Racing Point’s first Mercedes copy was “seconds a lap slower”

2020 F1 season

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The FIA stewards hope to rule on Renault’s protest against the Racing Point cars before this weekend’s race at Silverstone.

Central to the dispute – upon which hang 32 of the 40 points the pink team has scored so far this year, plus the legality of their brake ducts – is the issue of whether Racing Point overstepped the mark when copying the design of last year’s Mercedes.

The team makes no secret that the Mercedes W10 inspired its 2020 design. But the team’s CEO Otmar Szafnauer remains adamant their approach and execution is entirely within the regulations.

Speaking at last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix, he said the recent investment in the team from Lawrence Stroll’s consortium had allowed Racing Point to build on its pedigree as “fast followers”, adopting rivals’ innovations more quickly than other teams can.

“The thing that’s special about us is we’ve always had a talented bunch of individuals there that were really held back by lack of funding,” said Szafnauer. “We’ve been wanting to do this kind of thing for a long time, but really never had the money to follow the best team in Formula 1.

Paul di Resta, Force India, Valencia, 2010
Force India – now Racing Point – were quick to copy F-duct
“If you remember we were the first to to put a double diffuser on our car in [2009] when the three teams came out with a double diffuser. I think we were the first, even ahead of Red Bull. So we’ve always had talented individuals that want to understand racing, do understand how to develop the car.

“We’re fast followers and looking to see what’s out there and adapt it ourselves. If you remember the F-duct that McLaren came out with, we were the first to implement an F-duct after McLaren did it. So if you look back at our history, we’ve been able to do it with the talented individuals that we have.

“But later on in our history we just didn’t have the money. There were times, I don’t know if you remember, but we came up with a B-car at Silverstone and took a huge step forward. And that was only because over the winter we had those developments, but we didn’t have the money to actually put them on the car. We had a hybrid of the last year’s car and this year’s car.

“Those days are gone because we’re funded well which allows us to actually show the talent that we have and do what we’ve done.”

While the obvious outward similarities between the RP20 and last year’s championship-winning Mercedes W10 have attracted much comment, Szafnauer said this is a consequence of the team switching its focus from Red Bull’s influential ‘high rake’ concept to the Mercedes approach.

“Taking pictures of other people’s cars, it happens everywhere from the biggest teams to the smallest teams. And some of them just do a better job at copying or integrating what they learned through those pictures.

“If it’s an iteration or an evolution, then you don’t notice it as much because then you start iterating and changing some things. But when you go from a high-rake aerodynamic philosophy to a low centre of gravity aerodynamic philosophy, then with the pictures and the leanings that you do, you end up with a very similar solution, especially if that solution is refined and is very, very good.

“We shouldn’t forget that Adrian Newey came up with the blown floor and the high rake design that Red Bull has and now most of the grid have that, including us. And we took pictures back then of the floor that Red Bull had when we were trying to blow the floor and we couldn’t quite get it to work. From that we learned how big the gaps had to be. And I can tell you other teams have done the same.

“So everybody does it, it’s allowed. I gave you two examples, and that’s F-ducts and double diffusers. But there’s loads of other examples: cake tins, blown axles.

“Not everybody had blown axles a few years ago, it was only a few teams that had blown axles. It was very curious that Haas, who had been in the sport just for one year, figured out how to have blown axles. Well, they didn’t figure it out, they were supplied by Ferrari. That’s just what happens in our sport.”

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Alexander Albon, Red Bull, Monza, 2019
Racing Point previously copied Red Bull’s ‘high rake’ design…
Szafnauer described the difficulties the team encountered when it first attempted to copy Mercedes’ aerodynamic philosophy.

“It doesn’t come without risk,” he said. “We didn’t know that what we were doing was going to work to the level that it has.

“There was a big risk that we were going to take a step backwards. And as a matter of fact when we started developing this in the tunnel with ideas that we saw through pictures we took a huge step backwards. I mean, huge. Seconds a lap slower at the beginning.

