovating is actually more penalized as it has to find a substitute quickly… Too quickly in my opinion. It’s not like teams find 1sec all of a sudden and even if they did and it is within regulation, good for them and too bad for the other not finding it.

      Exactly.

    2. Next race ban is a bit overkill… Too quickly in my opinion.

      Agreed, @jeanrien
      If it’s a loophole, and not a violation of the technical regs, I struggle to see why they would ban it that quickly.

      1. Keep in mind, Brawn has not said he would ban all innovations for the next race, come 2021. It is going to depend on the innovation and it’s costs and it’s value to F1 overall. There will be innovations that will be allowed. But they won’t be, from what I understand anyway, if it is an innovation that heads F1 back into the doldrums of only the richest of teams ever getting wins and podiums strictly out of having more money and resources such that lesser teams couldn’t even dream of keeping up. Budget caps are going to deal with some of this but for now there will still be half the teams that can’t even get near the budget cap anyway, so there is still going to be a gulf between those that have so much they need capping, and those who aren’t near there and simply cannot come up with things like DAS.

  4. You are never going to improve the sport by penalising those who are successful. Lowering the bar to the lowest common denominator by blocking innovation will not encourage growth or long term success.

    1. @johnrkh There are many ways they are improving the sport, nor do they plan on penalizing the successful. They are not blocking innovation other than innovation to the extreme. If a team like Mercedes spends 50 mill developing an innovation that gains them a tenth of a second, Brawn will not want that to then mean the lesser teams have to also spend what for them would be half their budget just to keep up with the ones with all the money. Growth of the sport, and long term success is going to come from the big measures Brawn has taken and that the teams have agreed. Nobody including Brawn has any desire to kill innovation in F1. But excessive innovation? Yup. Notice it is the ‘have’ teams that were last handed all the power to do as they please under BE and CVC that are bemoaning this close look at how F1 deals with the innovation vs costs to compete file moving forward. It’s not the teams that need the most help that are concerned, just the ones that have money to burn. Still haven’t heard a better solution from anyone, including TW, on how to find that fine balance between F1’s ‘DNA’ of innovating and sustainability that Brawn is tasked with doing. It is the big teams themselves that have been willing to go to the extremes of ridiculousness of money spending that have brought these necessary changes to the fore.

      1. @robbie what is the difference between “innovation” and “excessive innovation” though? At what point do you decide that something goes from an acceptable level of design freedom to becoming an excessive level?

        As a concept, trying to define what is and isn’t “excessive” is a very subjective topic that would probably become impossible to define in practise. In the example you give, at what point does it then start becoming acceptable to spend that much money? Does it then become acceptable to spend that much money if the return is 0.2s a lap? 0.25s per lap? Alternatively, if you gain 0.1s for $5 million, is that acceptable? Is $10 million acceptable? At what point does it then become “excessive”?

        Equally, at what venue does that apply? In the 2019 Austrian GP, a difference of 0.1s in qualifying was worth four places on the grid (the difference between Norris in 6th and Gasly in 9th was exactly 0.1s, with Magnussen only 0.027s further ahead of Norris).

        If one team finds that their car works far better with that concept and, instead of gaining 0.1s, are able to gain an average benefit of 0.2s per lap, does it then become acceptable for them to have that innovation, but unacceptable for that other team that only gained 0.1s?

        Does that cost necessarily translate to other teams as well in such a linear fashion? If you already partially know what the design solution is from publicly accessible sources (i.e. from onboard footage and from photographers), does it then cost that smaller team the same amount to develop that solution?

        Furthermore, I think that many still feel that there is the question of whether we absolutely have to have such extreme restriction on design in parallel with the fixed spending cap, and whether the two are so incompatible.

        When previously asked the question about why you felt the two were incompatible, you stated “Why do I believe that there cannot be budgetary constraints and Newey type freedom to innovate? I think the answer to that is obvious and has been in our faces for 2 or 3 decades now, right? Excessive freedom to innovate equals ‘he with the most money wins.’”.

        The thing is, that is an argument that is based on what is happening now, and it feels divorced from the restrictions imposed by introducing a budget cap. When there is that hard cap on what can be spent, that argument starts breaking down as soon as you start getting near the cap – it then cannot be a case of ‘whoever has the most money wins’. It makes no difference if I have $1 more or $100 million more than the cap would permit me to spend – if that money cannot be used in any way, it ceases to exist as a performance differentiator because there is no way that it can be used as such.

