Esteban Ocon, Renault, Silverstone, 2020

Analysis: How Renault’s Racing Point protest led the FIA to revise its rules on ‘clone cars’

2020 F1 season

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In upholding the protests in the Renault versus Racing Point ‘Listed Parts’ matter, the four stewards charged with unravelling the various narratives faced a number of vexing contradictions, with the cross-over points between sporting and technical matters being just one of the crucial factors that occupied their minds.

Although the former’s protest revolved around the legality of the front and rear brake ducts fitted to the Racing Point RP20, there were no suggestions or inferences by any of the parties that they are or were technically illegal. Indeed, precisely the opposite: the brake ducts fulfil every requirement as outlined in the Technical Regulations. Had they not, the matter would have been dispensed within five minutes after the initial protest.

The protest – and thus the verdict which upheld the protest – revolved around the sporting legality of what are technical components; whether Racing Point’s interpretation of appendix six of the Sporting Regulations permits the use of design either copied from a 2019 component or previously used by another team. It states:

“A competitor shall, in respect of the listed parts to be used in its cars in Formula 1, only use listed parts which are designed by it”, and “the obligation to design and use listed parts shall not prevent a competitor from outsourcing the design and/or manufacture of any listed parts to a third party […] provided that […] it retains the exclusive right to use the listed parts in Formula 1 so long as it competes in Formula 1.”

Daniel Ricciardo, Renault, Red Bull Ring, 2020
Renault brought first protest after Styrian Grand Prix
The reason for the “either/or” provision above is fundamental to this matter. Racing Point in 2019 acquired usage rights from Mercedes F1 to the front and rear brake ducts – which provide substantial aerodynamic effects by being akin to 12-inch fans revolving at up to 350km/h. But RaceFans understands the rear brake ducts sourced were not fitted to RP19 as they were intended to complement a high-rake car design, and thus incompatible. This year’s car is low-rake.

Thus, the stewards were required to rule on two different usage parameters: the protested team argued it had studied and understood the front brake ducts and was thus able to design their own, but clearly could not submit a similarly compelling argument for the rear designs. Further complicating the matter is that in 2019 out-sourcing of brake ducts was legal; Appendix 6 was amended this year to include brake ducts under “Listed Parts’.

The primary question was, therefore: Is Racing Point legally permitted to use design rights from 2019 components in 2020 – whether previously used or not – despite appendix six? The team, after all, designed its car in 2019 for the 2020 season, although it admitted during the hearing to having had a transfer of parts from Mercedes on 6th January 2020.

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In addition, Mercedes had provided CAD models of brake ducts to Racing Point on 10 different dates between November 2018 and October 2019 – despite the ‘listing’ of brake ducts for 2020 having been ratified by the FIA World Motor Sport Council on 4th June 2019. These CAD models were used to develop the rear brake ducts.

2019 Mercedes brake duct
Mercedes’ 2019 brakes were at the heart of the row
In F1-speak, the design of a component includes the entire process from concept to final designs and/or models, whereas Racing Point submitted that it referred only to the latter design stage. Despite it being customary to do so in cases of doubt, Racing Point did not canvas FIA opinions as to the legality of its plans to use Mercedes brake ducts. The stewards decided that the answer would have been a definite “no”.

All this leads to a philosophical question: What constitutes ‘Design’ and how is it defined? The Merriam Webster Dictionary“>Merriam Webster Dictionary lists no fewer than six verb definitions of the word and eight noun usages, any of which could be applied in this instance.

Thus, the definition, the spirit or intention of the regulations was a deciding factor in the verdict, which could be overruled, either by the FIA International Court of Appeal or, as last resort, France’s Tribunal de Grande Instance. A FIA verdict was last escalated to the French equivalent of the High or Supreme Court ten years ago, after the Max Mosley administration handed down a ban on Flavio Briatore for his alleged role in ‘Crashgate’.

