‘The devil’s in the detail’ in FIA’s plan to ban clone cars

2020 F1 season

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Writing rules to prevent future Racing Point-style copies will be a significant challenge for the FIA, according to one team’s technical director.

The FIA stated last week it intends to introduce new rules for the 2021 F1 season to prevent teams extensively copying the designs of rivals. The announcement came after Racing Point were penalised for using Mercedes’ 2019 rear brake duct design as the basis for the corresponding part on its 2020 car.

The FIA’s head of single-seater matters Nikolas Tombazis said on Friday it intends to prevent teams creating ‘clone cars’ in future seasons. “We do not want next year to have eight or 10 copies of Mercedes on the grid, where the main skill becomes how you do this process,” he said. “We don’t want this to become the norm of Formula 1.”

However McLaren technical director James Key says the complex nature of parts and how they are shared between teams will make that goal a challenge for the rule makers.

“The devil is all in the detail,” he said. “It needs a lot of thinking about how to police this.”

The introduction of rules allowing teams to supply ‘non-listed parts’ to rivals lies at the heart of the row over whether Racing Point broke the rules by copying last year’s Mercedes.

“It never used to be an issue where a team was prepared to share a bit of information like this,” said Key. “Non-listed parts have come in to a bigger and bigger extent. It’s become easier to have access to information you otherwise wouldn’t have had.”

The FIA will have to reconsider how far teams should be allowed to supply parts and information to rivals in future, Key believes.

“There are allowances for supplying some parts to teams. Anything else needs to be extremely well-policed, [that] the bits that are transferred don’t come with a lot of other information, which is very easy to do from a pure technical point of view.

“It’s a very complicated question. I couldn’t propose to you now what the policing framework should look like, but it does definitely need a lot of attention.”

Ferrari and Renault have confirmed they will appeal the FIA’s decision on Racing Point, while McLaren will not proceed with an appeal.

For the latest behind-the-scenes developments on the technical row which has split Formula 1, look out for the new edition of Dieter Rencken’s RacingLines column coming today to RaceFans

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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...
Josh Holland
USA-based Josh joined the RaceFans team in 2018. Josh helps produce our Formula 1 race weekend coverage, assists with our social media activities and...

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  • 41 comments on “‘The devil’s in the detail’ in FIA’s plan to ban clone cars”

    1. Why not go the other direction? Make all IP of all cars freely available at the end of each season?
      cost savings. less regulations. all can catch up quickly. only true innovators will win.

      1. Isn’t that in part how in will be in the future? I thought some parts will be open-source and shared between the teams.

        1. @uzsjgb I think the parts that are going to be open-source are going to be non-performance related. The example Ross Brawn gave was a steering column, something that teams will invest a lot of money to save a couple hundred grams to get some very minor differentiation but ultimately add nothing to the spectacle.

      2. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
        13th August 2020, 8:47

        + a million

        This is totally the way to go. We might even get to the point where teams like Mercedes realize spending their millions to gain a tenth or two is obscene in this day and age. There are far more worthwhile things to be spending that money on.

        For me the focus should be on Sunday afternoon and having an exciting race. It doesn’t need to be super expensive. These people who whine on about innovation and F1 being the pinnacle of motor sport (or engineering!) should take a minute to think, whose millions am I wanting to be spent for the sake of my interest?

    2. What is the problem of 10 or 12 different coloured Mercedes on the grid?
      There would be a lot more racing, surely.

      1. I couldn’t agree more. Seeing RP fighting with the likes of RB and McLaren has made the 2020 F1 season more interesting.

        1. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
          13th August 2020, 8:39

          @juliangoddard its interesting you use the word ‘interesting’. I don’t care if F1 is interesting or not. On a Sunday afternoon it should be much more than interesting. It should be exciting!!

          1. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
            13th August 2020, 9:22

            sorry not @juliangoddard, The Dolphins

      2. There’s a name for that – Indy Cars.

        1. @greenflag The difference with IndyCar is that you’re not allowed to innovate the car at all (minus dampers). This is completely the opposite — a rate of innovation so fast that all advances are immediately copied. I’d find that thrilling — I love the engineering and competition of F1, and this would be the ultimate realisation of that. It would push teams even harder to find an edge, and the level of technology of the grid as a whole would advance even faster.