“It was our own learning that we did through the developed a process of CFD and tunnel work and then more designs and redesigns that got us to the place we did. So the closer or the better high-rake solution that you have, the bigger the risk of changing to something else.

Cars, Yas Marina, 2019
…but their new car resembles a pink W10
“With us, we’ve been wanting to do it forever. And we buy our gearbox from Mercedes where that gearbox is designed with a lower CofG [centre of gravity] car in mind. So we always had compromises at the rear of the car where the downforce is critical to have a stable rear end. And we’ve always wanted to get away from the high-rake solution because of the compromise at the rear of the car because we’re buying our gearbox from Mercedes. This was the first year we were able to change it.”

Racing Point has stunned the paddock with the progress it has made. In Hungary they were the second-fastest team on the grid, with Red Bull and Ferrari behind them, and only Mercedes ahead.

Szafnauer admitted the immediate success the team has enjoyed came as a surprise to him as well. “I thought we were going to take a half-step backwards before we took a step forward,” he said. “It just didn’t happen. It didn’t transpire that way.”

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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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  • 43 comments on “Racing Point’s first Mercedes copy was “seconds a lap slower””

    1. “We’re always good at copying others, we just had the money now.” This is the perfect answer for a flawed intellectual property regulation.

      In other business model, that can filed a patent about ‘rectangle with rounded corner’, this could be deem unacceptable. But in F1, copying always is considered a part of the game.

      1. Rounded rectangle – is the epitome of how broken patent system is.
        I would take F1’s approach any time of the day!

        1. Racing Point shares the modern ‘Chinese’ approach to Intellectual Property…
          “We copied it ourselves, so we own it.”

          1. Pretty much accurate.

          2. As do Apple and Google to name a few!

    2. I believe it will be declared legal (the philosophy of it), but like he says, it’s the finances that allowed them to do it, and I can see F1 becoming more and more a case of the ‘have’s and the have not’s.’, of course the opposite end of the spectrum is a spec series (which nobody likes). I think for F1 it’s just trying to find that place in the middle, and that’s very difficult.

    3. What’s so ingenius about this move and the fact that they made it work is how it sets the team up for the future, if indeed the car is ruled legal.

      Racing point can basically take 3rd place in the constructers championship this year, do very little on the car and race it again next year. I’m sure that’ll be their strategy, especially now that a lot of hardware has been locked down in specification. With merely the improvement that the Mercedes 2021 PU likely brings, they can go through the entire season competitivly. Maybe they’ll drop to 4th or worst case 5th. No biggie. They’ll have the entire year to solely focus on the 2022 project. No distractions of developing two very different cars at once, just the new one.

      It’s a luxury position, which ironically they share with only Mercedes. Red Bull, Ferrari and the rest all need to develop their car and improve next year, they cannot carry the shame of being uncompetitive for another season.

    4. And as a matter of fact when we started developing this in the tunnel with ideas that we saw through pictures we took a huge step backwards. I mean, huge. Seconds a lap slower at the beginning.

      “It was our own learning that we did through the developed a process of CFD and tunnel work and then more designs and redesigns that got us to the place we did.

      And that’s the point. You can’t just copy a design from photos and get it to work straight out of the box, something many teams have already pointed out. If you could then other teams would have done it already, for sure.

      It’s the ‘learning’ they did in the Mercedes wind tunnel that helped them understand the design and refine it that seems awfully convenient, and overly fruitful to me. Sure drawings may not have changed hands and RP may have a paper trail to justify what they’ve done, but I find it hard to believe they didn’t get help behind closed doors during all those hours in the Mercedes wind tunnel trying to figure it all out.

      1. In some ways, they’ve more or less opened themselves up to greater scrutiny because they’ve admitted that copying didn’t work – something that we’ve all been saying.

        What remains to be seen is just “how” these learnings came about, and how they came about so quickly. From my discussions with a number of engineers, it’s their belief that it would take way longer than a couple of months, more like a year.

        Maybe someone dropped last years chassis off at the wrong address at season end last year lol.

