Racing Point, Melbourne, 2020

Analysis: Why Racing Point is under protest by Renault – and the loophole which could clear them

2020 F1 season

Posted on

| Written by

At first sight they appear totally innocuous: They sprout from within wheel assemblies in goose-neck style and generally blend in with similarly-coloured suspension components. But front and rear brake ducts are vital performance differentiators.

They influence three key areas: aerodynamics, particularly under-car; tyre temperatures and behaviour; and brake disc temperatures and thus retardation.

Brake duct designs are usually car-specific as they channel air around and under the chassis, their ram effect complemented by ventilated brakes discs which spin at up to 350km/h. Think of brake discs as 278mm diameter fans, then imagine the levels of air generated by up to 1,500 ‘cooling’ holes per disc, which is then channelled in whichever direction the aerodynamicists desire. This is, of course, a lot easier said than done.

In 2013 I spent a day at F1 brake supplier Brembo’s ‘Kilometre Rosso’ headquarters near Monza and was shown the combined dynamometer and wind tunnel the company uses to develop bespoke brake systems for each team.

I asked how they prevent design secrets from being transferred from team to team. “It’s tricky when teams find something others want to copy,” said Mauro Piccoli, who at the time carried ultimate responsibility for Brembo Racing’s F1 programme, and is now their sales director of performance and aerospace.

Cyril Abiteboul, Renault, Red Bull Ring, 2020
Renault queried legality of Racing Point’s brake ducts
“But we manage,” he continued. “Obviously non-disclosure agreements are in place and honoured. They respect that.”

I subsequently asked a technical director what removing the ducts and leaving the discs to their own devices would do to car performance. He estimated the time loss at “a second per lap”. That was seven years ago, imagine the progress that has subsequently been made in these areas.

Brake ducts have become F1’s new battle ground. Last year Renault successfully campaigned for them to be included in the “Listed Parts’ category – i.e., parts which teams must design themselves or, at the very least, hold the intellectual property rights to.

Tellingly the 2019 F1 regulations were carried over basically ‘as-is’ for what was intended to be the final season of the current era (now delayed due to the ravages of Covid-19) save for this (seemingly) minor addition to the Listed Parts category as outlined in Appendix 6: ‘Air ducts as regulated by Articles 11.4, 11.5 and 11.6 of the F1 technical regulations. In other words, teams need to hold the IP to these ‘air ducts’.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Thus, when Racing Point unveiled their RP20 to cries of ‘pink Mercedes’, folk homed in on brake ducts and wondered whether they were of Racing Point’s own design, particularly as the team sources complete powertrains from Mercedes, and last May switched from using Toyota’s wind tunnel in Cologne to the Mercedes equivalent up-the-road in Brackley.

Nico Hulkenberg, Renault, Suzuka, 2019
Renault lost Suzuka points after Racing Point protest
While freely admitting Racing Point had adopted the aerodynamic philosophy of the 2019 Mercedes for its RP20, technical director Andrew Green told RaceFans they had done so via photographs of the car rather than through the copying of engineering data. Rivals were cynical about this claim as far as the ducts are concerned, for the real trickery is hidden behind wheel rims and brake drums or underneath the car, where cameras have little access.

Green, was though, adamant that all was above board: “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.”

As outlined here in early March, a protest was expected from one or other team (albeit likely Renault) during the season opener in Melbourne with the brake system being the most likely target. Then, of course, Covid-19 engulfed the world and all such thoughts were placed on the backburner – until F1’s return to action in Spielberg last week.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Two protests (including that of Red Bull over the Mercedes DAS system) were expected, but according to a source Renault held back so as to not further disrupt F1’s first weekend in action after the hiatus. There would, after all, be another race within a week – and Renault duly filed protests post-race on Sunday, alleging brake duct irregularities.

Lance Stroll, Racing Point, Red Bull Ring, 2020
The pink team could lose their Styrian GP points
That the stewards found the protest admissible provides a pointer to Renault’s diligence in preparing the case, as does the stewards’ decision to direct the FIA’s technical delegate to impound front and rear ducts of both Racing Point cars, to call for outside assistance from representatives of Mercedes team, and to prepare a report for the stewards on his findings. No time limit was imposed.

