Lance Stroll, Racing Point, Silverstone, 2020

Racing Point could set damaging new precedent for copying, warns Key

2020 F1 season

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Formula 1 could resemble a single-specification formula if Racing Point’s approach to copying Mercedes’ design is widely adopted, one technical director has warned.

The FIA stewards are expected to rule tomorrow on Renault’s protest against Racing Point, which it brought in each of the last three races.

While Racing Point has not denied its RP20 is closely based on last year’s Mercedes, it insists its design was created legally. Renault has focussed its protest on whether the car’s brake ducts conform to the regulations.

The case has wider ramifications for Formula 1 as a competition in which teams have historically designed their own chassis. McLaren technical director James Key is concerned that if Racing Point’s approach is permitted, it will become widespread.

“We have to rely on the FIA to to make the right calls on how to proceed with that as a principle,” he said. “I’m not referring to the brake duct argument, that’s being handled with others, but more as a principle.”

“For us, we look at our car and – apart from the engine – it’s 100% a McLaren. We look at it and we can say ‘that’s all our own work’. And I think that’s what Formula 1 should be. That’s what it was traditionally in the past.”

Key said the extent of Racing Point’s replication of the Mercedes goes far beyond what other teams have done in the past.

“There’s a lot of arguments about how teams have always copied each other, and that’s absolutely true. The good thing with the biggest performance differentiator, with aero, is you can see surfaces. But that’s 30% of the wider picture.

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“To get those surfaces to work and the intricacies and the subtleties is pretty difficult, which is why you don’t often see what we’ve seen there with Racing Point.”

Did the FIA really overlook Racing Point’s disputed brake ducts – and will it matter?
In 2009 the ‘double diffuser’ innovation pioneered by three teams was quickly copied by their rivals.

“Brawn, Toyota and Williams turned up all with double diffusers,” said Key. “Word had got out somehow in the movement of staff. And it was obviously a very special way of treating the regulations.

“Everyone else ended up with them, but we all had to interpret the same regulations in the same way, generate our own IP [intellectual property] and we came up with what worked with our car.

“So we still owned, from first principles, that double diffuser. But the principle of a double diffuser was the thing that was copied. And that’s the traditional way that you use information you see in other people’s cars to develop your own car.”

Racing Point could establish a new precedent for copying which completely changes the face of the sport, he believes.

“The likenesses that we’ve seen here seem to be quite a significant step beyond that. And I think what’s important now is for the FIA to decide whether that’s what they want.

“Otherwise we’re going to have a lot of very, very similar racing cars in the same order every year with only one team leading if you went to extremes. And I don’t think any of us want that.”

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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...
Keith Collantine
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36 comments on “Racing Point could set damaging new precedent for copying, warns Key”

  1. I just don’t see this as starting a trend. I think overwhelmingly teams want to do their own thing, and I think they and we all know a copy is not going to beat the originator. I think it has suited RP under the circumstances of their past few seasons and the takeover, but starting for 2022 they’ll have to have their own car anyway. I also think that teams could have already done this sooner and haven’t, so no, I’m not worried about a trend.

    1. The worrying part of this for me, what if Alpha Tauri came out with a white red bull next year, that would ratchet up the arguments pretty quickly… We’re never going to see a RBR coloured Merc, engineerings and designers all have egos that are the basis for competition, and those b teams are only going to want to be b teams for a certain amount of time before they want for the next step on the podium.

      With the budget cap in place I feel that we can push back towards the each team for their own method of car design.

      1. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
        7th August 2020, 9:12

        I was thinking the opposite. With less money to play with, copying the top cars might be a more cost effective, less risky option. I think this copying has come about now for that very reason.

        There is simply not enough money available to F1 as a whole to continue down its current route. I’m going to call this now. I think the budget cap might make things worse and not better for midfield teams. We can only hope the 2022 rules allow teams to be competitive on smaller budgets, but I think the same constraints and conditions will still affect the design of the cars.

        For me the main thing this copying highlights is how ridiculous it is to not allow customer cars (provided there are no strings attached). I for one would much prefer to see pink Mercedes that were actual Mercedes rather than just copies.

        1. All teams basically have access to the same budget, so they have the same resources to build and race two cars, there should be no need for customer.

    2. The other teams haven’t won the championship producing original design,
      The last 6 six years has been colossal waste of money by all teams except Mercedes.
      Unless someone can pop a Brawn everyone should copy and compete.
      Stop wasting money on engineers and compete.

  2. I still don’t see the problem. If their car is faster than yours, why wouldn’t you copy it if you could? Pride?

    As a fan, I want to see the fastest cars possible. I think it’s silly to see competitors refuse to copy a faster car that’s right in front of their eyes simply because they want to call themselves unique. Obviously, none of your brilliant unique ideas are faster, so I’m not going to be shedding too many tears if they disappear from the sport.

    1. Exactly. There’s always room for innovation anyway, there was nothing stopping Ferrari coming up with DAS for example.
      Copying last year’s cars might also give rise to more innovation at the top teams to always stay one year ahead.