        1. Am buying it unless something comes out of the invistigation, force india aka racing point has always been smarter, right from those days when fisichella came p2 in Belgium to themselves developing their nostril front wing which worked, made them do 4th best team, with otmar saying they have been developing for 6 months their mercedes version, unless fia finds anything we have to give it to them.

        2. I suspect they had more than a year having taken photos in 2018 and 2019. The Mercedes last year was a development of the previous year and the overall concept didn’t change so just as Mercedes refined their car the photographers would capture the progressive changes and feed the new details into the Racing Point process.

          After all they didn’t take one lot of photos and say to themselves, ‘That it now we design a car’. It would have been far more iterative than that.

      2. @aussierod All it would take would be for Mercedes to ‘Accidentally’ leave a model in the wind tunnel. ;)

    5. Great to see that they have the talent to copy, but let’s see how successful Racing point will be in 2022, when everyone is forced to develop their own approach for the new regulations. Racing point will be racing as Aston Martin, and they’ll probably be somewhere towards the back of the midfield up until they can start copying the field leading concept.

      1. That’ll certainly be interesting for them won’t it if their engineers have to come up with original designs with no other car to look at for inspiration.

        Be even more interesting if it’s design is pretty much identical to Mercedes’ now one.

      2. @todod Actually I think it makes sense that 2022 is exactly why they took this step. Simply copying the 2019 Merc means they rare set until the new regulations kick in. So they can spend all their time on developing the car for the next regulations. Although that is now delayed by a year.

        1. That’s some clever thinking if that’s really the case.

    6. Chinese are reasonably good at copying things too ;)

    7. I’m really surprised for so many years the entire field had been copying RB’s high rake concept rather than the fastest car on the grid that has won championship after championship… From what I’ve heard, the high rake is always going to be temperamental and hard to get right (harder to create seal around floor, more sensitive to change of direction and crosswinds) compared with a low centre of gravity car.

      Anyone know of any compelling reasons for every other team to stick with the high rake concept over a proven championship winning philosophy?

      1. I was thinking this last year. The Mercedes has a fundamentally different design philosophy to Red Bull, one that has proven superior season after season, yet everyone was still chasing Red Bull’s high rake philosophy. Is it really any wonder Merc has been consistently ahead when everyone has been running the opposite direction.

        1. I guess it is a wonder amongst 8 of the 10 F1 teams why Mercedes has such an advantage – otherwise more teams would be closer in performance.
          I’m willing to bet that they’ve all experimented with different rake angle designs, and had to choose which path to take before wasting too much time and resource on a technical dead-end.
          Just because Mercedes can make a design work doesn’t mean it’s ultimately the one and only way to win. Red Bull were quite successful prior to 2014, remember – then Mercedes stepped up their budget and resource level substantially…

        2. Didn’t McLaren also try a non high rake concept too and find out it was just too hard to get to work, while the high rake concept seems easier to get to work as planned. But ultimately a finely tuned car with the low rake concept can be the better package if it is done right?

      2. I think most people realize that if rbr had merc engines the battle for best car would have probably been close to even most of the hybrid Era.

    8. I find it strange how silent Mercedes is on this matter.
      This makes me believe they have helped them.
      I wouldn’t be amused if someone blatantly copied my work!

      1. I think that’s exactly why they’re not raising hell over this.

      2. @solidg They way I see it, there will be 2 more cars in 3rd and 4th places to defend them if RBR potentially gets their act together and start to gun for podiums. So why Mercedes would kick a fuss over something that seemingly is in the spirit of F1, admittedly to an extreme, will only cause trouble to their competitors and all this without any hassle to maintain a B-team?

      3. It’s of no consequence to Mercedes other people copying their old designs. It’s obviously not going to compete with their current car, but can steal points away from their competitors

        There’s even the slim chance that with the Mercedes as the baseline, Racing Point might happen across improvements that work better that Mercedes could even be inspired by

    9. Hans (@hanswesterbeek)
      27th July 2020, 10:39

      What I keep missing in this whole debate is the point that copying a car is not an easy task. You can’t just take some pictures and try to make the same car, and then have it run at the same speeds … A formula one car is a hugely complex machine that is heavily fine-tuned all the tun. Part of the speed of a formula one car comes from the people who set it up, who assemble it, who grease it even … those are all things that you can’t just ‘copy’.

