The Friday in F1 70th Anniversary turned into a verbal battle as FIA decision on Racing Point opened up varying opinions where Toto Wolff and Otmar Szafnauer held ground.
It doesn’t seem like that there was any track running at Silverstone for the F1 70th Anniversary GP as the whole paddock had only one topic on their mind, that of, the decision from the FIA to ‘half’ penalise Racing Point from Renault’s protest.
They have got 15 points deducted from the 2020 F1 season and have to pay up 400,000 euros as fine, while they can continue to use the contentious brake ducts this year and probably even for 2021 without any further chance of a penalty.
That is because the FIA only reprimanded then for the Hungarian GP and British GP. The key finding from the decision was that Racing Point indeed used Mercedes brake ducts. In 2019, they only used the front one and not the rear due to mis-match with RP19.
But with RP20, Racing Point got the rear induced as well as their model car had major similarities with Mercedes W10 and so the car was complete to extract full performance albeit not at the same level as the champions but enough to beat F1 rivals.
Since the brake ducts became a listed parts from 2019 to 2020, the situation changed and Racing Point had to design its own stuff which it didn’t and Renault utilised the situation to their advantage. In fact, they had support from everyone bar Mercedes.
Team bosses of Ferrari, McLaren, Alfa Romeo Racing, Williams and Renault have made their opinion clear where the Italian, British and French F1 outfits are intending to appeal and have 96 hours to submit an official stance against the stewards decision.
At the same time Mercedes and Racing Point are holding their ground, where the former distances itself of doing anything wrong while the latter is actually also thinking of appealing against the penalty levied to them of points cut and fine.
Here’s how everyone reacted, first up is Racing Point –
Otmar Szafnauer (to F1 website): “We are still trying to digest it, we need to ask some questions and get further clarification. It’s a bit disappointing. We thought we are well within the rules and did absolutely nothing wrong. We invited the FIA in March to come and view everything that we did. We had full disclosure.
“Thereafter, they wrote to us and said we were completely compliant. So that’s a bit disappointing. However, we now have to assess the sanction that was given. The FIA have acknowledged the rules of non-listed parts going to listed parts were far from clear and ambiguous and they could be viewed from two different sides.
“They took that into consideration when docking us points for half of the points that we achieved at the Styrian Grand Prix. And we just have to look at that now and decide whether to appeal or just move on. The initial thought is that from our perspective, we did nothing wrong so that’s unfair. There’s always two perspectives, I guess.
“The FIA were the arbiters on this. We now have to discuss with the FIA what is going to happen going forward. We can’t change brake ducts, we can’t unlearn what we have learned. My belief is from reading the document that this is the end of it and then we just have to decide what to do.
“We read the sporting regulations and there is nothing in there which specifically says we couldn’t do what we did. Other teams have done exactly the same, probably even more than what we have done in a way, so it’s a bit bewildering.”
To media including Racefans.net, Motorsport Network, BBC and more: “To Zak Brown it is BS because he’s not an engineer. He’s got no idea what he’s talking about. Zero. I’m surprised at how little he knows about the rules of F1. It seem to me he knows more about historic racing than he does about Formula 1.”
“The brake duct moved from a ‘non-listed part’ to a ‘listed part’. We didn’t have a relationship with another team, as Haas with Ferrari and AlphaTauri with Red Bull do. They were running others’ brake duct designs forever. Haas, I don’t think has ever run a brake duct design that wasn’t Ferrari. They never designed their own. We’ve always designed our own.
“We started the process of getting some data legally for Mercedes on brake ducts in 2018 before they were even contemplating moving them from non-listed to listed. And now we’re in breach of a sporting regulation process that says because we started with some data that we legally obtained from Mercedes, we’re in breach? It’s just ridiculous. That is the frustration. You look at people like Haas and Toro Rosso who forever have been getting not just data but brake ducts and designs and everything, and they’re all OK, but we’re not? That’s a frustration.”
Mercedes were fiery as well –
Toto Wolff: “We feel 100 per cent comfortable with our position. We’ve read the rules over and over again. The verdict that came out today is extremely complicated. It comes up with an interpretation that is new. New to all of us. We have provided certain data in 2019 which was totally within the rules. The 6th of January that FIA refer to has no material effect on any of the action because the whole thing was delivered much earlier and all the CAD drawings and designers were delivered much earlier.