Just as there are no doubts that both sets of brake ducts were and are absolutely legal in terms of the technical regulations – if not the sporting regulations – there are zero doubts that the designated four stewards for this hearing are suitably qualified to reach a verdict. They are:

  • Chairman of the Stewards Dr (of law) Hans-Gerd Ennser, who in civilian life has acted as prosecutor, judge and corporate lawyer while dovetailing these activities with German motorsport administration, being president of the country’s motorsport association. He has acted as an F1 steward for over ten years.
  • FIA Steward Dennis Dean, ex-president of the FIA Land Speed Commission and member of the International Sporting Code Review Commission, member of the CIK (karting) and senior scrutineer of many years’ standing. He is a former US Navy commanding officer and chief of staff.
  • Austrian National Steward Walter Jobst, has been involved in motorsport since 1973, during which time he chaired FIA commissions and sat on various national appeal courts.
  • British National Steward Richard Norbury, permanent Porsche Cup steward, a director of Motor Sports Association UK, member of the UK Motor Sports Council (rules commission) and chairman of MSC’s Judicial Committee.

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According to sources the verdict was unanimous albeit knife-edge – although the chairman, in this case Ennser, held the casting vote should it have been required.

Otmar Szafnauer, Racing Point, Red Bull Ring, 2020
Szafnauer said case “won’t go against us”
How does the matter proceed from here? Racing Point was stripped of 15 points scored in the constructors championship and fined €400,000 (£360,000) in total for the Styrian Grand Prix breaches. In addition, reprimands for using ‘illegal’ cars (in sporting terms) in Hungary and Silverstone copped the team a reprimand per event. The drivers have not, though, been similarly penalised due to the uniqueness of the case.

Rather perversely, perhaps, the stewards decided that it would be unreasonable to expect Racing Point to start the brake duct process from scratch as it would be impossible for the team to ‘forget’ what it had learned from the contentious components. Thus they will be able to race on using the ‘illegal’ parts this year.

Clearly Mercedes F1 is an accessory in all this, having supplied CAD models to Racing Point during this year. That raises questions about comments made in Hungary about the saga by Mercedes F1 CEO Toto Wolff’s – a close friend of Racing Point boss Lawrence Stroll and shareholder in Aston Martin, of which Stroll is chairman and title sponsor of Racing Point from 2021.

“The Racing Point is a podium contender,” Wolff said, “if not a race-winning contender going forward. And it proves that with the right leadership, the right decision-making process and the right funding, you can actually accelerate your development curve. So [there’s] lessons to be learned and I’m happy to see them [in contention].” A lesson in what, exactly? The right decision-making?

One wonders what Mercedes chairman and head of Mercedes cars Ola Källenius makes of all this, for the brand is certainly implicated, even if only peripherally. With Wolff’s contract renewal (possibly) looming by year-end and the 2021-5 Concorde Agreement still yet to be signed, one wonders whether the Swede’s pen will hover slightly longer.

During last week’s Friday press conference Racing Point CEO Otmar Szafnauer was asked by RaceFans what action would be taken internally should the steward’s verdict find the team to be in breach of the regulations.

“I hate to answer hypothetical questions,” he said. “It’s not going to go against us. It’s pretty clear we didn’t contravene any of the rules. The FIA came and looked and checked, they’re happy that we didn’t [break the rules], but the stewards didn’t come and look and check and now there’s a protest against us. We’ve got to take the data that we showed to the FIA already, and show that to the stewards.”

That question is no longer hypothetical. That said, a declaration of intention to appeal can be expected, but whether the teams takes it as high as the ICA remains to be seen.

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The verdict was clearly thought through diligently and is correct in view of the provisions of the regulations and the subsequent exchanges of CAD models and data between Racing Point and Mercedes.

Lance Stroll, Racing Point, Silverstone, 2020
Racing Point’s rivals have heaped pressure on the team and FIA
However, rival team bosses believe that the fines and points penalty are too lenient as the points forfeit equals a single third place, yet allows Racing Point to race on with what one described as ‘bent cars’. The same person also questioned whether sanctions would be applied by the FIA against the responsible persons in both Racing Point and Mercedes in terms of Clause 2.6.4 of the ISC, the certificate of registration for staff.