It is important to note that Article 3.2 of the 2020 Sporting Regulations states “Competitors must ensure that their cars comply with the conditions of eligibility and safety throughout practice and the race”. Accordingly the onus is upon Racing Point to satisfy the stewards that RP20 complies with the regulations, not upon Renault to prove any breaches.

While not in themselves indicators of guilt, according to sources within the industry, Racing Point and Mercedes use the same composite contractor for parts including ducts – the name has been withheld so as to not implicate the company – and that there are no fundamental differences between the designs. They added that, in a break with engineering convention, Racing Point’s duct drawings bear no designer name.

When this was put to Racing Point, a team spokesperson said: “We use a number of suppliers and sub-contractors. For confidentiality reasons we don’t disclose those details. Equally, our suppliers do not tell us which other teams they also supply.”

“All the information you presented to us about the design / drawings process is false,” they added.

This robust denial is characteristic of Racing Point’s total rejection of Renault’s allegations and vehement defence of the legality of its car. It intends to defend its corner vociferously.

They may be aided in this by input from Mercedes. But the three-pointed star is in an invidious position, for motorsport CEO Toto Wolff is a close friend and business associate of Lawrence Stroll.

The Canadian fashion mogul heads up both Aston Martin and Racing Point – which next year becomes Aston Martin F1 Team – while Mercedes is a (minority) shareholder in the ‘James Bond’ brand, as is Wolff.

Mercedes W11 brake duct, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
Mercedes’ 2020-spec brake duct
Ultimately the verdict will come to stewards’ interpretation of whether the Racing Point ducts bear any resemblance to the Mercedes equivalents and, if so, whether any such resemblance is purely coincidental. In other words, whether Green and his team got the “the same view of Mercedes everyone else has”, or a better view.

If found guilty Racing Points risks exclusion from the first two races or even the championship (considered unlikely as the series needs every car going) or any sanction between the two. Equally, if it comes down to that and can be proven that Mercedes was a willing accomplice then Wolff could have some serious explaining to do to both the FIA and his masters in Stuttgart.

However even if all or any of the duct designs – these are said to have evolved as the 2019 season progressed – are found by the stewards to be too similar for coincidence, there is a potential loophole that Racing Point (and Mercedes) could hang their defence on: that the full intellectual property to the 2019 ducts was sold by the latter to the former before 1 January 2020, when the amendments to the Listed Parts clauses came into effect.

Although this would not wash with other listed parts, it may well do so in this instance as they were ‘open’ parts before the start of this season. Thus, the stewards may not only be called upon to rule on similarity, but on jurisprudence, too.

A fascinating verdict awaits, one that is likely to be appealed either way.

Go ad-free for just £1 per month

>> Find out more and sign up

2020 F1 season

Browse all 2020 F1 season articles

Author information

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...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

46 comments on “Analysis: Why Racing Point is under protest by Renault – and the loophole which could clear them”

  1. Wow! Fascinating indeed. No time frame, no need for Renault to provide the proof, Aston Martin connection, are all the best recipes for a good story.

    1. Equally, if it comes down to that and can be proven that Mercedes was a willing accomplice then Wolff could have some serious explaining to do to both the FIA and his masters in Stuttgart.

      Based on what exactly?
      As far as regulations currently state – there is no restriction on what can be done to one team’s IP – kept private, sold, publicly shared or else.
      As it is up to RP to ensure their car is “unique” and designed by them, they must not use IP of any other team, no matter the way this IP is obtained.

      If it is not the case, then any copying or re-interpretations must be prohibited in F1.

      1. Sorry, intended to post as original message, not as a reply.

  2. Equally, if it comes down to that and can be proven that Mercedes was a willing accomplice then Wolff could have some serious explaining to do to both the FIA and his masters in Stuttgart.

    Based on what exactly?
    As far as regulations currently state – there is no restriction on what can be done to one team’s IP – kept private, sold, publicly shared or else.
    As it is up to RP to ensure their car is “unique” and designed by them, they must not use IP of any other team, no matter the way this IP is obtained.