“And Racing Point and ourselves are still of the opinion that is within the regulations. We are prepared to have a discussion on the philosophy – and this is what Cyril and I have discussed last week – whether we want cars to be very similar to other cars; whether we want the cooperation. I see some benefits. I think we have a team that is competing amongst the front running teams now. This was very much the aim. And on the other side, it provides a great source of income for us as a big team.
“We are able to monetise some of the technologies that otherwise couldn’t, wouldn’t be monetised, and I think it’s a win-win situation. I also get the opinion – and I respect the opinion – of the other side that cars shouldn’t look like some other cars. Now, none of the regulations prohibits that. This special situation arose because a non-listed part became a listed part, so while it was a non-listed part things were supplied.
“We can have that legal discussion endlessly – but at the end, to be honest, there is zero worry on our side. And when I say zero, I mean zero, that we were in any breach. Nor do I think that Racing Point was in breach. And I believe that if that would go to the ICA, it would be probably a complex matter, because it’s very technical – but I doubt there would be any outcome.
“I can say though, there performance has somehow disrupted the pecking order. I don’t know how much ATR is really used for brake ducts but I don’t think the brake ducts are the reason that they suddenly compete for the first six positions. I think it’s a splendid engineering team there that has extracted the most from the regulations. I think we can have the debate of ‘do we want this going forward?’ in terms of having copies of whole cars.
“In our belief there was nothing that was against the regulations because the technology exists, and we saw last year on a few occasions, one of our main competitors with the 3D camera – that is quite a thing, you need to have it on your shoulders – scanning our cars. In the garage and outside of the garage. And when you know the technology – it wasn’t you. I can’t say – but it’s pretty obviously who it was – scanning the whole car. And when you plug that into a computer, it gives you all the shapes.
“So this technology exists, there is nothing that prohibits that, everybody has spy photographers sitting on the roofs of the opposite building, zooming into the smallest detail on every car. If we don’t want this to happen then we need to close that avenue. I’m also happy with Nikolas coming out very strong this morning and saying ‘OK, maybe we need to adapt the rules, maybe we need to somehow prevent this Spy photography that has existed in F1 since God knows when.
“I don’t know how to do it but maybe they ban all photographers from every position where they can take a picture of a car but I have all the trust and confidence in the FIA and Nikolas to come with a regulation that is clear – because until now there wasn’t any. As for parts allowed to run for rest of the season, I’m obviously not an integral part of this protest so I’m not sure I should really comment on the case, speaking for Racing Point.
“As far as I have read the verdict, I think that because the regulations are tremendously complicated, and there has never been a situation where a non-listed part because a listed part, that the FIA tried to somehow bridge the gap of finding a solution that was acceptable to all parties. Obviously for Racing Point, the decision that they strongly feel that they haven’t been in breach.
“The breach, as it has been found out, the possible breach, was that they have used… they haven’t’ designed something – the rear brake ducts – from the beginning and it’s not their proprietary design. The breach has happened and they cannot unlearn what they already know. They have had these brake ducts on the car. They can also not change them. So the consequence would be, ‘do you want to disqualify a team from the whole championship?’
“Because there is no way of taking those brake ducts away. As a matter of fact, if they were to design them again themselves, the same product would come out. On the same side, I think they were trying to balance the interest of Renault out, in saying ‘OK, you guys were right to point out to that topic.’
“Asked by the FIA, it probably swung slightly towards Renault’s position and therefore the fine. But I think, if it would go to the ICA, because Racing Point or Renault decides to appeal, it will be a very long, very messy argument involving QCs and lawyers that will take a few months with the outcome unknown. The outcome unknown for Renault, the outcome unknown for Racing Point. I think the FIA tried to act sensibly here.”
On the other hand F1 teams like Renault, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, McLaren and Williams came hard too –
Cyril Abiteboul: “I would agree that it’s a complex matter, it’s a matter that actually features two elements in it: there is a very specific and targeted discussion and protest in relation to one part of the car – brake ducts, front, rear – and in relation to that we are satisfied with the fact that the FIA and the stewards confirmed that some of these parts were in breach of the sporting regulation.
“It’s the sporting regulation but it really is a technical matter that ends up being placed in the sporting regulation – but it is a technical matter. So, we’re satisfied with that conclusion. I think that the question of sanction is open for debate, and as Toto was saying, for another matter, could be discussed endlessly. We will consider that matter, bearing in mind the advantage that was obviously obtained will keep on going for all the season and it’s a very material advantage.
