What Racing Point did wrong: brake duct penalty explained


For all the obvious similarities between this year's Racing Point and last year's Mercedes, it was a pair of barely-seen rear brake ducts that tripped the team up. This is why.

Sparks fly from the 2020 Racing Point RP20


On August 30, the British Government changed its Covid-19 quarantine rules: anyone testing positive must self-isolate for 10 days instead of seven. Where did this leave Sergio Perez who had already begun his quarantine?

It took a week to get an answer (quarantine ended after seven days – but he then tested positive again) and it was a timely reminder of the confusion caused when regulation change affects something that’s already begun.

The ruling against the Mexican driver’s Racing Point team boils down to a similar issue.

Until this season, it was perfectly legal for one Formula 1 team to buy brake duct designs from another.

But their “enormous aerodynamic effect” led to them being added to the tally of listed parts which must be designed in-house, or specifically for a team, to ensure that F1 remains a constructor series.

Where it was legal to use another team’s brake duct design in 2019, it no longer is.

What does that mean when you already have the designs from another team; when you have already used those designs on last year’s car? You can’t forget them and – if you want to be competitive, you probably don’t want to be starting from scratch.

The stewards’ judgement in the case acknowledges the “absence of specific guidance or clarification” from motor racing’s governing body, the FIA, in this area. The FIA admits that “the regulations are not black and white in this area and, therefore, open to interpretation”

However, the judgement, following a protest by Renault after the Styrian Grand Prix, found that Racing Point’s interpretation was wrong. By using Mercedes drawings, it had been able to shortcut the design of a listed part, allowing it to use those design resources elsewhere and potentially gain an advantage over rivals.


Racing Point’s use of Mercedes brake duct designs

The saga began in late 2018 when Racing Point received the first CAD designs of brake ducts from the following year’s Mercedes W10, legally. Its supply agreement with Mercedes also included its engine, gearbox and some suspension parts.

Racing Point used the designs as the basis of its own front brake ducts for that year. However, with a different aerodynamic concept at the back, it came up with its own concept at the rear.

“The RP20 Racing Point has done its best to copy the Mercedes W10 as closely as it can across the board.”

In early 2019, it was announced that brake ducts would become listed parts the following season. “It is that change in classification that has created the unique set of circumstances that has led to this case,” the FIA wrote in its submission to the stewards.

Another key factor is Racing Point’s decision to replicate last year’s Mercedes with its current RP20. It said that it has used photographs of the car to develop its own ‘Pink Mercedes’.

The FIA stewards’ judgement says: “Whereas generally teams might try to replicate one component from one team and another component from another team…the RP20 Racing Point has done its best to copy the Mercedes W10 as closely as it can across the board.

“To the extent that Racing Point has achieved this by simply photographing components of the Mercedes W10 and reverse engineering them, this is consistent with standard practice (albeit taken to extreme) and no other team could reasonably object.”

Mercedes W10, Racing Point RP20

The front brake ducts of the 2019 Mercedes W10 and 2020 Racing Point RP20

With a car that replicated the 2019 Mercedes, it made sense to use brake ducts that were designed to work with such a concept. And Racing Point had the blueprints already.

Only minor modifications were needed at the front — the FIA found that there were “no material changes” to the ducts created from Mercedes’ CAD drawings.

This is acceptable, it said in its published submission: “If the FIA had been asked if the change in [listed parts] status meant that Racing Point had to rip out their 2019 front brake ducts and start again, because they had based them on CAD models obtained from other teams, the FIA would have said no they did not, because (a) the front brake ducts had been incorporated into the DNA of the RP19 and (b) to the extent they had been obtained from competitors, that copying had been legitimate when it was done.”

This cleared the team of any breach of the rules at the front of the car. It was a different story at the rear.