    If it is not the case, then any copying or re-interpretations must be prohibited in F1.

  3. If Mercedes sold “the full intellectual property to the 2019 ducts”, then the Mercedes 2020 brake ducts might be illegal.
    I assume Horner is following this one closely as well ;)

    1. Merc told RP “I’m… Giving you everything… All that joy can bring, yes I swear…” to which RP replied “cause tonight… Is the night… When two become one…”

      Then Renault told FIA “if you… Can’t work this equation then I guess I’ll have to show you the door…”.

      No wonder Christian Horner is following this closely.

      (ok, this was horrible, but I had to get it out of my system)

    2. Why?

      I think you have failed to understand the situation. Mercy might have sold their old duct design to RP, when it was legal to do so, they are perfectly entitled to continue using them themselves, or a development of them, they may even have designed completely new ones.

      1. In F1, if you don’t own the IP of a listed part you are not allowed to use it.
        When you sell it you no longer own it.

        Of course developing a totally new one would solve that, but that seems extremely unlikely.

  4. This is going to get very interesting, but I can see it dragging on for quite sometime.

  5. Great article, guys!

  6. Given Renault’s history of having other teams’ IP on their system (McLaren 2007), they probably know the answer already ;)

    Slightly off topic, as RP is referred to as Haas v2, has Haas settled regarding RP being paid as a legacy team even though they were a new team mid way through 2018?

  7. It’s about time some of the dirt eventually sticks to Toto … he’s been like teflon too many times on too many dodgy happenings.

  8. Haas are using Ferrari 2020 brake ducts.

    1. They should reconsider that choice since their cars have trouble slowing down.

      1. I understood they had already slowed down, considerably …

  9. Seems like F1 will get a lot more competitive if the brakes and brake ducts get standardized, or at the very least exposed to all.

    1. Spec series are extremely competitive.

      1. it’s different though: one thing is having the designs public access, another is to have one single design to be mandatory for everyone

  10. If I were involved in the investigation, I’d be asking Racing Point to provide all of their photography material that they used to ‘inspire’ their design.
    The sceptic in me thinks that photography alone would not provide sufficient 3-dimensional clarity…
    To come to such a similar final design, they’d need to do an enormous amount of comparable development.

    1. There are programs that assist you i making 3D models using 2D photos.
      Exp: https://expertphotography.com/create-a-3d-model-from-photos/

      So its quite possible to copy a duct using photo’s. The question is where do the photo’s come from. Most parts are never shown to the public.

      1. I discussed photogrammetry with one of my team sources during research for this analysis. He’s used it at three teams so far, but was sceptical whether it would provide sufficient intricate detail to imagine effective ducts unless one had a unit off the car. His take is that if photogrammetry was used, then ‘easy’ access to the components would have been made available.

        1. Maybe a Mercedes mechanic left one lying conveniently on the floor of the garage. And then came back and flipped it over an hour later to show the other side.

          Back to this “holds the IP” issue. What does that mean? Does that mean the design is registered by a national authority like the USPTO? Does it have to be the same authority as the contested “original” design? Does the registration have to have been challenged and defended in some administrative or legal forum? If the IP was sold/assigned/loaned/whatever, that doesn’t have to be recorded anywhere, unless part of a UCC filing or a required public corporate disclosure, like an offering prospectus. And if it was a private commercial agreement, it could be subject to contractual confidentiality requirements and legal “trade secrets” restrictions. It just seems like “holds the IP” is trying to make a jurisdiction-specific legal conclusion into a “fact” to be weighed by a private entity (FIA), which has to end in tears.

        2. Even if they had access for the complete assembly, which I really doubt, it would not provide the internal details, which could be significant. The internals could include turning vanes, straightening vanes, etc.

        3. Just look at the photos this site provides of brake ducts. For years, people like Keith, Scarbs and others have provided high resolution photographs, and diligently reverse-engineered car changes, wing designs, barge-board designs… This *ARTICLE* has a highly detailed photograph of the inlets for the 2020 Mercedes brake ducts.

          Air behaves in a mostly predictable fashion. Therefore there’s only going to be one design that makes sense to carry the air from those intakes, back to the brake discs, in such a way that provides A) cooling and B) downforce.