      I think RP did a tremendous job here. Yes, they did not come up with any ‘new’ concept, but that is something that rarely happens anyway. You see it about once every 2-3 seasons …

    10. I’ve never heard anyone so proudly proclaim that they are the best at copying other’s work.
      Now there’s something to be proud of…

      Better than admitting that they can’t design anything successful on their own, I guess.

      1. I wonder synonymous, Was that last paragraph aimed at Haas, Ferrari, or Red Bull?

    11. People saying that it’s impossible to do that work in a few months forget that Stroll’s bailout was agreed in August 2018, give them 3 months for reorg and they then had a whole year with substantial funding to work on the philosophy change.

      What will be interesting to see is how far Racing Point dare to steer away from the Merc base design next year after having a year’s experience in that philosophy, or will they be happy to repeat old designs. I’ve a feeling that they’ll have an idea or two of their own on next year’s car whilst still following the overall philosophy.

    12. Adam (@rocketpanda)
      27th July 2020, 12:36

      While there’s nothing in the rules to suggest it’s illegal to do this I think it’s certainly against the spirit of those rules. I don’t agree you can be a ‘constructor’ if your car is essentially a duplicate of someone else’s. You only designed a copy. Copying technology and innovations is fairly normal in F1 but copying a car, aero philosophy and all in its entirety? That’s not common at all.

      I have no doubt it’ll be ruled legal but I don’t think it should be – the loopholes that allowed its creation should be closed. If you’re going to vehmently insist customer cars are not part of F1, and a constructor must build their own machine, how can a team be allowed to run an identical duplicate of another?

      1. On the surface it may appear to be an exact copy but there must be myriad differences in hard to see/photograph areas. And if there are any differences then it’s not an exact copy. How does the FIA make rules against copying? Only a 95% copy? 75%? 50%?

    13. Synonymous, I remember when Tyrrell revealed their 1979 challenger and it was a almost “perfect copy” of the Lotus 1978. Chapman statement about it: “ Tyrrell designers team have no pride within themselves copying my car”. You’re right, Otmar is proud to copy 2019 Mercedes, and it seems Vijay DNA still lingers there.

    14. Maybe i’m the minority here but i think what Racing Point did here was brilliant and legal.

      On a normal race weekend, teams and journalists take many pictures of the cars. We, as casual or hardcore fans, look at them and still find tiny details like “look Mercedes changed their front endplates a bit, Red Bull introduced more holes to their floor this weekend, etc…”. We have a general understanding of a team’s philosophy if they do something different from the rest of the field.
      Now imagine what can a team of tens or hundrets of highly skilled professional aerodynamists can do with all the advanced technology tools they now have running thousand simulations, spending hours on the wind tunnel and testing prototypes, if they just look over and over these pictures, understanding more than us, the common folk do, and have also an insight in ‘public’ telemetry regarding cornering speeds of all the cars and other stuff. And not just any team, but a team that has been punching above their weight for the last 10 years with limited budget, managing to snatch the odd podium here and there. And a team, that as the article says, had some prior understanding of Mercedes’s ideas as they supplied them gearboxes and probably has some of its staff coming the last few years from other teams with other philosophies, which can result in more all-around understanding how different aerodynamic concepts play out on other teams.
      I’m not saying it’s an easy task to do, it requires a lot of luck to work, but if any midfield team were capable of succeeding, it would be Racing Point.

      Also it was a smart thing to do it, especially in 2020. They knew at the time that 2020 was going to be the last year of these regulations. So they took a gamble, if it failed, no problem, they could take a blow this year without risking going to a multi-year downward financial spiral chasing a wrong concept as it would have been just for a year before the ‘regs-reset’ and still had the 2021 (now 2022) regs to focus on and invest big time there. If it succeed it, which it did, great, they now have a solid car to fight for 2020 (and 2021 as a bonus) and they can still invest in the 2022-regs.