Last year’s Racing Point used a high-rake design, unlike that year’s Mercedes, which called for unique rear brake ducts. Following Mercedes’ lead this year meant that the 2019 rear brake duct drawings it had received from Mercedes were now relevant. So it threw out the previous year’s design, dusted down the Mercedes blueprints and began work on that basis.

It would come at a price.

The team argued that the parts used by the team were different to Mercedes’ CAD models because it had changed the design of the rear brake ducts. It said that the FIA’s sporting regulations contained no definition of design, and that the changes it had made meant that the parts were not identical. The FIA did not agree.

Overhead view of Valtteri Bottas 2019 Mercedes W10

Last year’s Mercedes W10 is the inspiration for the current Racing Point

Dan Istitene/Getty Images

“[Racing Point] decided to replicate the rear of the Mercedes W10 (as well as most other aspects),” the FIA’s Technical Department wrote in evidence for the hearing. “It took out the CAD models of the Mercedes W10 rear brake ducts and used them to develop rear brake ducts with very similar surface dimensions/shapes (unsurprisingly, since it also did its best to copy the aerodynamic aspects of the rest of the Mercedes W10, including all of its other listed parts).”

“If Racing Point had asked the FIA at the time if it could use the CAD models…the FIA would have said definitely not, because (in contrast to the position in respect of the front brake ducts) Racing Point was not refining a component that had already been incorporated into the DNA of the RP20.”

“The RP20 rear brake ducts were designed in large part by Mercedes, not by Racing Point.”

The FIA stated that some different features between the Mercedes and Racing Point designs were “irrelevant”, and that the part’s starting point was crucial. “The CAD models gave Racing Point a 3D model of the surface dimensions/shape of the Mercedes W10 rear brake ducts, which are the crucial aspects of the part from an aerodynamic aspect.

“Racing Point reproduced those aerodynamic aspects very closely in its own RP20 rear brake ducts…this means the RP20 rear brake ducts were designed in large part by Mercedes, not by Racing Point.”

The stewards agreed. “Since the RP20 rear brake ducts were not run on the RP19 and since the stewards believe that the design effort expended any Racing Point in adapting the rear brake ducts originally designed by Mercedes for the W10 pales in comparison to the significance of the original Mercedes work, the stewards conclude that the principal designer of the RP20 rear brake ducts was Mercedes, not Racing Point.


Racing Point’s brake duct penalty

There’s nothing illegal about the brake ducts themselves, so Racing Point have been penalised under the FIA’s sporting regulations, which stipulate the listed parts — and which don’t come with the threat of disqualification.

They found that the advantage to the team of copying the designs allowed it to “allocate a wide range of design resources to other design efforts as opposed to executing the detailed design effort on the rear brake ducts that would have been necessary to replicate the equivalent effort from Mercedes in the original W10 design.

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Racing Point was docked 15 points in the Constructors’ Championship and fined €400,000 (£356,000) for the first protest at the Styrian Grand Prix. However, it was only reprimanded for running the car at the Hungarian and British Grands Prix. stewards were clear that they did not expect the team to replace the part.

“It is not realistic to expect Racing Point to re-design or re-engineer the brake ducts in a way that would effectively require them to ‘unlearn’ what they already know,” they said.

“Therefore, the penalty imposed is intended to penalise the potential advantage Racing Point may have accrued in the brake duct design process which resulted in the use of listed parts which were not designed by it.”

The penalty could have been higher but for the lack of FIA guidance about the rule change that stewards said was a mitigating factor. They also took into account that Racing Point could have come up with a similar design by studying photographs of the Mercedes “albeit with additional design resources expended in the process”, and that the team had been “open and transparent”.

This is, however, not the end of the matter: Ferrari, McLaren, Renault and Williams will appeal the decision. As well as challenging the penalty, they may also urge the FIA to look more closely at whether other aspects of the car have also been copied illegally, rather than simply from pictures — as some teams have suggested.

Racing Point is also appealing. If the legal wranglings of F1 are your thing, then 2020 could be a vintage year.