“Just to put things in perspective, any teams will be spending 20 per cent of its ATR time, of its aerodynamic time, into developing those parts – so it’s not a small part. The second element that’s part of it, as Toto was mentioning, it’s a wide topic of copying a car. I think, again, in that respect, we need to recognise that what Racing Point has done, based on a car that has such an advantage, against anyone else on the grid, has been a shock in the system, has been a disruption, and I think there has been other disruptions in F1 before, like there has been other disruptions in industries before.
“We need to see how we deal with it. I think yes, copying has been part of the story of F1 but technology has evolved so much that it’s now possible to do things that were not possible to do before. So, our doctrines, our thinking, or regulatory framework needs to evolve with the technologies that allows you to do some stuff that was not possible before, with a level of accuracy that was not possible before.
“We’ve been pleased with the statement from Nikolas Tombazis this morning, in parallel to the decision of the stewards about his willingness to tackle that matter and to tackle it strongly, without waiting, for next year – but we need to understand exactly what’s behind that statement. That’s why again, we’ll take a little bit of time before deciding what’s our course of action from that point onward.
“On Racing Point still using, frankly I don’t think that I can comment. I am obviously an interested party into that, so my answer would only be biased. It’s a position of the stewards. Obviously we can only refer to previous cases. Not going very far, ourselves we were found in breach of the sporting regulations last year and we’ve been immediately disqualified from the event and had to remove the contentious device.
“It was a sporting regulation, not a technical regulation so there is a question of consistency. That’s why, as I said, we are reserving our opposition. But, as I was saying previously, it’s a complex matter but we should not lose sight, despite the complexity, despite indeed the copying that is currently not addressed by the regulatory framework, that there is a black and white situation and judgement and decision on the legality of a part.”
Frederic Vasseur: Even if I’m not involved in the discussion but at the end I’m very surprised with the decision – but I remember that last year I was disqualified for half a millimetre of deflection and two-tenth on the start in Germany. Today, I read quickly the conclusion but it’s clear that if they have asked the FIA before it was banned – but in the end they are allowed to race. It’s just for me a bit un-understandable whether it’s banned or its not banned, they have to take a clear decision.”
Mattia Binotto: “Obviously it’s a 14 pages verdict and I think we need to go through it very carefully, pay attention on what has been written. One thing that is important is that it has somehow been clarified that there has been a breach of regulation. I think that is the starting point. Obviously that is relative to the braking ducts but as you said there is an entire concept behind, which is about copying: are we allowed to copy or not, an entire concept. But the two things need to be split. But on the braking duct there is a breach of regulation, that is a fact and it has been clarified. Is the penalty sufficient or not?
“On copying using 3D cameras, I think it’s very difficult or likely impossible. You see that has never happened in 70 years of F1, it means that it’s not an idea that someone simply thought about today but simply because we believe that it’s not possible to simply copy and understand the full concept behind the car. So there is something on which, again, because we sent a letter to the FIA, we really argued the entire process and entire concept. We believe the regulations are clear enough.
“We believe that there may be a breach of regulations in what is that process but probably at the moment, looking ahead and looking forward, it’s something on which we need to clarify. I don’t think that the verdict of today is sufficient because again it’s only relative, eventually, to the brake ducts but not the entire concept, I think it’s only the… it’s like an iceberg, at the moment it’s only the tip of the iceberg. There is much to discuss further. I think that if it has never happened so far, in all the history of F1, you know it means that somehow it’s almost impossible to do.”
Zak Brown: “My initial reactions are that Racing Point has been found guilty and I am concerned that they still have those… what were deemed illegal in Austria on the race car now. I think that is confusing for the fans, how something that is not legal in Austria is still on the car. Around this whole copying, obviously they claimed that they had coped the car via photography. It’s clear from reading the document that is BS and therefore you have to question anything else around that car.
“I think this is, potentially, the top of the iceberg, the starting point of looking at what’s happened here, because I don’t think it’s healthy for the sport. The constructor gets the penalty, but the drivers don’t. As teams we all compete with each other, but then all the drivers compete with each other and they’re able to keep their points when driver drivers are fighting for the F1 Drivers’ Championship.
“So, I think it’s thrown up a lot more questions than answers and there’s new evidence that we’ve now been able to see and it’s something we are going to review quickly and understand the appeal process and whether that’s something that we potentially want to participate in. For extent of copying, if it was that easy it would have been done before. The sport’s been around a long time. The engineers and designers do take inspiration, if you like, from the things they say on the car, to be able to replicate a car as they’ve done.