    2. Josh (@canadianjosh)
      7th August 2020, 7:34

      Mark, exactly what I was thinking. As a fan I like the idea only because it makes one more team faster than they otherwise would have been which makes the midfield fight a tad bit more exciting. If more teams are willing to do this, it should only make the racing better.

    3. I agree. James said that 30% of the car is what you see, which (ignoring the driver) leaves 70% of a car’s performance based on what’s underneath, which under the current rules means it has to be unique to each team. If a team has trouble understanding tyres now, they’re still going to have trouble even if their car looks exactly like the W10.

    4. The problem is not copying, but “tracing”. All the teams and protests are dancing around definitions, but what they want from FIA is to come out and say it straight – can the designs be traced or not. Because if it’s allowed we can effectively end up with a championship between four teams (4 to 8 Mercedes cars, 4 Red Bull cars, 4 to 6 Ferrari cars and 2 lonely Renault cars). But even if not all teams decide to go this route (pride, history, whatever) they will still be affected heavily by the imbalance left by others. Say, McLaren is too proud to trace Mercedes. But with at least 4 Mercedes cars + 4 Red Bull cars clearly ahead of them next year, the fight for top positions is virtually blocked. That’s assuming all 6 Ferraris are crap again, but what if they are half decent – that’s just game over. At the same time, why wouldn’t you use tracing if it’s legal and get’s you to the top – it will be pretty hard to justify NOT using this technique to the Board of Directors.

      1. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
        7th August 2020, 9:21

        To me this just doesn’t matter. I want to see the best drivers driving the fastest cars on a Sunday afternoon, be entertained and no know who will win. This is the essence of motor racing.

        So long as the cars are different colours so I can see who is who, I’m happy. The shape of the cars skin, what’s under it, what makes it stop and go is very interesting, but secondary to the on track racing itself.

        I think the scenario you paint may lack technical diversity, but we could get some great races. I say bring it on.

      2. Excellently put, zimkazimka. That’s it in a nutshell. Renault are not protesting the brake ducts. That is just the doorway into the larger issue.
        “Knockoffs” may be an accepted practice in Mr. Stroll’s clothing companies, but is not approved in F1.

    5. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
      7th August 2020, 9:27

      As a fan, I want to see the fastest cars possible

      The recipe for disaster.

      As a fan, I want to see very fast cars racing as closely as possible. I and many racing fans have no interest in watching cars hurtle around a track but not really racing, which is what we have now. Whats the point when the same cars win all the time?

  3. There will naturally be more of this throughout the field, the technology which Racing Point seem to use is not particularly novel or proprietary. Some teams may use it for research purposes and some teams may use it to copy a well-performing car as a shortcut to get them up the field. We already have such a gap between the front-runners and the rest of the field that the latter has been quipped as F1.5.

    I’d rather see more effort put into defining technical regulations with the intent of producing closer racing than wasting time on preventing teams from copying each other.

  4. If you can’t beat them at their game then change yours. So far the argument proves why you need too copy. It’s a part of Formula One. When you start banging off the victories others will look to see how different the winning car is. This all normal stuff. As for McLaren it rather looks like the pink car that looks like the black car. Some might even add to that list another current car or two to the three I mentioned. So far it looks to be another good year for Black Mercedes. I’d start focusIng in on 2022 at this point.

  5. One thing I can’t seem to find a definitive answer for but perhaps @keithcollantine or @dieterrencken could clarify: are the teams allowed to develop their current chassis until the end of this season upon which time the designs are homologated for 2021? When will the “design freeze” actually happen? I’m curious, and it ties in with this article, because it would not surprise me if there is/are team(s) trying to squeeze a copy of a 2020 Mercedes into the latter part of the 2020 season to perhaps “test” in the last few races before a design freeze is imposed.

  6. Isnt the last six years more or less what Key said. 1 team leading and huge similarity between the cars? I guess his operative term is the added “very ” to the “very ” that already existed.

  7. When have F1 teams not copied each other? Lotus isn’t the only team still using ground effect. :-)
    Everything that is perceived to be better gets copied anyway. Raised nose, F Duct, S Duct, Single vs Double keel, Coanda effect, shark fins, T wings, high rake, periscope exhausts, the list goes on. And while I don’t want to see F1 as a spec series, I do want to see less difference in lap time between P1 and P20. And lets face it, the cars all look very similar anyway. Paint them all the same colour without sponsorship and I’d be hard pressed to quickly tell them apart. For me the question is rule change. That always shakes things up and spreads the field out but then rules stability has all the cars adopt the successful concepts and the cars move in one direction and the field closes up. I expect 2022 will cause an imbalance that will close up just before the next rule change takes effect to widen things up again.

  8. We already do Key. Your statement is all about protecting your position. Its just laughable to suggest the cars DNA isn’t 99.9999999% the same already. To be honest we are already running an engineers championship, you look to edit out any unpredictability, your tedious safety first racing is sucking the life out of the sport and still you want more. I guess when you have finally killed the sport but won the last race you will say the means justified the ends.

    1. James Key is McLaren’s technical director. The way you wrote your comment it looks like you think he works for Mercedes.