      1. Your not alone, I totally agree. And given the difficulty of a midfield team in getting points and securing money, it is brilliant way to boost the team and get ahead, the others cant catch them and wont try the same way because of pride.

      2. Spot on bro this what everyone is failing to see.

      3. Couldn’t agree more. I don’t get all this whining about copying designs. When you scroll through tech-focused F1 pages, it’s usually all about “team X now has wing design Y which we first saw on team Z’s car”.

        And, indeed, if one team could pull this off, it would be Racing Point, certainly now they have the money for it.

    15. Adapting someone’s idea to what you have, like the examples he gave, is one thing. Copying the whole concept to the point one has to look for differences goes far beyond that.

      I’d like to see the car deemed legal to see where they can take it and how they’ll make use of it.

      But it looks like they had access to Mercedes’s blue prints, obviously. No one can deny that.

      1. Racing Point deny it ;)

    16. This is still why I’m sceptical about how above board this all is. They supposedly threw their resources at a massive gamble of replicating a car from pictures rather than developing their mature design, hoping to fully understand it’s intricate philosophy well enough to make it work and be able to tweak it’s setup between circuits all for what should only have been one years relevance?

      Williams attempted similar with their 2018 car by using other teams successful concepts and wound up dropping from a solid 5th in 2017 to last in the championship showing how nigh on impossible it is to get all those complex surfaces working from just looking at them, but at least their gamble was with an expected 3 years of relevance

      Perfecting it ready for when they hit the track is suspicious enough, but that big a risk for the sake of a single season (no one knew it would get an extra years usage when they went down this road) before all that work would be thrown away, taking the risk of a solid championship position of they’d not managed what most other teams believe isn’t possible just seems so dubious

    17. Can “we now have the money to do this” simply be translated into “we now have the money to buy last year’s Mercedes IP and design iteration history” I wonder?
      Therefore making it completely legal.

    18. I think we were the first, even ahead of Red Bull. So we’ve always had talented individuals that want to understand racing, do understand how to develop the car

      What he forgot is that in 2009 RBR reintroduced the rear pull rod suspension that joined the gearbox and the crash structure assembly at the same point where the diffuser opens. From all the non-double diffuser teams RBR had the toughest challenge to integrate the device into their design, I think they have raised the gearbox mounting just to accommodate the double diffuser.

      In a nutshell, Adrian and his team put in a masterpiece, a completely redesigned B version of the RB5 in a record time. I remember many were amazed how quickly they succeed to incorporate such an integral part of the car into their design. The FI engineers copying the design faster than the RBR guys doesn’t make them smarter in any way and BTW I don’t remember that they did it faster than RBR but maybe it’s my memory though.

      With regard to the F-duct, I think Ferrari have thrown all of its resources on it and were the first team to introduce it into their car in Barcelona just to find out that it’s not the performance differentiator in that season and BTW I don’t remember FI being the first team to copy it but maybe it’s my memory again. It’s clear from Fernando’s onboard Q3 lap in the 2010 Spanish GP how he uses his hand to activate the device. If we look at Vitantonio Liuzzi’s onboard from the same session, there is no evidence to suggest that he is using the device, there is no movement to his left hand or knee.

      Ferrari jumped in the performance with the upgrade package in Valencia when they introduced RBR style exhausts into the F10. Following that root, the car was further updated in Belgium and in Singapore and even though they were still behind RBR in terms of pure performance but it was sufficient for a driver like Alonso to mount a championship challenge.

      One more thing, it was Renault that had the most efficient F-Duct system, once they introduced it they were mighty on the straights. One more time, FI engineers are not smarter than the rest of the paddock with regard to copying the F-Duct. Ferrari introduced it first, Renault have had the best system and Mclaren were behind the genius idea. Why is Szafnauer claiming false glory in this case is beyond me and BTW he is becoming more and more annoying since Stroll bought the team.

    19. Chinese companies have basically perfected this ‘fast follower’ approach and have had huge successes doing it. The surprising thing is it took this long for soemone to actually do it in F1.

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