Editor’s note: Today in a Lex Sportiva first we publish two articles, offering different angles on the latest dispute over Listed Parts in Formula 1. Sridutt Mishra and Tiago Patrao Silva cover the twists and turns of the controversy.

Listed Parts: A Story of Formula 1’s 2020 Regulations

Formula 1 (“F1”) is an odd sport: in a sense, it is nothing like typical sports such as football, rugby or other collective sports. Nevertheless, it is impossible to deny the drivers’ incredible fitness levels, driving skills and their teams work and strategy that they put into and apply every race. However, F1 is also a sport in which success is hugely dependent on the quality of the car teams put their drivers in: this has created an ecosystem where teams regularly try to bend the Sporting Regulations in order to get an advantage over their competitors.

That is also the reason why the regulations are constantly changing season after season and, for 2020, a specific modification about “Listed Parts” is taking the spotlight, following Renault’s formal protest against fellow competitors Racing Point on July 12, 2020. A decision has already been issued by the FIA (which is the governing body for motorsports, “similar” to FIFA for football) but there’s some ground to cover before we dive deep into it.

What Exactly Are Listed Parts?

According to the 2020 F1 Sporting Regulations[1], published by the FIA, a listed part of a car is a part referenced in Appendix 6 of the regulations. To be used in cars, parts must be designed by the competitors themselves (Article 1), however, there are some exceptions:

  • If the competitor retains the exclusive right to use the Listed Parts in F1, then it can outsource the design or manufacture of such parts to a third party (paragraph a), Article 2);
  • Listed Parts can always be manufactured by third parties if they are not other competitors and the same applies to the design of such parts (paragraphs b) and c), Article 2);
  • Listed parts’ design cannot be outsourced to a party that directly or indirectly designs listed parts for any other competitor (paragraph c), article 2).

To put it simply: the F1 regulations require teams to design at least some parts of their cars by themselves or at least not outsource all parts. As a result, it is also prohibited to pass on or receive information on Listed Parts directly to or from another competitor (even if via an external entity or third party) and competitors cannot receive or supply consultancy or any other kind of services from or to another competitor in relation to Listed Parts.

Renault’s Protest: 2020’s Big F1 Drama

Now that we know what being a “Listed Part” means, in terms of regulation, it is easy to understand why this specific issue is at the heart of the F1 2020 mediatic protest by Renault F1 team against Racing Point F1 team. The protest was fundamentally based around the possibility of Racing Point having violated Appendix 6 and the Listed Parts rules by using front and rear air ducts (which are part of the braking system of the cars) that were not “home designed”, meaning that there may have been a violation of Article 1 and paragraphs a) and c) of Article 2 of the Appendix 6[2].

Given the similarities between Racing Point’s 2020 car and the last year’s world championship winning Mercedes car, it is not surprising to see such a protest emerge; however, it is interesting that it is based on air ducts, which only became a “Listed Part” in this year’s Sporting Regulations for the world championship. This apparently small detail has been what left most of us wondering what the FIA would make of the matter and they have now provided a clear answer to at least some of the problems that arose from this protest.

The FIA’s Ruling Explained

The FIA would go on to rule Renault’s protests as admissible[3] and after about a month of investigations a decision[4] was released to the public: Racing Point was fined, reprimanded and had 15 points deducted from the Constructors’ Championship ranking; this, however, is just a small part of the story.

Firstly, the FIA states that it does not matter when Listed Parts were designed or not: the regulations require that these parts are designed by the competitors. What this means is that if the parts in question were ​totally designed by another team, even when they were not listed and not subject to appendix 6, it would not be possible to use them after they become Listed Parts and competitors would need to design this part themselves. However, the FIA identifies the real problem that happens if a team designs a part, based on models and information from another competitor, that later becomes a Listed Part (which is really what this situation is about: Racing Point did not ​fully copy Mercedes, however, it did use their information on a then non-Listed Part to develop their own with shocking resemblance – at the time this was completely legal).

Secondly, the analysis is divided into Front Braking Ducts (or “FBD”) and Rear Braking Ducts (or “RBD”) as the situation is different for each of these parts. The 2020 Racing Point car has a pair of FBD’s that were designed around 2019 by this competitor with the help of Mercedes and were used in Racing Point’s 2019 car, when these parts were non-listed (thus legally[5]). If the 2020 rules were in force at that moment it would be illegal, however, the situation is different: they weren’t completely designed by another competitor (a), they were used in 2019’s car when it was legal to do so, as they were non-listed (b), and they were tweaked and changed for the 2020 season. Those facts led the FIA to decide that the current Racing Point’s car FBDs were incorporated into last years’ car DNA and as such there would be no need to redesign this part just to comply with their new Listed Part status[6].

The RBD’s had a different reasoning: information and 3D models that allowed their design reached Racing Point in 2019 when it was legal, however, this competitor chose not to develop RBDs based on that information and did not use them in their 2019s car; this did not stop Racing Point from using Mercedes’ models to later develop RBDs for the 2020 season. The FIA decided that in this particular situation there was no way these parts could be used because the new regulations were well known to Racing Point (even before they came into force) and this component would violate Listed Parts rules and so the FIA reasoned that it was illegal to use this year.