While such drastic action is considered unlikely, it does indicate the level of wrath in the paddock over Racing Point’s antics, and by extension the complicity of Mercedes. Clearly appendix six needs to be revisited to maintain the integrity of F1 as a championship for constructors of racing cars.

Small wonder that shortly after the 14-page verdict landed, the FIA’s head of single-seater matters Nikolas Tombazis intended they intend to do just that, indicating the sport’s governing body considers a grid full of Mercedes clones an unappealing prospect.

2020 F1 season

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41 comments on “Analysis: How Renault’s Racing Point protest led the FIA to revise its rules on ‘clone cars’”

  1. Mercedes had provided CAD models of brake ducts to Racing Point on 10 different dates between November 2018 and October 2019 – despite the ‘listing’ of brake ducts for 2020 having been ratified by the FIA World Motor Sport Council on 4th June 2019.

    The most damning evidence.

    1. Not really, they still had to race last year, and they still had a legal licence to use those brake ducts – imagine the situation if you had purchased the brake ducts for the year, were entitled to the cad drawings – presumably so you can design the rest of your car around them but because they were going to be illegal next year, suddenly, you couldn’t have the iterations that you paid for. Well you could, but you couldn’t have the cad drawings, and couldn’t reverse engineer them. So basically had to guess how to put them on your latest car.

      Then comes the acknowledgement that Racing Point’s engineers can’t “forget” what they learned from Mercedes Cad drawings. Well, if that’s something to take into consideration now, then surely that consideration must be given to them then as well, they had the drawings, they were legal to have, they can’t be expected to forget that knowledge… so whether you agree with the ruling or not, there is no way that this is “damning”. It is what it is, maybe unfair, maybe not (I haven’t decided for myself yet) but the steps that were taken form all sides all make perfect logical sense.

      1. And had transfer parts on 6th January 2020. Why sell parts for 2019 that you only received in 2020?
        I believe Haas also asked whether they can use Ferrari ducts for 2020 which they were denied even if it was asked in 2019. I think they probably tried to acquire the ducts before 2020 but it wasn’t allowed.
        So if Merc knowingly providing data to RP only for their 2020 car, when they know the ducts is in listed parts for 2020, they should stop providing the data.
        But honestly, Merc can simply play dumb and say they don’t know whether the data will be used for 2019 or 2020, but it seems that all of this thing have been planned since the end of 2018 and then early in 2019 Wolff revealed that he invested in Aston Martin and then RP said that they will use Merc tunnel to develop their 2020 car thus here we are in 2020 with pink Mercedes. Personally I think RP received more data because I still don’t think you can copy (and making it performant) an F1 car by pictures alone, and certainly brake ducts CAD data is not enough.

        1. I mean, if you’ve paid for something, even if that something turns into something you can no longer use, you probably still want to have it. Which is irrelevant to the whole discussion anyway – the parts transferred were never used on the car and if they wanted to make carbon copies of said part, it’s significantly easier to do it from the cad files – which they already had – than trying to reverse engineer a part.

          As for Merc, well, again, they’ve been paid for a thing, and presumably they supplied the thing. They might well have known it could be a risk, but maybe a lesser risk to their long term strategy than if they broke that agreement.

          Quite honestly, when the stewards go out of their way to say that Racing Point have been open and transparent, I believe them. And draw the same conclusion that the stewards did, they didn’t believe they were breaking the rules.

      2. Yes but imagine if FIA outlawed a certain part, no matter what you paid for you cannot use it. Here Racing Point and Mercedes worked together to avoid the spirit of the regulations, knowingly understanding that they are clossle to illegality

        The fact that Wolff is a shareholder of Aston Martin and friend of Stroll does imply all of this could be caused by the conflict of interest Wolff has.