          That’s why I find all this talk from teams about F1 turning into a single-spec series to be fearmongering. Convergence is a natural part of the evolution of technology, and increasing the rate at which it can happen will drive innovation forward, not hold it back. Banning cloning cars by means of photography or reverse engineering seems completely misguided to me, and it seems any midfield team pushing for it is signing their own death warrant — it hands Mercedes (or any frontrunner) a tool where, having found an edge, they can then protest other teams that try to copy them in order to catch up. The existing regulations already ban cloning by means of improper transfer of designs or CAD files — those are the regulations that RP have already been found to violate. So while I can understand calling for harsher penalties against RP, I don’t understand the logic of expanding this scope of this regulation any further.

          1. @markzastrow Disagree. Strongly. Copying/cloning stifles innovation. Banning it forces innovation. If you can’t copy you have to do it your own way.

            1. @greenflag Agree to strongly disagree!

              Where would smartphones be if Apple had successfully prevented Samsung from copying the concept? The field would surely have advanced a lot slower.

              What you propose sounds like diversity, but not innovation. Clearly, nobody on the grid has proven capable of finding a faster way than Mercedes. If the teams have the technical capability to legally reverse engineer that car (and this is all hypothetical anyway because Racing Point have not yet shown it is possible to do so legally) and lack the ability to come up with something better, then let them do it, so they can continue to iterate on top of Mercedes’ work and innovate to produce faster cars.

              If all the “innovation” in the current field produces cars that are a second slower than the Mercs, I wouldn’t say that’s really innovation at all.

            2. You misunderstand. Copying a concept is fine. Copying actual components is IP theft. An example – if Mercedes adds more downforce by reshaping their barge boards, it’s perfectly fine if RP reshapes their barge boards, but to a different shape than Mercedes. Copy the concept, not the part. Heck, RP might even improve on Mercedes’s downforce.

            3. @greenflag I don’t misunderstand. I simply disagree that F1 should be policing shapes of components.

              If RP decides to make their barge boards as much of a replica as possible of Mercedes, that’s fine by me. Yes, they might find gains by doing something else—but the last seven years has shown that is not likely. But imagine if they were starting with the Mercedes as a baseline—their odds of improving on Mercedes’ downforce would be much higher!

              Copying components by photography is what every team already does. I don’t see how component shapes could be policed—with part dimensions defined precisely in vector CAD files, it’s always possible to use a shape that is the tiniest bit different from what you’re copying—in fact as teams have said, it’s practically impossible to copy it exactly. Copying a component by illegally obtaining said CAD file—as RP did—is already banned.

              I don’t see how you could compare this kind of fast follower approach to what’s happening in IndyCar, where no one can innovate on the shape of aero components at all.

            4. Let all teams start with any baseline, Mercedes or any other car, who cares? From there they must do their own design improvements so what they end up racing is different, substantially, from that baseline. Because if it’s not substantially different it’s still copying. Innovation is about being different and better. Just because other teams have found it difficult to improve on Mercedes’s performance does not entitle them to copy their car. To do so will lead to a spec car series, and that’s not what F1 is about.

      3. How much F2 or F3 do you watch?

        1. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
          13th August 2020, 8:36

          Plenty, the racing is far better than F1.

          I yearn for the day we can see the best drivers in more equal cars. That would be Sunday afternoon heaven.

    3. Yeah, it really is a tough job to define this. But I think it is important that they do, probably in cooperation with the teams, to produce a solid definition everyone feels ok with.

    4. It’d be a whole lot easier to grow the sport if they let teams do things to be competitive.

      Budget caps are having the opposite effect of what they wanted and now this.

    5. We already will have 20 identical cars in 2022 with zero freedom for proper development and innovation, and they are going to clamp down even more?

      Great choice! (sarcasm)

      Bunch of geniuses

    6. A mind experiment for everyone to consider.
      IMO, there is always an optimum solution to an engineering problem, (in this case, building an F1 car).
      So, for stake of argument lets say Mercedes have come up with that optimum solution.
      The FIA are bascially saying that they (Mercedes) will have an unassailable lead; as no other team will be permitted to copy their optimum solution and catch up to them and beat them. Talk about unintended consequences!

      1. there is always an optimum solution to an engineering problem

        That might be valid for a certain track, tyre spec, weather condition, and probably even driver, @ijw1.
        Rather than pulling my hair out, I simply assume that there will be enough opportunity for others to develop their unique car and beat Mercedes on the right day.

      2. This will be impossible to do unless you bring in some sort of patent system and that will just result in silly, mass appeals after each race on ever more tenuous grounds. It would make you beg for the situation we have have now as it would be so bad!

        In any meritocratic pursuit (eg professional sport, business etc), you will always look to your competitors for inspiration. In football if a team comes up with a new tactical innovation and starts winning everything then it will get copied by everyone else. The FA wouldn’t dream of intervening in something like that.

