F1 teams agree new rules to ban “reverse engineering” in 2021

2020 Italian Grand Prix

Posted on

| Written by and

Formula 1 teams have reached agreement on new rules for the 2021 season which will prevent the ‘reverse engineering’ of rivals’ cars.

The practice has come under scrutiny following the row over Racing Point’s RP20, which is closely modelled on last year’s Mercedes W10. The team was given a points deduction and fine after it was found to have broken the rules by using Mercedes’ rear brake ducts as the basis for its design.

The teams have now agreed new rules for the 2021 season which will define and ban the ‘reverse engineering’ of rivals’ cars. RaceFans understands this will be achieved through changes to the definition of ‘Listed Team Components’ in the 2021 technical regulations.

LTCs are parts which are used exclusively by a single team. The new rules will ban teams from using ‘reverse engineering’ to design LTCs. It will also restrict what sources of information teams may refer to when designing their cars.

Information which is publicly available to all competitors, such as photographs obtained at events and tests, will be permitted. However other, more detailed sources of information, and techniques for manipulating them, are being outlawed.

Teams will be banned from using software to convert photographs or images into design data, using three-dimensional cameras, imaging and photogrammetry – software which converts image data into models – and surface scanning of parts.

The FIA is expected to introduce technical directives to further clarify what techniques will be regarded as illegal ‘reverse engineering’.

In the event two teams produce outwardly similar designs for any parts, the FIA will judge whether ‘reverse engineering’ had been involved, or if the teams have arrived at the designs independently. Teams must supply necessary information to prove their compliance with the rules if requested.

The rules will be applied retrospectively to design work carried out prior to 2021. Any design work the teams have already carried out for parts they use on their 2021 cars must therefore comply with these new restrictions.

However any parts which were run by teams in 2019 or the first event of 2020 will be considered as their own designs and not the product of ‘reverse engineering’, and therefore can be used.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

2020 Italian Grand Prix

Browse all 2020 Italian Grand Prix articles

28 comments on “F1 teams agree new rules to ban “reverse engineering” in 2021”

  1. This could potentially open up a whole new slew of protests when teams copy parts of each others cars.

    1. Presumably, the Fia are going to match this ban with themselves getting much more trigger happy about banning unique innovations early – or the first team with the next double diffuser will dominate uncontested. And given the budgets and form, it will most likely be Merc.

      1. Will Jones, that example will not be a concern. The double diffuser was used as the ideal example (I think by Brawn) of a CONCEPT being copied. Which will of course always happen.

        Reverse enigneering of identical parts is very different. Hopefully someone with better tech insight will give more detail.

        1. @gongtong Well if the diffuser was a listed part there could be a problem if it was copied too closely.

          So far not many parts are listed, but the bodywork is and what about the similarity of bodywork between Haas and Alpha Tauri and their parent teams? At what point is it not reverse engineered? Why not try a case to see if they can disturb a team.

          1. @f1osaurus I absolutely agree with you, they will most likely try their luck with penalising such things. However, I assume it would be pointless because it’s not going to be easy to prove unless it literally matches up near identical to your own component. The only time it would do so would be if you’d sold that IP on to the team, in which case you’d not want to push a protest on them? I don’t know how it will be enforced, but it will be interesting. I completely support any effort to do so.

            The thing with the diffuser case, was that it was an entire system that was built around the air flow over the entrire vehicle. three teams came up with double deck approaches, but upon investigation I assume that they would all demonstrate clear differences in how they came to their own solutions. There would be a clear body of work that lead them to their solution. There would have to be, if there wasn’t though, AND the components matched up very similarly to another design, it would be a slam dunk penalty.

            I’m really no expert on any of the tech stuff. So I can only speculate. As I say, there MIGHT be cases of people attempting to protest other teams on this. But I don’t see the diffuser example as a good one.

          2. @f1osaurus Diffusers are already listed as they are part of the bodywork…

    2. @f1osaurus it could indeed, and I wonder whether the somewhat heavy handed nature of these rules might accidentally end up backfiring. We’ve certainly seen a lot of teams copy elements from each other over the years, so this might well result in teams protesting rivals who copy components in the hope that it might tie them up in debates with the FIA over how exactly they came to replicate those parts.

      1. Yep anon and @f1osaurus I too feel anxious reading this rule, it seems potentially quite troublesome. Let’s hope the teams agreeing signifies that the FIA has a clear view of what and how to police this, and what will be clearly allowed or not.

  2. 🤔 What a joke. The pinnacle of motorsports reduced to reduced to school level copying. They’ll spend more time working out how to pretend they designed a rivals part than actually designing their own part.

    Would love to know how they plan on enforcing this. 24/7 cameras in the R&D office?

  3. Hmmm. More details of how Racing Point copied the Mercedes? Never heard of such scanning software before…

    1. Photogrammetry isn’t that advanced and has come a long way, I’ve used it to scan models for 3d printing, anyone has access to it and it’s all free…

      1. @skipgamer
        Dieter has already mentioned, according to one of his sources, that if Photogrammetry was used that means Mercedes granted RP access to their original car because it cannot precisely replicate the details of the brake ducts.


