This is probably the most unusual season of the sport, even considering those unorthodox events that Jastina had mentioned at the end of her article. As I’m writing these lines, Racing Points has just had a 15 championship points deduction and 400,000 Euro fine for allegedly copying Mercedes 2019 rear brake ducts. The plans for the parts in question had been supplied legally by Mercedes last year, back when it was ok to distribute parts and plans for parts to other teams up and down the paddock. Mercedes supply engines to Racing Point as they do at Williams too so it was perfectly acceptable to help out your customers with some parts of a Formula 1 car.
The regulations changed for 2020, saying that all teams must be constructors of their own car, this is where Racing Point have got themselves in trouble, however, they are appealing this decision, saying they designed and manufactured the parts themselves. Lawrence Stroll gave a passionate speech explaining this point to the media and other teams. On the other hand, some teams, Renault, Ferrari, McLaren, and Williams have said they’ll appeal the decision as too lenient. But how will this affect the way cars are designed in the future, and how will this cause a financial issue for some smaller teams too?
For many years there have been those manufacturers at the top end of the sport who sell parts and help smaller teams lower down the grid, perhaps the most famous are Red Bull and their so-called “B” team Alpha Tauri (formally Toro Rosso). Car parts, engine supply deals, and even drivers move between the two teams and nobody has really batted an eyelid at this. There are some that are more subtle, but still well-known like Ferrari and Alfa Romeo (formally Sauber), these are often in place to ensure smaller teams can be competitive at a lower cost. Even if Racing Point have copied recent years’ winners Mercedes from photography and/or drawings etc., is this truly a bad thing to do? If it’s making the field more competitive and saving smaller teams money, it’s better for the sport we all love, right? In the past 10 years, we have had four brand new teams take to the paddock and only one has survived, that team being Haas. Now Haas have money behind them and racing pedigree in American racing formats IndyCar and NASCAR, yet Caterham, HRT, and Virgin didn’t make it, this was due to financial constraints, they just couldn’t keep up with the huge costs of staying in the sport.
The regulations have changed to try and make the sport cost less and to try and bring the grid closer together, but without so-called “B” teams, could we be looking at more teams disappearing?
Let’s not kid ourselves, Formula 1 is the most costly sport to compete in, there are no short cuts to the front of the grid, something McLaren and Williams have found to their own cost during the past five or more years. Caterham, HRT, and Virgin could’ve stayed in the sport if they’d had the ability to get on the podium a few times and had the possibility of a bigger chunk of the prize money. Sadly, they stood not a chance in the world, even Richard Branson couldn’t find a way, meaning Virgin Racing never came close to a podium. Racing Point (formally Force India) were almost gone themselves a few years ago, they were a last-minute rescue project by Lawrence Stroll, some may argue that was his way to ensure his son, Lance had a seat at the very top of motorsport; that’s not my view, I believe Lance can mix it with the best on his day and could’ve made it with or without his father’s deep pockets.
The real issue
So how could this ruling cause problem for smaller teams? Well, the regulations have changed to try and make the sport cost less and to try and bring the grid closer together, but without so-called “B” teams, could we be looking at more teams disappearing? That is a possibility, but I sincerely hope not. I would suggest that allowing teams to have access to certain plans for some parts could lift teams towards the front of the grid, just as Racing Point have done this season.
Back at the beginning of the year, in my season preview for this magazine, I suggested that Racing Point would finish ahead of Ferrari this season, and my prediction is right so far – they’re two positions ahead of Ferrari. This is down to some very clever reverse engineering by the team, using the ultra-fast 2019 Mercedes. Is it really wrong for Racing Point to do this? Is it really wrong for them to use the parts supplied by Mercedes in 2019 (the rear brake ducts specifically) as the basis for this year’s design, even if that makes theirs similar or the same?
I know some people in the industry might point me to the new regulations that say each team should construct those parts themselves. So let me give you a “what if”: you own a Formula 1 team yourself and last year you were legally using a quality part from a car that was streets ahead of the rest of the field. You know that it’s a great design and even though you had to manufacturer your own parts this year. Would you throw away the designs for the 2019 parts and start again from a blank drawing board? Of course, you wouldn’t, you would base your own design on that successful part from last season, wouldn’t you? You would have to be absolutely bananas to scrap it all and start the costly exercise of starting from scratch. I’m not saying that Racing Point did this, I’m just saying they’d have to be crazy to start from the beginning again.
Let us think about the basics for a moment, why do most F1 cars look broadly similar? It’s partly to do with building a car within the regulations and partly because that broad design of a car works, that’s why the gap between the front and back is always just a matter of a couple of seconds. Think about the HRT car when that was on the track at the back of the grid, it was lagging behind the next best car and had absolutely no chance of winning a race, but if I was to get in that car and try to drive it around a track, I would’ve been crushed by the g-force, acceleration and pure speed, that’s because it was based on the design concepts of a successful car.
I’m not saying that Racing Point did this, I’m just saying they’d have to be crazy to start from the beginning again.
When you see photographers at a race weekend, do you think they’re all media? They’re not, some are from other teams, taking pics to find a way of replicating some of the more successful parts on a car, how do you imagine the Brawn GP double diffuser eventually found its way onto other cars? Specifically, the Red Bull who started to close that gap to the amazing Brawn GP car of 2009 as the season wore on.
Allowing your engine buddies (let’s call them that for argument’s sake), Mercedes with Racing Point and Williams, Ferrari with Alfa Romeo and others to copy some parts will bring the gap between teams to tenths of seconds rather than 2 seconds and that can only be good for the sport. I’m not sure that the new regulations will actually be good for the sport, I’m thinking that the gap between the front and back will grow as innovation isn’t passed between teams. Mercedes are not going to reveal all its secrets to Racing Point and Williams, but one or two could be good. Everyone who loves the sport of Formula 1 probably has a soft spot for Williams, I know I do, but the gap between themselves and the next best team was growing and growing. This year they’ve clawed back a ton of time, which is great, but if they were allowed to have a brake duct, or a floor, or a front wing from Mercedes, along with the engine, perhaps Williams would be close to winning races again. The same goes for Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, Red Bull, and Alpha Tauri. The costs of designing parts from scratch are astronomical, and if teams are supposed to be cutting costs then this is surely not the path to take.
It’s a complex situation, I know, one that I think roots itself in jealousy. Racing Point has become a front running team all of a sudden, and the multi-millions lost in revenue by the likes of Ferrari are going to be huge, but I take my hat off to Racing Point. Whatever the reason for their success this season, it’s more than just rear brake ducts, it’s the whole package and they’ve based it on the Mercedes that won the last six championships at a canter, specifically the 2019 one. That’s what happens in every sport, in football, the teams lower down the pecking order will look to the Barcelona’s, Bayern Munich’s, and Manchester City’s of this world for inspiration in order to try and close the gap and become more competitive. Why disallow that in Formula 1? If teams are to become closer then let them take inspiration from the winners, you can’t tell me that Red Bull and Ferrari haven’t taken photographs of the 2019 Mercedes. We as fans want the sport to be closer, we want Williams, Alfa Romeo, and Haas to be nearer the front, don’t we? So before the whole sport gets regulated out of control, let us applaud inspiration.
What do you think of the Racing Point decision? Let me know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, and I might include your insights in my next article about these matters.