In mid-January a source advised that Racing Point was moving towards a “Haas-type” arrangement with Mercedes – a broad term for Haas’s technical arrangement with power unit supplier Ferrari, covered here previously. Their sharing of braking system parts provided a prime example of their co-operation, the source added.
“For example an expansion of our machine and laminating shop is planned for this spring. Commencement of the new factory build will happen soon and be completed by 2021. This is diametrically opposed to the Haas model.”
As our source was adamant that braking system components would be shared – and Racing Point had not excluded this possibility, despite our specific reference – we referred to it in a news article.
A Mercedes spokesperson later disputed the claim, insisting it was “incorrect”, though adding: “For the RP [Racing Point] stuff, it’s partially almost correct.” That cryptic turn of phrase stuck in the mind.
All the more so when the RP20 appeared, given its resemblance to a ‘partially almost correct’ version of last year’s Mercedes W10, from its profile to the slightly upturned semi-circular nose tip – which accommodates the Racing Point ‘dot’ as neatly as W10 displayed the iconic Mercedes three-pointed star roundel.
Others were less charitable. Cries of ‘pink Mercedes’ went up the length of the paddock during testing. One wag wondered whether it referred to “P!nk’s rendition of the [late, much lamented] Janis Joplin’s 60s blues hit ‘Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz’…”
Now consider Szafnauer’s statement that their business model was “diametrically opposed to the Haas model”, particularly in view of comments made by the team’s technical director Andrew Green, who termed their approach “Haas Mark Two.”
“We decided that anything to do with the chassis, which is effectively a non-transferable component, a listed part, we would prefer to keep all that in house, because it’s all linked,” said Green. “All the suspension systems, chassis-wise, wishbones, all Racing Point [in-house], because it’s all linked to a chassis, and the chassis is ours. Not a word about ownership of the braking system…
Speaking about team’s future plans, Green said: “I think we’re going to move along the same [technology] transfer model that we’ve got now. I think it still allows for it, and we’ll continue to do the same. It makes sense for a small team like us to do this. It’s not the full blown Haas model. It’s the ‘Haas Mark Two’, and it’s what suits us.”
Green also said that the team does “not have huge production facilities, so I think that model we’re doing works for us [going forward],” which appears to be at slightly odds with Szafnauer’s line that “expansion of our machine and laminating shop is planned for this Spring”.
To be clear: The ‘Haas model’ is indisputably legal under current regulations. We wrote about the compliance of the model here, explaining the concept. Listed parts are outlined in prevailing commercial agreements and F1 technical regulations as being those to which teams need to hold intellectual property (design) rights to, while the balance of components may be sourced elsewhere.
For the record, currently the listed parts are: Monocoque, survival cell (as per Art. 1.14 of F1 technical regulations), front impact structures (as defined by articles 16.2 and 16.3 of the F1 technical regulations), roll over structures (roll structures as per Art. 15.2), bodywork (as per Art. 1.4, as regulated by Art except airboxes, engine exhausts and prescribed bodywork geometries), plus wings, floor and diffuser.
For teams to be recognised as constructors and, by extension, to qualify for shares of F1’s revenues as disbursed based on constructor championship classification, they need to prove that they hold the intellectual property (IP) to all listed parts. Significantly, the onus is on competing teams to prove that they comply with the regulations at all times.
Although Force India (now Racing Point) and Toro Rosso (now AlphaTauri) previously dabbled with listed parts via deals with Mercedes and Red Bull respectively, their activities were largely limited to sourcing of ‘rear end’ assemblies – power trains including gearboxes, rear suspension parts as bolt on to gearbox casings, and applicable hydraulics/electronics.
Haas was the first team to exploit non-listed parts sourcing from another team on a larger scale by cutting a deal with Ferrari, sub-contracting race car technology giant Dallara to design and produce listed parts, while also entering into a separate deal to use the Maranello wind tunnel. It may sound cliched, but Haas’s ‘factory’ consists of filing cabinets, and hence its ability to operate with 260 heads rather than 450-plus.
Intriguingly, last May Silverstone-based Racing Point switched to using the state-of-art Mercedes wind tunnel in nearby Brackley, having previously used Toyota Motorsport’s facility in Cologne. In a similar move, AlphaTauri confirmed during pre-season testing its plans to switch from using its (50%) Bicester tunnel to Red Bull’s more advanced 60% facility from next year.
There is clear logic in following the Haas model in both instances, and a pattern is gradually emerging.
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However, as outlined previously, this area of the rules will change in 2021. Listed parts will remain as before, but the spectrum of non-listed parts categories has been expanded to four: Standard (single supplier via tender), Prescribed Design (free supply to a set specification) Transferable (may be shared between teams), and Open Source (the design is made available to all teams).
In an interview Haas team principal Guenther Steiner told RaceFans that the move would result in a 25% reduction in the number of parts available for sourcing from another team. He described the situation as “complex”. His view on the reduction is shared by both Green and Jody Egginton, technical director of Red Bull-owned AlphaTauri, which plans to expand its sourcing from the main team.