        On a wider note, you also previously commented that “Financial restrictions go hand in hand with innovative restrictions, low performance component standardization etc. They’ve discussed the off-site banks of engineers some teams have, the biggest ever staffs on teams just because they can etc etc. They’re talking about how they travel, how they ship their wears around the world, questioning the need for the excessive motor homes and it goes on and on.”

        The thing is, asides from the question of how “innovative” some of those aspects really are, when that is coming from the financial cap, does it not then partially undercut your argument given that those changes are coming about because of that, not from “restricting excessive innovation”?

        Furthermore, several of those aspects tie in to operational management, whereas Brawn has talked about restricting excessive technical development. There is a mismatch between arguing on technical and operational aspects – particularly as, in some areas, Liberty isn’t discouraging the teams from spending more (commercial aspects, including advertising, were indeed exempted to encourage teams to spend more on that front).

        1. @anon Your first paragraph highlights exactly the issue, no? Let me be clear if I haven’t before, that I am not against innovation. But I am against the degree of venom spewed towards Brawn, like he is the enemy, when all he is trying to do is put together a better more sustainable F1 which all seem to agree needs to involve cutting the costs for teams to enter and operate in F1 sustainably, with the lesser teams having some glimmer of hope that they can build themselves up to be bigger and better down the line, rather than struggling year after year just to get by with barely a hope of points.

          For me excessive innovation would be what Brawn referred to as things that would need a lot of money spent for very little gain, that typically only the big teams have the money and resources to study and instigate. It really is about the vast imbalance between the have teams and the have nots, and has been for years, and how the have nots in the hybrid era no longer have any glimmer of hope of ever competing with the likes of Mercedes, all things left the same.

          You raise some good questions and I’m sure they’ll learn more about what to do with this issue down the line. It is interesting to discuss what they can be innovative on within the budget caps coming. Brawn implied that with this concept of quicker rejections of some innovations, teams will be more willing to go to the FIA with an idea first, before actually building a prototype or what have you, so that they don’t waste time and money only to have their idea rejected. And what will be rejected? To me it will be the DAS’s that would cost so much for every team to have to implement in order to compete, that it would blow apart the concept of a sustainable F1 that gives the lesser teams a chance and makes it attractive to new entrants. Come up with an idea that gains .2 sec a lap and only cost $10 mill and I bet Brawn green flags it. Come up with something that gains .1 sec and costs $50 mill, and that will never get F1 to a more balanced place if it is green flagged.

          For the purposes of what I have been on about since Brawn spoke on this issue, I don’t segregate operational budgets vs technical development etc. Overall there needs to be a hauling in of the reins, and one of the things they have to do is watch out for one of the reasons they have known for quite a while that changes were needed, that being the type of freedom to innovate that has driven the costs to compete through the roof.

          Bottom line for me is I don’t share the same concerns that many seem to around here that Brawn is killing innovation and doesn’t want any of it. Not so at all. He just knows it needs to be policed better, just as their overall spending does, or else the teams left on their own…well, you know the rest.

  5. Its up there with manufacturers now blocking up the exhaust ports in todays cars, soon the car will become so opaque to everybody and be considered to be like a washing machine or fridge. A device which stirs no emotions.

  6. The FIA knew all about DAS from the beginning. Next time, I expect Mercedes will keep everything secret and wait for the FIA to discover what they’ve done, which is what RB and Ferrari do. Flexi wings, bendy floors and fiddled fuel flow anyone?

    1. Well Brawn’s answer to that would be that rather than spend all that time and money only to have the innovation potentially stripped from them as soon as it is discovered, depending on what it is and how much it costs, they will best be advised to take their idea to the FIA first. If as you say the flexi wings, the bendy floors, and the fiddled fuel flow get found out, will a team risk just going ahead with it, only to have it stripped one race to the next, rather than just next year? I just really also depends on the innovation.

  7. I don’t really have an issue with the reasoning behind banning this innovation for 2021 (too costly for other teams to develop before the budget cap is in place). Though my preferred solution would have been to provide (open source) the design to all the other teams so they can chose whether or not to implement it next year. It seems like a simple concept that could allow teams to better use their tires and potentially get more performance out of their cars. What’s more of a concern is if within the constraints of a budget cap the FIA is still in the practice of banning innovations that are well within the rules. The teams should be free to spend their budgets however they see fit.

  8. Here’s a better idea. Instead of banning innovative systems outright, why not put it to a vote to *allow* a new technology? DAS, for instance– decide it’s a good idea, and after 3 races, Mercedes has to share their design documents.

    Nah– that’s too intelligent. They’ll never go for it.

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