        Also the RP20 and W10 are not completely identical, there are a few key differences (article on F1 website explains all). Also simply copying something will not guarantee success since if you can’t unlock the underlying concepts you will never be able to get it to work or develop it further. As RP said their first models of this car were seconds a lap slower in a wind tunnel so there would have been considerable skill in making it all work.

        Trying to come up with an extremely complex anti-copying rule to effectively calm top designers’ egos (they won’t like being told by management to abandon their ideas and copy others) just seems silly. I’m sure RP said that one of the biggest challenges in doing what they did is getting people to accept that any design concepts they championed as individuals will need to be forgotten about.

    7. The FIA arguing themselves down a rabbit hole of their own making and the March Hare is laughing his head off.

      In the middle of a campaign to change the rules to reduce costs the FIA impose more costs on teams demanding they make and design their own brake ducts. Now they want another mass of rules to stop teams copying other cars. To follow those rules will cost the teams even more, mostly likely in lawyers with an engineering degree I would guess, to try to work out what and what can’t be done and then hire many more staff to do it – or fail to.

      Such rules would ban 60% of the current grid who have copied the RedBull high rake philosophy, who copied double defusers, who copied the RedBull nose………

      Quite mad when you think about it, no innovation to be copied or inspire others to do the same, or to act as a stimulus to create something better, everything to be provably new and unaffected by other cars, previous parts or observable benefits.

      Will the FIA please take its head from wherever it is currently residing and take a breath before destroying another part of the DNA of F1 with their mania for more and more rules.

      Ironically, more and more rules will create a static development cycle as team realise that whatever they do they are in breach. No development, no change in the pecking order, no real racing, no F1. Death by a thousand thousand paper cuts.

      1. There are no new rules about the ducts. They are “listed parts” since this year.

      2. That’s not really what’s happening, or going to happen.
        A device on one car can inspire an equivalent device to be designed to fit another car. That’s always been accepted and encouraged in F1, and won’t change in the future.
        However, copying an entire car in one go is not in the spirit of F1, it is argued. That’s what they are targeting.
        Individual devices that can be interpreted and designed from scratch to fit into another car’s technical or aerodynamic profile are fine – but blatant copying is unwanted.

        1. What is an “entire car”? It wouldn’t apply to the 2020 Racing Point, because there are differences.

          Let’s say you wanted to ban a car like the Racing Point. How would you write the rule? I have no idea.

    8. Personally I want to see customer cars in F1 – would increase the size of the grid by lowering the cost barrier to enter the sport (making the sport more sustainable) and gives the real constructors an additional incentive to develop a really strong car (customers will want to buy the car from them for next year). You can still maintain the constructors championship of course, the customer teams just wouldn’t be part of it since they haven’t made their own car, but their drivers would still be eligible for the drivers championship.

      1. So how many constructors would there be in F1, then? Three? Four?

        1. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
          13th August 2020, 9:19

          Why is it a problem to have only three of four constructors?

          Surely F1’s shop window is Sunday afternoon. What happens then is by far the most important thing. If viewers can tune in and watch an exciting race then that would go a long way to solving the sports problems.

          Regarding the issue of scoring constructors points, I’d do away with the constructors championship and have a team one instead.

    9. I’m sure my non-legal training is obvious, but as I understand it the rules state a team must own the exclusive right to use the brake ducts used this season now and forever after, but Racing Point don’t own the exclusive right to the brake ducts currently fitted to their cars now and forever after, Mercedes owns those rights. Doesn’t that mean those brake ducts aren’t permitted? Yes, that is what that means! So why is there confusion? Racing Point need to replace those brake ducts. The brake ducts were designed in 2019 by Mercedes for their own car, and yes it was legal to fit them to a Racing Point car last year, and yes Mercedes was allowed to send all sorts of data that could be used by Racing Point to make their own or modified W10 brake ducts to suit their needs, but the owner of the intellectual property rights for the “W10” brake duct design sold to Racing Point last year (and in January this year) was Mercedes, the owner of exact copies of Mercedes W10 brake ducts is Mercedes, and if any brake ducts currently fitted to the RP20 are the same as those fitted to the W10 then the owner is Mercedes, not Racing Point. Unless the brake ducts currently fitted to the RP20 were of their own (even with lots of help from Mercedes, a university, manufacturer, or whoever) or an exclusive contractor’s design (with ownership rights passed back to Racing Point) then those brake ducts aren’t permitted. No one has argued that Mercedes were contracted to design brake ducts for Racing Point, but if some one was to present such an argument then why weren’t they suited to Racing Point car being used at the time?
      I don’t see a need to change the rules, I see a need to strictly interpret the current rules.