          Knowing what the brake ducts have to accomplish, and knowing what the front intakes look like, sure, you’d have to be an engineering genius to figure out the inside and outlets… But “engineering genius” is quite literally in the job description for an F1 aero designer.

  11. The fact that Mercedes didn’t protest themselves against a copy of their design says a lot.

    There’s a number of ways they could transfer the technology legally to RP. Firing one of their engineers and letting RP hiring him immediately is one of them.

    Selling the designs for non listed parts with all the test data attached to it would allow RP to just fill in the gaps.

    I imagine Wolff would do it in a way not to hurt his or Mercedes reputation.

    1. The fact that Mercedes didn’t protest themselves against a copy of their design says a lot. e.g. they think it is all legal, or they are happy a customer team challenges Ferrari, etc. etc.)

      There’s a number of ways they could transfer the technology legally to RP. Firing one of their engineers and letting RP hiring him immediately is one of them. No! A fired staff member does not get the IP as a farewell gift

      Selling the designs for non listed parts with all the test data attached to it would allow RP to just fill in the gaps. As mentioned in the article as the ‘loophole’.

      I imagine Wolff would do it in a way not to hurt his or Mercedes reputation. do what?

      1. Could reply to the arguments one by one, like saying a former engineer that worked on the design can easily replicate it. Or saying that if they did not protest is because there was a deal.

        Renault and RBR should not protest, in my opinion, since if they want to win they have to beat mother Mercedes, not their offspring.
        Cool! I can also use bold!

        1. Calm down, I believe the writer was using the bold just to differentiate the reply from the original comment.

        2. Cool! I can also use bold!

          Attaboy! Now learn when to use it :P

          1. Lol @coldfly nice one!

          2. The irony of using the name “only facts” then going on a rant with zero facts is perfect.

            “There’s a number of ways they could transfer the technology legally to RP. Firing one of their engineers and letting RP hiring him immediately is one of them.” – This is so untrue and 100% wrong.

    2. No need to speculate– it’s possible the IP was transferred, legally, at a time when it wasn’t listed– or did you not read the article?

      But ultimately, you want the brake ducts to work with the car’s aero design. So something approximating what Mercedes did last year would be in Racing Point’s best interest.

      Maybe they saw this page: https://www.motorsport.com/f1/photos/mercedes-amg-f1-w10-rear-duct-46441072/46441072/

      Maybe Racing Point should credit Giorgio Pila as the designer. :)

  12. What do you think, Dieter, about actually allowing parts to be sold–more parts if not entire cars–to add a couple of teams and make F1 a bit more diverse. Personally, I think selling entire chassis (or specs) would enable some of the smaller teams to be more competitive.
    Sure, we know Mercedes loves winning and winning and winning, but in the long term, having other teams in the mix for championships is good. There could be driver, team, and manufacturer championships; the latter giving those who sell a chassis–or complete car–a chance at a championship even if another team takes the driver and team titles.

    1. https://www.racefans.net/2019/10/31/analysis-whats-new-in-the-2021-f1-regulations/

      Transferable parts will be permitted from 2022 – originally 2021 before the regulations were delayed by Covid – but the brake ducts are this (and next) year’s problem

  13. Adam (@rocketpanda)
    14th July 2020, 15:16

    If Racing Point extrapolated the design from photos that means it’s still originally the Mercedes design isn’t it? So even if they duplicated the design and manufactured the pieces themselves its still a copy, and so wouldn’t that be against the rules? They didn’t design it – Mercedes did, Racing Point just created a near-perfect approximation. Like, someone that forges a near perfect replica of the Mona Lisa can’t claim to be Leonardo Da Vinci can they? It’s still a duplicate of someone else’s work, and if the F1 rules say you must have designed these pieces yourself… well Racing Point kind of didn’t.

    1. The line here, though, is just how different is it?
      Is it different enough to have been ‘inspired by’ Mercedes but designed wholly by Racing Point (which would be legal) or is it so similar as to be a modified copy? (which would only legal or illegal based on interrogation of evidence and, ultimately, a judgement).