        1. Don’t think I mentioned a brake duct…

        2. @tifoso1989 However, it had to mention photogrammy because otherwise that would be an easy workaround for other banned software types.

        3. @skipgamer Merc gave RP the CAD plans for the brake ducts in 2018, when it was perfectly legal to do so.

    2. @marcusaurelius the techniques behind photogrammetry are pretty basic – all it boils down to is using a series of different photographs at slightly different angles and then using software to estimate the 3D profile of that item by triangulating the two different images.

      You can see examples of it from Google Earth, where they have used different composite images from satellites to create simple 3D models and to estimate topography, and in the construction industry it is becoming quite popular given it can be easily fitted to a drone to carry out a flypast survey at fairly low cost to create a 3D surface model. To tie in with motorsport, a number of racing games have also used photogrammetry to recreate tracks – I think that Codemasters have recreated some tracks using that method in the official F1 games.

      As Tristan notes, the hardware requirements are fairly low grade – a simple method is simply using a single consumer grade camera and then carefully going round the object so you can maintain a fairly constant distance. It’s mainly the software that is the more difficult side but, as he notes, there are open software packages that are free or available at low cost – even the commercial software packages aimed at industry use are not that expensive (I think it’s about $310 per year for a licence for Autodesk’s software, for example).

  4. They have found the solution for a non-existent problem. Reverse engineering an F1 car has never been the issue because, according to the F1 experts, is something almost impossible nowadays with the current complex simulations, aero, dynamics, set ups… required for making it. The problem is the illegal copying and information transfer between two F1 teams.

    It’s not the first time a competitor was found in breach of the regulations and the FIA were lenient penalty wise and reacted by over-regulating the sport and introducing technical directives (TestGate, Ferrari engine saga, Pink Mercedes…). I think they are going the wrong route, the right direction to go is if a teams were caught breaking the rules, just give them a proper punishment so they won’t even think of doing it again.

    1. Yes exactly it is a non-problem isn’t it @tifoso1989. Who wants last year’s design anyway? Only an expanding midfield team who’d fallen behind, trying to save resources for 2022, and happening to have an unusually dominant car to copy.

      At the same time as one of the top tier teams has hit a bad patch.

      Even next year the Aston will have to have its own new aero.

    2. The problem is the illegal copying and information transfer between two F1 teams

      As far as I can tell, there was no “illegal… information transfer between two F1 teams”. The information was transferred last year, when it was legal to do so.

      As for this reverse engineering role, I think they’re going to need to be very careful with the wording and implementation of the rules. Done badly, it could stifle innovation, or give an innovative team a full season of overwhelming advantage. In short, I can see this knee-jerk reaction going very badly for the sport…

      1. @drmouse
        From what we – casual internet commenters – know, Mercedes supplied Racing Point a set of brake ducts on January the 6th after it was specified in the regulations that they were listed parts and as a result have to be designed by teams.

        1. @tifoso1989 this is not what I had heard, although I’ve not been as diligent keeping up with things this year as I have in the past.

          Last I had heard was that the designs for the brake ducts, front and rear, were supplied last year, but only the fronts (?) were actually used on the car.

          If I’ve missed further developments then I need to catch up.

          1. @drmouse
            Please find below some details of the delivery in question :

            although I’ve not been as diligent keeping up with things this year as I have in the past.

            Never mind, it’s a tough year for everyone.

          2. @tifoso1989 from what we, the well-informed know, Merc quite legally supplied RP with the CAD plans for the brake ducts back in 2018, which is why the supply of actual parts on Jan 6th was deemed immaterial.

          3. @gardenfella72
            As a well-informed, I think you might agree that the issue is more than the brake duct details which was clearly what Renault managed to notice to build a case against RP who cannot in any way reverse engineer the W10 from pictures alone without assistance from Mercedes.
            Whether RP engineers used or not the brake ducts supplied in the January the 6th is irrelevant because they were listed parts and cannot be shared between the two teams which is a clear breach of the regulations. I think you also realize that those set of brake ducts were not unboxed by RP engineers and no one has ever taken a look at them just because they were first supplied back in 2018.

  5. The part design itself is not important at all. Specially at F1 engineering level.
    What lead you to that solution, the data, the track confirmation, the interaction with other components. It is a whole package of information that matters, not the design itself.
    Of course having access to the design saves you an year of development, but you’ll need the whole car design to be able to make good use of those parts. Enters the RP saga: they needed more than a brake duct to make the car work.

    1. The brake duct was the only part that has so far been shown to have any illegal element – and that on an extremely questionable justification given definitions of IP that F1 has used before this judgment (and indeed how IP is used outside F1). It’s those other parts the FIA seeks to ban.

  6. I think there is a bit more to this than is going to be published, the protests by Renault I think were based on more than suspicion of a bit of Photogrammetry or scanning.
    Another Ferrari style deal perhaps? Anyway lets race.

  7. This comes across as another way of making it more expensive to start a F1 team (much of this software has been standard for at least 10 years), and is going to be nearly impossible to enforce, much like the cost cap.

Comments are closed.