      1. @drycrust The problem is that the ruling rightly acknowledges that Racing Point’s engineers, having seen the CAD designs from Mercedes, now know how they work and could feasibly just lay up their own CAD designs from memory & notes from previous seasons.

        There’s a reason aero engineers are sought after – retained knowledge.

        1. The other thing that isn’t mentioned in the ruling is how different the RP rear ducts really are compared to others/ Mercs? Did the FIA compare Haas’s BD’s to Ferrari’s? We know they used them every season previously. Yes they brought in 3 engineers to “design their own” but how much did they move from Ferrari’s? Maybe not much at all and maybe less than RP did from Mercs? The stupid part of the decision is even if Haas’s are basically identical still to Ferrari’s it doesn’t matter because they used them in 2019. This is why I can’t see RP not winning on appeal.

          1. @add9 As I understand it, the Stewards won’t investigate the brake ducts on Haas’s car until someone protests the legality of them. Until then the Stewards assume their car is legal. If Racing Point feel unduly punished because “we did what others did” then expect to see protests aimed at Haas (who admitted designing their own under duress) and AlphaTauri.
            @optimaximal Maybe I’m wrong in this opinion, but I don’t see anything wrong in Racing Point studying the brake ducts, coming up with theories as to why Mercedes designed them that way, and then building new ones that look different but performed the same or better. The rule is Racing Point need to own the rights to the design of the rear brake ducts now and forever. So how much or little Racing Point creativity was used for the rear brake ducts (because those are the ones being protested)? It seems the Stewards have decided the rear brake ducts are more or less the same as genuine Mercedes 2019 rear brake ducts (i.e. they say there was very little Racing Point creativity involved), meaning those brake ducts aren’t considered by them to be Racing Point’s own design. They are saying the design of the rear brake ducts used by Racing Point belongs to Mercedes, which is against the rules. So Racing Point need to go away, design something which looks different on the outside and on the inside, and they need to be able to claim the ownership of that design as their own for now and forever.

            1. fair point about Haas – my point was however based on the steward’s “logic” – re Haas no point in protesting since it doesn’t matter either way since they were using them in 2019 so become theirs even if unchanged! That is the crazy bit that makes sense to me – incidentally of course in context of your last sentence of they don’t as it stands since the stewards allowed them to keep using them – as I understand it they can get as many reprimands as they get from now on in – no further sanction no matter how many they get….

    10. (…)where the main skill becomes how you do this process,

      aka taking it to the extreme where you pretend you did it from photos and made up cads when in truth you share suppliers with the team you are “copying” from and you get their parts from them but pretend you built them. It was bad enough with Haas but judging by how many shards of carbon they leave everywhere Dallara must be making that car. tauri is even more blatant but they are owned by the same person, I have no doubt rb shares their ip with the sister team. I cant see RP having Brackley IP.
      As Key alluded to, by regulation there is a lot you can tell from having the saame rear end and front suspension as another car yet I don’t see a team copy, to hedge a bet like that, at best they are as fast as a year old car, and their relationship with their supplier would sour.

    11. The only significant team improvement in many years and it’s being stifled.

      Just let teams share and sell data if they want, anything that improves the quality of the racing should be highly encouraged.

      Pretty sure the large majority of fans would happily accept 20 Merc clones if it meant the racing was exciting and the best driver was winning.

      1. They do that in the US. It’s called Indy Cars. And the majority of F1 fans would definitely not want that.

    12. As I see it the two main restrictions to competing in F1 are the development of a car and the need to redesign to meet changing regulations on a pretty much annual basis. Imo is the driver for the need to have shared parts and is also being used as an excuse for the introduction of customer cars under the guise of driving down costs.
      With the immanent start of the budget cap and the rapidly changing market and technology dictating the motoring world, Liberty have a unique opportunity to press the reset button on F1. But it needs to be done in a holistic way no half hearted wet lettuce attempts by trying to keep everyone happy. Imo Liberty need to rigidly enforce the cap and encourage new competitors into the sport, as I’ve said keep the rules static for a set length of time.
      It’s the big teams that gain from constant change. If Mercedes or any other major team threaten to walk so be it.

    13. Yet another terrible “idea” in F1! Stop trying to restrict things to greatness. It NEVER, EVER WORKS.

    14. The same people crowing about cloning cars are the same ones claiming they want to see the drivers making all the difference. They all want they’re favorite driver in a Merc but no one else.

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