        At first I thought RP copied by photogrammetry and I could accept that, this however shows that there has been a degree of cooperation in copying the car that should not be acceptable.

        1. Yes but imagine if FIA outlawed a certain part, no matter what you paid for you cannot use it. Here Racing Point and Mercedes worked together to avoid the spirit of the regulations, knowingly understanding that they are clossle to illegality

          There is simply no factual basis for these accusations, in fact quite contrary to everything we’ve heard from FIA, the stewards and RP.

        2. In further support of @zbs13, we don’t know exactly what CAD drawings were sent after the “listing” in June 2019. Its entirely possible that the CAD drawings sent after that were merely for the front brake ducts, which RP was using at the time. That would be a completely reasonable and legal exchange of information.

          It’s also possible Mercedes sent CAD drawings of the rear brakes in an attempt to help RP legally design rear brakes that would work with their 2019 car.

          Of course, it is also entirely possible they were sending CAD drawings knowing the brakes would be designed and used on the 2020 car.

          I would expect the stewards and/or FIA know exactly what CAD drawings were sent when. I’m willing to believe the stewards opinion in the matter, since they are the official deciders and have significantly more info than any of us.

    2. @ruliemaulana Merc sell CAD models in October 2019 was perfectly within the rules. The last races of 2019 was Abu Dhabi 01 Dec.

      @frans “transfer parts on 6th January 2020. Why sell parts for 2019 that you only received in 2020?”, because RP had the CAD files and hence the IP rights to use them in 2020 (at least that was the legal thinking at the time and that the FIA decided today was wrong) and I assume wanted from fresh parts to compare with their homemade equivleants.

      F1 teams always look for the limits to push the rules. RP lost out this time.

      1. @cswilly Mercedes sold parts not drawings. I can understand if you get accompanying pdf with every purchase, but CAD files?

        1. @ruliemaulana did you read the article from your website where where you are allegedly a reporter??

          From the article “In addition, Mercedes had provided CAD models of brake ducts to Racing Point on 10 different dates between November 2018 and October 2019”.

        2. What’s not to believe? I myself purchased cad files for a product I have only licence to produce today, it’s not unusual. Many manufacturing facilities are designed to work with cad files, pdf’s are… well, ancient technology.

          1. Pressed enter too early – with a cad file, you load it onto your machine and it gets to work. With a pdf, well no AI is good enough yet to read it and set the machine up properly, so all that data has to be laboriously entered. That could be a weeks work with significant risk of error at every stage, meaning an extra prototyping stage. Why, when cad files exist, would you bother?

        3. I can sort of understand in F1 in that they’d need detailed drawings to check both the ‘incidental’ aero effect and the ‘intended’ break cooling works with the rest of their car @ruliemaulana, might well be the same for HAAS, AT etc. gearbox, suspension and the like too, and I am sure that’s the argument they convinced themselves made it legal.

          But, it’s equally understandable, especially with the timing, that both the other teams have questions and that the stewards did not quite buy it (though perhaps allowed it to stand as the FIA preferred to end the saga please ;-).

        4. Of course you get cad files. The teams don’t just want the parts but they want to check in cfd how the parts work. Not to mention you need the cad files just to design proper mounting solution to your uprights.

          1. Exactly @socksolid, @bosyber. It makes huge sense that teams need the CAD data of the parts they use/want to use. How else will they be able to put them into their simulators and work the areas around those parts in their CFD models?

            The thing that does stand out is that while it might not have been illegal to request, get and use data from Mercedes about BOTH front and rear ducts late 2019 (yes, during the season) there is no way RP would have been able to use those parts/the data on their 2019 car.

            First because it was a completely different design philosiphy (high rake vs. the Mercedes with low rake concept) but mainly because it was impossible at that time to MAKE these parts and put them on the 2019 car at several flyaway races. Making the carbon fibre parts takes several weeks. How would they make (lay up, bake, let cure) those in October / november and still use them in those races

  2. Lots of words but not clear what is wrong and what is right. The front ducts were good but the rear aren’t?
    Because they went from highrake to low rake???