“Everything that I’ve been told by people who are much smarter than me on this topic say there’s no way you do it with a degree of accuracy that they can so I think the brake ducts and the… revealing that they had information beyond photography just begs and question of what else wasn’t done by photography? The good thing is that the FIA is looking into this matter. Nikolas Tombazis made a statement earlier that they’re going to continue to look into this and modify some rules in ’21 and beyond.
“I think ten very intelligent teams that are all pushing the envelope and I think there’s a difference between what they’ve been found guilty of in pushing the envelope in a sporting design, interpretation of rules way. And I think, as I mentioned earlier, the drivers, the constructors, the sponsors, the fans… I don’t think running the car with the part that has been deemed illegal… I just don’t see how that makes sense, I don’t see how that’s fair for the sport and as I said, I think the FIA will look into it further because we now know the brake ducts are illegal but how do we know the balance of the car isn’t?”
Claire Williams: “I think for us at Williams we’ve always made of position around this kind of circumstance pretty clear. We’ve always been protective and proud of our status as an independent, true constructor that designs and manufactures our parts ourselves and then takes them to race track and races them. And then the results come thereafter.
“Obviously it is a very long document that the FIA have sent out and it is within the FIA’s jurisdiction power to determine what penalties are imposed for any breach of sporting or technical regulations and they have done that. Whether I agree personally, or the team, that the reprimand is appropriate or the sanctions that they put in place are appropriate I’ll bite my tongue on that. I think we all need a little bit of time to fully compute the outcome of it and to determine whether or to decide whether we take it any further forwards.
I certainly don’t believe that you can reverse engineer a car or a complicated element which a brake duct is from a photo, so no, I would disagree. If you could, then everyone would have been doing it and we would have had a much closer field than we do now, which at times has been separated by four seconds, so no, I don’t believe that this is the case. As I said earlier, I think the one confusing element is this discrepancy between the sporting and technical in that you can run what has effectively been deemed an illegal part, that shouldn’t have been put on a race car because it was, in effect, copied from another team, to a degree. And to me, that isn’t right.
“It’s confusing for the fans to have that, to see now that a car that has been in breach of regulations, to still be allowed to run those parts doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me anyway. But I also think that there are wider implications on this. If the car is in breach but still allowed to race with those parts and not to have to… whenever we take our car and the FIA come to us and say that part’s not quite right, you’ve got two races or whatever to rectify it, then that should be the case in the circumstances, that the very fact they are allowed to continue to race has much broader implications on teams further down the grid, when it comes to prize fund money, when it comes to the order of the F1 championship, but I’m not sure that I agree with that.”
Meanwhile FIA Technical Head Nikolas Tombazis released a statement regarding them taking action to disallow blatant copying as well:
“First of all copying has been taking place in F1 for a long time, taking photos, and sometimes reverse-engineering them and make similar concepts or in some areas even identical concepts or close to identical as other teams. We do not think this can stop in the future completely. But what we do think is Racing Point took this to another level.
“They clearly decided to adopt this philosophy for the whole car for what I would call a paradigm shift. They actually used a disruption in the process that has been the norm in designing a F1 car for the last 40 years. One should not penalise that as they have been original in deciding to follow this approach.
“However we do not think this is what F1 should become. We don’t want next year to have 8 or 10 Mercedes, or copies of Mercedes, on the grid, where the main skill becomes how you do this process. We don’t want this to become the norm of Formula 1. We do plan, in the very short notice, to introduce some amendment to the 2021 sporting regulations that will prevent this becoming the norm. It will prevent from using extensive parts of photos to copy whole portions of other cars in the way racing point has done.
“We will still accept individual components to be copied, and local areas, but we don’t want the whole car to be a fundamental copy of another car. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it,” he said. “We will be providing guidance about that, as well as the ruling, the wording itself, over the next weeks.
“We want to give a very strong message to teams that they should not be starting doing that for next year’s car because that will simply not be allowed. It will of course be accepted that teams, on the 2020 F1 cars, they are not supposed to delete it or start afresh because that’s never how it works.”
UPDATE: Post the 24 hours deadline, FIA confirmed appeal intention from Racing Point, McLaren, Renault, Ferrari and Williams into the matter with Red Bull, AlphaTauri, Mercedes, Haas and Alfa Romeo staying away from it. They have 96 hours to submit the official appeal or withdraw it as per their further findings.
Here’s the story of the FIA decision from Renault F1 protest