AlphaTauri team boss Franz Tost believes that: “Generally, the co-operation between teams should be as close as possible.
“My opinion is quite clear, because I don’t see it’s necessary that every team runs their own wind tunnel. With the new regulation fortunately, from 2021, it’s anyway possible to share a wind tunnel with another team.
“The infrastructure you have to build up to do everything by yourself is very, very expensive. And you know, we are just building cars for racing on Sunday afternoon. We even don’t sell this product to [a] big market. That means it’s just for entertainment. It’s not for technical development, which you then can later on sell to the public, which would then justify such an infrastructure.”
So, given that (at least) three teams will base their 2021 cars on componentry sourced from the three most successful teams over the past 10 years – namely Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, who also have the largest budgets to spend on their cars given that cost caps only kick in next year – is it any wonder that McLaren, Renault, Sauber and Williams are concerned the trio and their satellites could lock out the top 12 places from 2021.
But forget 2021 for now: Based on last month’s pre-season performances there are widespread concerns that the top trio (six cars), plus two each of the ‘pink Mercedes’ and ‘white Bull’, could bag the top 10 places this year, with Haas mopping up consolation places should it get its act together.
These concerns may be well-founded but, if the listed parts model is legal, so what?
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This is the sticking point: There were murmurs in the testing paddock that Racing Point had drawn its “inspiration from the most successful car in 2019, namely the Mercedes W10” – the pink team’s official line – rather too quickly for comfort. Suspicions linger that Racing Point may have had access to classified Mercedes design data, which helped it to understand the car concept.
Asked whether it was possible to study photographs, then seven months later produce a car displaying all the characteristics of the “copied” car, McLaren technical director James Key was dubious.
“If you could do that, every car would look the same, and performance would be very close, if it was that easy,” he said, stressing that was talking conceptually and not about a specific case or car.
“The reason all the cars look different and the reason they don’t [perform the same] is because it’s not that easy,” he added, conceding, “I think it’s traditional to always look at competitors, and if you can understand the philosophy behind something or the concept behind something, then you can use that understanding to develop your car in a certain direction. We did a bit of that this year with our car.”
However, he believes that “to do an entire car is pretty tricky, because it’s not just a set of surfaces, but it’s [in] the very fine details, and you’d have to understand the [copied] car [to make your car perform].”
Said another engineer, who is not permitted to speak on behalf of his team: “It’s all very well to copy, but you have to understand exactly what you’re copying,” pointing cynically to Haas’s oft-lacklustre performances to underscore the point: “After three years Haas clearly doesn’t always understand what it gets from Ferrari, but Racing Point somehow very quickly understood what it got from Mercedes…”
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Asked to comment whether RP20 was a direct copy of W10, Green refuted it, saying: “We decided to take a risk, and that risk was effectively to tear up what we’ve done in the past few years and start again from scratch based on what we could see [Mercedes] had been doing.
“We have the same view of Mercedes everyone else has got, and there is nothing special in the information we have got – all we have got is what we see and that’s what we’ve started from and developed from.”
In other words, by checking out the competition, and studying what the team’s photographer snapped.
However, “designing a [strong] performing Formula 1 car is a multi-dimensional topic, and just trying to copy something from pictures is not that straightforward as it might sound,” Andreas Seidl, team boss of McLaren, told RaceFans.
“This is why there’s regulations in place which you need to follow, especially when it comes down to what a team has to do themselves, we assume that the co-operation that is there between Racing Point and Mercedes is within these regulations so there’s no point to complain about it.”
Note the doubt?
Seidl believes it is imperative that the FIA ensures “the co-operation between two teams is first of all always within the regulations, and doesn’t allow the big team for example to benefit from things that are happening at a smaller team related to these so called listed parts,” adding that this aspect will be crucial once budget caps kick in.
“It would help, let’s say an, ‘A-team’, having a co-operation to go around the regulations to increase their resources beyond the idea of the budget cap and that is the biggest worry for us to be honest.”
But that is in the future – what about this weekend, what if the “pink Mercedes” (or other ‘B-teams’) lock out the balance of top ten places? Could there be a protest, and if so, on what basis?
Ironically, a protest brought by Haas against Racing Point in Abu Dhabi 2018 provides a precedent: In a wrangle over prize money, the former protested the alleged non-compliance of Racing Point’s IP, demanding full disclosure of all documents. Although the stewards found Racing Point to be technically compliant, the disclosures provided Haas with grounds to pursue a commercial case in the Court of Arbitration.
So will any team resist the rise of F1’s new iteration of ‘clone’ cars? It may well depend upon the speed and performance displayed by Racing Point in Melbourne.
Should the team be unduly fast in the opinion of the four non-satellite teams, then one or more of their number may well decide to lodge a protest and demand full disclosure. If not, the matter could well ride on to Bahrain or beyond.
Either way, the rules need to be crystal clear for 2021 otherwise “partially almost correct” cars of various hues could well prevail.
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