      I’m no reverse-engineering expert, but I think it would be quite difficult to recreate an entire Formula 1 car’s aerodynamic profile from photography alone. Especially given that F1 cars tend not to be just sat around in the open for photographers to capture every component from multiple angles, inside and out.
      It doesn’t just need to look like the Mercedes, it needs to aerodynamically behave like the Mercedes.

      1. Marc Priestly has a video on the subject. Apparently there is a legal precedent and that line is drawn at 70% similarity. My understanding is that if it were go to British courts and they were found more to be 70% identical then the complaint would be upheld from a legal perspective. That’s not necessarily what will happen though. It seems this could go many different ways…

  14. Yeah, Toto and Stroll are totally prepping for the arrival of the Aston Martin team. Money talks.

  15. @dieterrencken, I have two questions regarding the ownership of Intellectual Property and the regulations areound the brake ducts for this season:

    1. Are the brake ducts “frozen”? Would it be possible for RP to have bought the IP after 1 January 2020? Considering that no car was run between then and testing and that no race was run between then and the first weekend in July, would they have technically violated the regulations? Say, for example, they had put together a contract to buy the IP from Merc in a manner that is above board, then they received the IP and began buidling or designing with it prior to their payment clearing Merc’s bank account—or if it were paid for in installments? I see a lot of gray area there, but perhaps I mis-understand.

    2. Is there anything stoping two teams from joint-ownership of some IP? Or do they have to own it outright? I know Red Bull and Torro Rosso have both used Red Bull Technologies in the past, but don’t now—at least for the chassis.

    Love the detailed and thorough reporting! I particularly appreciate when and how you handle un-named sources—I think you are an example of how other reports in, and out of, motorsport should handle that sort of reporting.

    1. 1 – anything is possible but the question is whether it is legal. The stewards would first have to rule whether there is an undue resemblance between ducts, then how that came about.

      2 Each team has to hold its own IP to Listed Parts. So while Red Bull/Alpha Tauri and Ferrari/Haas share a lot of parts amongst themselves respectively, this are not Listed Parts.

  16. Excellent article giving all the context needed before this spicy battle.
    Btw, a good image comparison on this Reddit thread here:
    https://www.reddit.com/r/formula1/comments/hq16xr/front_brake_duct_comparison_of_the_2019_mercedes/
    Whilst very similar, they don’t look exactly the same I have to say but I’m not sure if they vary from race track to race track.

    1. I’m told that a team produces up to 10 different ducts per year.

  17. In 2013 I spent a day at F1 brake supplier Brembo’s ‘Kilometre Rosso’ headquarters near Monza and was shown the combined dynamometer and wind tunnel the company uses to develop bespoke brake systems for each team.

    If Racing Point did genuinely design the brake ducts themselves or reverse engineer them from photographs, then one would expect there to be a history of prototypes sent to a brake testing facility like Brembo, with accompanying test results. For example there could be brake ducts that look like Mercedes on the outside and Force India on the inside, and there’d be test results showing whether this is satisfactory or not.
    On the other hand, if Racing Point did get more help from Mercedes than just them parking their car so the brake ducts could be seen with a telephoto lens, then the prototypes sent to their brake test agent might have improvements in test results that weren’t easily explainable.

    1. Brembo do not produce brake ducts – they do discs, callipers and pads plus hydraulic items, but a lot of these are tailored per team according to their requirements. That was the point.

      A team would order according to their specification and Brembo would produce accordingly.

  18. The regs state that the teams must provide their own IP for the “listed parts” (ex. the brake duct). IOW, even if Mercedes were willing to sell or give their IP to RP for the brake ducts, that’s not allowed by the rules. OTOH, if Mercedes did not sell or give them their IP and RP simply copied what they saw and what was visible to anyone, no matter how close the RP ducts resembles the Merc part, that is not a violation. Of course, as we know, that type copying has ALWAYS been an integral part of F1.

  19. Meh. Already from the RP photos I can see differences to Mercedes W10 brake ducts of the time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments are moderated. See the Comment Policy and FAQ for more.
If the person you're replying to is a registered user you can notify them of your reply using '@username'.