    1. @macleod Because of the aero change on the rear the rear is beyond any doubt copied from last years merc, and copied form a CAD sent past the deadline. the fronts could be an evolution of last years RP or copy or a copy of the merc cad therefore questionable.

    2. @macleod Because they used the 2019 Mercedes front brake ducts legally in the 2019 RP car and thus were legal for this year as they already used these brake ducts legally. But not the rear brake ducts as these didn’t fit in their high rake design philosophy and so they couldn’t use designs derived from them in their 2020 car.

      1. So if they change the rears they are fine again?

        1. Rather perversely, perhaps, the stewards decided that it would be unreasonable to expect Racing Point to start the brake duct process from scratch as it would be impossible for the team to ‘forget’ what it had learned from the contentious components. Thus they will be able to race on using the ‘illegal’ parts this year.


    3. It seems there is a typo. The rear ducts were not used in 2019 because it was incompatible with the high rake car. However it was directly carried over to be used on the 2020 car. The front brake ducts did not share this fate, as they were used in 2019 and then subsequently developed upon by Racing point for their 2020 car. Thus sort of seen as a new design in it self.

      Racing points mistake here is taking the risk by not deriving a new design from the mercedes part for 2020. It would have been an additional expense for probably a worse part… But at least they would have stayed out of trouble.

  3. Renault did catch Mercedes and RP red handed, exchanging CAD drawings after the deadline. Renault succeeded as well in exposing RP’s lies.
    Lying is now established, copying from photos is thankfully busted, no more explaining to everyone, that everyone in paddock knows this but nobody can openly say it.
    I don’t think the FIA wanted to do this, and I also think only Renault is not cumplicit to this “trickery”, only they were going to pester the FIA.
    RP and Mercedes were caught in a technicality and this is great for true f1 fans and great for most teams on the paddock, they might not be in a position to help the protest but they should benefit from it.
    we all knew but couldn’t say for certain, is that this years RP is a spec of last years Mercedes, we also know they have suppliers in common and it is likely that they are running merc parts, including listed parts.
    Personally, my ire and the ire of the fans is down to dumbing us down, they almost succeded in denying what is in front of everyone, brushing it away, even making everyone feel bad for the accusations, as Otmar tried to do.
    sky helped them, sky might have been fooled too regardless, they actively tried to either protect f1 or mercedes by trying to minimize the issue, insulting their subscribers.
    Belittling and condesceding, that is what they are, arrogant to think we are all beneath them. All they had to do was be honest about this, like Steiner.
    What they have done, like all things f1 is borderline, they can pass all rules justify everything but fortunately they were caught on a technicality. +1 for transparency.

    1. Jose Lopes da Silva
      7th August 2020, 15:49

      “sky helped them, sky might have been fooled too regardless, they actively tried to either protect f1 or mercedes by trying to minimize the issue, insulting their subscribers.”
      But they were protecting Mr Stroll investment. And what about all the jobs that Mr Stroll saved by investing?

      (We may find out that we want a spec series and a championship of drivers. For years I listen people complaining that “cars are not equal”. Maybe the marketeers should lead the sport to there.)

      1. Sky devalued the issue whenever it raised its ugly head, much as they’ve pitched the RP/AM venture in the best possible light one every time I’ve listened to them. Still an acceptable broadcast but must be taken with a pinch of NACL.

    2. So much factual inaccuracies here, where to start. There was no deadline for exchanging CAD drawings. Let’s not forget that the front ducts were ruled legal despite exchanging those drawings. Lying is not established at all, in fact RP was quite open and cooperating with the FIA. Copying from photos is not busted, as no one ever said the brake ducts were copied from photos and it is common sense that it would be impossible to do so. Whether they are “arrogant”, “belittling” or “condescending”, that is a matter of judgement but personally I don’t see any of that in this case.