  9. Otherwise we’re going to have a lot of very, very similar racing cars…

    When did you last check up 2022 regulations?
    Exactly what you describe now.

  10. The line has to be drawn somewhere, people saying oh but there has always been copying in F1/Motor Racing are right but not to the degree being suggested. The brake ducts are just a test I would think. As it is suspected that the RP is just a replica of the 2019 Merc with the current power unit and gearbox.

    1. @johnrkh But they designed the car themselves from photo’s. So how would you prevent that?

      1. Well that’s the intent of the protest, if only the exterior of the brake duct is the same as the 2019 Merc then I would say RP will be allowed to carry on. It remains to be seen if the protest is lost by Renault if they would go again with another part.
        But I would say Renault and several others are of the strong opinion that the car is a replica of last years Merc down to some considerable detail. That information could not be retrieved from a high tech camera or laser scanner as they can only capture the outside image.

  11. I don’t personally mind the copying but I also don’t mind the idea of F1 having more standardised parts and it being more of a race between who is the best driver rather than the best car.

    If you’re against standardised parts and prescriptive regulations, I don’t see how you could be OK with what RP have done (unless you believe they did create that car without assistance by looking at pictures and info that all the other teams have free access to.)

    1. John Ballantyne
      7th August 2020, 2:08

      You think we don’t have copying now? You don’t suppose all those little appendages on body work and wings were individually arrived at simultaneously up and down the pit lane do you?

  12. You will not win championships if you only copy someone else’s last year car. Even current year car – by the time you copy it, the original will be months ahead.

    I see no problem here.

    If you are far behind, you may need to copy someone else’s car to catch up, then start making it your own to win. I see no problem here either.

  13. I agree. Apart from the question of what and how RP copied the mercedes and whether it goes against the current rules (this will be ruled upon with the examplary part of the brake duct), it goes to show what CAN be done to copy a car from a (most likely not unwilling) competitor.

    Since this is possible, and we can likely see the FIA will be allowing it to race (with some changes that have to be made within a certain timescope?) – otherwise they would lose a team from the grid for 2 years, which is unthinkable especially now – this will set a template for how to approach a cooperation.

    Why would Alpha Tauri bother with thinking about their own car when they can just “photocopy” the bits of the Red Bull that they don’t get from RB Technology or Honda? Why wouldn’t Haas copy the 2021 Ferrari (surely it will at least be more competitive that this years effort, and let’s hope Haas doesn’t call it quits). And why wouldn’t Alfa Romeo/Sauber do the same?
    By doing so they save a lot of their budgets (so then the “mother team” can outsource some development to them which it in turn will photo-copy) while still ending up with a midfield car.
    Williams probably wouldn’t survive that without taking the same route forward.

  14. The reason this copying was banned was when Red Bull was racing four of the same cars in 2008. They designed just one car and used it for both teams. Some changes would have been made underneath the body to mount different engines for RBR and STR, but that’s about it.

    Of course the lower budget of the sister team would still mean the main team would usually be faster. Just like you have clear top teams in F2 when they all drive the same car. More money can still buy you more pace.

    While that made perfect sense from an economic perspective clearly that was not what was wanted for F1.

    I guess a team reverse engineering a whole car design from photo’s is also not really what F1 would like. It’s not in the spirit of the rules clearly, but they technically still designed it themselves.

    I doubt it would be such a dangerous precedent. It’s not nearly as bad as simply rolling out four identical cars at the start of a season. At least the penalty is that the B-team would be using last year’s spec cars. Plus it wasn’t that easy as RP pointed out and still are pointing out, because their car is not nearly as fast as last year’s Mercedes. They should be faster even seeing the engine improvements Mercedes made.

    I actually don’t think RP is has any intention to keep doing this. I would think this is just something that RP did so they didn’t need to spend much resources on designing a new car for 2020 (and 2021) so they can just focus on 2022. That’s ultimately where their gain will be.

  15. I think the precedent was set when Key’s current employers found that 1 of their employees had been to a photocopying shop down the road armed with a full copy of all of Ferrari’s data.

    Get off your high horse and get on with your job (rather than trying to get your name in the papers). It’s amazing that, after 6.5 seasons of the current engine formula, Mercedes are 1s ahead of their nearest rivals.

    1. Eduardo Stark
      7th August 2020, 9:16

      well McLaren was heavily fined and stripped off from constructor championship.
      will the same applied to Racing Point, then?

      I’m in agreement with Key on this case.

  16. Teams have always copied eachother. This isnt new, and it’s pretty insulting to everyone to try and say differently. I’m not stupid! They just did a good job when it’s been Torro Rosso with the same chassis in 2007, Sauber with the 2003 Ferrari, Haas with the 2017 Ferrari, Toyota doing it with their Ferrari F2002 copy.
    Teams are just salty because they didn’t do a good enough job. I won’t talk about 2007 with Mclaren.

  17. Guilty

    15 points deducted

  18. …. and 400K€ fine

  19. … and Perez is still positive.
    Not a good day for RP..

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