Ferrari/Haas: the loophole

by Mark Hughes on 3rd June 2015

Main image: Ferrari team principal Mauricio Arrivabene with future Haas team principal Gunther Steiner

Using a perfectly legal interpretation of the regulations, Ferrari – through its association with the new Haas team that will enter F1 next year – has potentially given itself almost unlimited combined wind tunnel/CFD resource in 2015, while all its rivals are bound to the strict limitations laid down in the regulations.

Just as with its recent fuel flow interpretation, Ferrari has cleverly got around the intent of the rules, though in this case with the full prior approval of the FIA. It has left rival teams up in arms behind the scenes, but powerless to do anything more than complain.

As a concession towards those complaints, the FIA sent its aerodynamics consultant Marcin Budkowski down to the Maranello wind tunnel – his former place of work – between the Spanish and Monaco Grands Prix to inspect the situation. Amid wild rumours of Ferrari aero personnel working in Haas-liveried clothing, Budkowski was sent down to take a look. Nothing untoward was found. He gave the team a clean bill of health.

The crucial loophole here is that Haas – which enjoys a technical partnership with Ferrari – is not officially a competitor until 2016. The regulations, which restrict wind tunnel time to a maximum of 60 tunnel hours and 65 runs per week and an inverse CFD teraflop restriction, specify that the restrictions apply to the team and ‘any agent or subcontractor of the team’. But Haas is neither of those things; it is a team in its own right, albeit not one yet subject to any tunnel restrictions, which only come into play once it has entered the championship.

The concern of rival teams is that if Haas had, say, been provided with a wind tunnel model of Ferrari’s current car, any aerodynamic findings made by Haas during its unrestricted tunnel time, with its unrestricted CFD usage, might find their way onto the current Ferrari. These concerns were intensified when Ferrari showed up for the Spanish Grand Prix with a massive aerodynamic upgrade that encompassed changes to most of its car’s surfaces – including the front wing, floor, sidepods, diffuser and rear wing endplates.

A Ferrari spokesman was keen to dismiss such fears, saying, “As is allowed under the existing regulations, we are allowing Haas to use the wind tunnel in Maranello. But we do not have a shared wind tunnel programme. In aerodynamic terms we are two completely separate entities. The use of the wind tunnel is separate; there are separate models and parts and also the personnel are completely different. We do not share staff. We were visited by Mr Budkowski on behalf of the FIA. They have confirmed that everything is in order and we are well within the regulations.”

The Ferrari-Haas shared tunnel programme was given full prior approval by the FIA’s Charlie Whiting. There is a general will among F1 that the American Haas team, as an entrant from a country that F1 needs to engage with, should be a credible and competitive entity immediately. To have it following in the wheel tracks of the last three new teams to enter – Caterham, Marussia and HRT – at the back of the grid would probably be counter-productive.

The tunnel/CFD restrictions have been written into the regulations as an attempt at cost control. However it does mean that the tunnels, which in many cases have cost their teams as much as £50 million to build, are only running at around 20 per cent of their capacity. Which is a poor return on investment of such an expensive asset. Hiring out tunnel time to other teams is a good way of recouping some of that investment and is perfectly legal.

While rivals believe Ferrari has circumnavigated its way around the intent of the regulations and is benefitting in 2015 from hugely increased aerodynamic simulation, Ferrari insists it has done nothing wrong and the FIA has found no breach. Meanwhile, it’s arguably in F1’s immediate interests that no breach is found.

Where does that leave us in the longer term? This could be much more than a storm in a tea cup. It could potentially open a Pandora’s boxful of ruses by other big teams as a way of getting around the wording of the restrictions. What if Red Bull was to get Renault – on account of Renault not being a team – to put its name to a second Red Bull tunnel group? Or if McLaren were to get Honda to do the same? Or Mercedes to get pretty much anyone they want to put a name to the same? Will this turn out to be the crucial move towards customer cars being permitted?

Let’s see how this one develops.

 

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