  4. Total stupidity.
    Mercedes complicity?! They didn’t break any rule.
    Racing Point broke the rule? Only if such a rule ia stretched yo the limit, like stewards did. “Oh, you can design by CAD if you raced it last year, but you can’t if you got CAD a year ago, but never raced”

    What a facepalm! What a mess.

  5. Are there other parts that can now be protested or is that it?

    Is there a general feeling of ill will against RP following the manner in which they took over Force India’s benefits (less the points scored in that season to the asset purchase date), but none of their debts?

    1. Indeed – that and all the rest of the exercise.

  6. Considering neither side is happy with the result I have a feeling this won’t end here, that being said, maybe this is the best place to end it. With at least a little good will and belief of intent all round.

    1. @skipgamer I really hope you are right, seems like a fudge to just try and keep everyone equally happy (or equally unhappy).

      Having just heard Toto on Sky, he was very assertive that there was nothing untoward and everything was fully legal and I got the impression that if anyone wants to take this further then MB and RP will fight fire with fire and it could get very messy very quickly.

  7. Wouldn’t the exchange of CAD schematics be normal given they run models of the car through CFD?

    It would make sense for Racing Point the receive them even for the rears they ended up using then surely as they could have been considering using them by testing them in a simulation only to find to understand they don’t work on high rake

  8. Can brakes only make the car that much fast? Surely there are other areas too that can be investigated.

    1. @pinakghosh Not brakes – brake ducts. These are very sophisticated aerodynamic devices, as covered here recently:

  9. Mercedes had provided CAD models of brake ducts to Racing Point on 10 different dates between November 2018 and October 2019 – despite the ‘listing’ of brake ducts for 2020 having been ratified by the FIA World Motor Sport Council on 4th June 2019.

    Stroll bought out Racing Point in August 2018. This means that immediately after they switched the plans to produce a low rake car, probably due to time needed they couldn’t do it in 2019 but proceeded to buy and obtain CAD plans and parts from 2019 Mercedes car. Whether there is a conflict of interest for Wolff here remains to be seen.

    1. Correct.

      If I was senior management at Williams I’d be asking the Mercedes Benz board directly why one Mercedes customer team is being passed that level of information while they obviously aren’t.
      Zac should be asking the same board if McLaren will also receive drawings to the Mercedes car and parts once they take delivery of their Mercedes engines … or whether that is reserved for Toto’s billionaire friends who buy teams.

      Toto’s behavior today was very much that of a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar, & who has been scolded.

  10. The way to look at it is like legally buying stuff that is in transit but becomes illegal long after purchase but yet to arrive.
    The law usually bans the any new purchase from the date of the law’s enactment but allows prior purchases through.
    This is why the FIA couldn’t do much and can’t take it much further.

  11. What am wondering and just can’t wrap my head around is this, WHY WIL RACING POINT CONTINUE TO USE A DESIGN THAT IS ILLEGAL ALREADY? Does it mean it’ll still be protested in the subsequent races despite the verdict?

    1. Do they have any other option? It’s not like you can design and build a new brake duct overnight. What would you do?

  12. This article is poorly written, as it takes things out of context or gives a wrong idea of the facts

    BDs data was only shares between the two teams during a period where that was allowed

    There was more information exchange after July 2019, but it was irrelevant for the case, as it did not had drawings of the BDs

    In fact RP received the FBDs data at the same time as the RBDs data, but at the time ot didn’t make sense for the team to use it

    FIA is penalizing RP not because they received info after it was allowed, but because they used it after that

    Does not make any sense to me if I’m honest, unless they wanted the RP engineers to forget it (which they admit actually by allowing the team to still use the ducts)

    1. It’s your reading that’s faulty.
      Wanting a different result doesn’t make the article faulty.

  13. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
    8th August 2020, 5:17

    Are RP now susceptible to more protests in the upcoming rounds? Or is the brakes saga over?

Comments are closed.