Where the FBD’s were considered to be already part of last year’s car DNA, the RBD’s were considered to be a completely new part that was introduced with the help of privileged information, very similar to the Mercedes’s models at the time Racing Point knew of 2020 regulations’ changes.[7]

Main Aspects of the Ruling

The conclusions of the ruling do answer some of the most important questions that the fans had prior to it, as the changes in regulations did not contain specific rules on how to deal with anything like this. The first aspect is that if a part that was previously non-listed (and thus not subject to Appendix 6’s rules) is completely copied by a team and subsequently used when it becomes a Listed Part then that part is illegal and time or previous use is irrelevant[8].

The second aspect: a part previously non-listed and designed by a competitor based on another competitor’s models and information (lawfully) cannot be used when such part is reclassified as a listed part, except if it has been integrated to the team’s last or earlier seasons’ car (as it becomes part of the DNA of such a car and is considered a valid basis for development/evolution of the same part for the following year’s championship when rules change).

The last aspect that should be noted is that the FIA also dwells on the meaning of what it means for a part to be “designed” by a competitor and comes to the conclusion that Racing Point’s changes to the RBD design obtained from Mercedes were minimal and not enough to say that the design’s main author could be effectively recognised as Racing Point. However, the fact that the FBD’s were used in their 2019 car, with some design changes introduced and tweaked/refined in 2020, seemed to convince the FIA that this part could now effectively be considered a Racing Point design or, at the very least, a design where Mercedes was not the main author.

Final Thoughts: Is This Case Finished Or Just Getting Started?

At first glance, all points made by the FIA seem at least “reasonable”, however, they are certainly not exempt from criticism.

Firstly, the meaning of “designed by” a competitor has not been entirely explained and is still a bit of a mystery, as there are no clear guidelines that help distinguish “border cases”. Plus, the sole fact that if a component is “tweaked” and used in an earlier car it is able to become “part of the DNA” of that same car does not seem like the most reasonable idea: a part can be minimally refined to fit a 2019 car when it was non-listed and then be introduced, without tweaks or refinements, in a 2020 car when that same part became listed; did it actually become part of the DNA of the car? Just because it was previously used a year before and with minimal changes? It does seem like there might still be some ground to cover on this specific issue, however, the FIA has taken an approach that is at least objective, even if does not solve all the problems.

Secondly, the punishments handed to Racing Point are at the very minimum confusing: the RBDs of the team’s car have been deemed an illegal part and, as such, the fact that this competitor is still allowed to use them is providing it with an unfair advantage over all the other teams on the F1 grid. Points have only been deducted once and for the remaining Grand Prix’s there will only be reprimands handed to Racing Point and no fines or point deductions whatsoever, which does seem like a very “light” way to punish a team for illegally using a component.

To be fair, it does seem unreasonable to make Racing Point design new RBDs and “forget” what they have learned with Mercedes’ design, however, as the championship moves forward and Racing Point feels the benefits of their illegal parts with reprimand over reprimand and no fines or points deductions, the unfairness compounds.

The stewards shell themselves in a list of mitigating factors (like the Sportings Regulations’ changes, the FIA’s lack of guidance and the possibility of Racing Point acquiring the same knowledge with photography and reverse engineering, which is really debatable) and see the case as focused on the violation of the design process rather than the use of an illegal part, however, the Sporting Regulations refrain from making any distinction like this and it does not serve any purpose: a part designed in violation of Listed Parts rules effectively becomes an illegal part if used so the distinction mentioned by the stewards is useless.

Finally, aside from the legal problems that have been discussed and that are guaranteed to generate more controversy as the season keeps unfolding, this case has already made the FIA admit that F1 should not become a sport of “copycats” and Mercedes clones. As a result, some amendments to the Sporting Regulations have been promised for 2021 to prevent this practice of almost fully “copying” another competitor’s car[9]. Depending on the wording of those amendments some issues might arise, however, this seems like the right move for F1, a sport that has always been a combination of human value, technological innovation and engineering excellence.

One thing is certain: this case and all that it means for F1 is far from finished.

Tiago Patrão Silva

Tiago is a recent graduate from Lisbon University’s Faculty of Law and is interested in many legal areas but has a special taste for sports law, labour law, administrative law, fiscal law and contract law. Right now he is pursuing a career as a lawyer in Portugal but he keeps up with the development of sports like football, handball and cycling, as well as motorsports and would love to find out more about the legal problems of the business.

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References

  • 1 From here on simply “regulations” and available at: https://www.fia.com/regulation/category/110.
  • 2 FIA’s Decision on this case, from 7th of August 2020 ( from here on simply “decision”), paragraph 1: “​Renault claimed in its protests that RacingPoint uses front and rear brake airducts (“BDs”)on its RP20 chassis (the“RP20”) that are based on and nearidentical to the same BDs of the Mercedes AMG F1 W10 EQPower+(the“MercedesW10”) used by MercedesAMG Petronas F1 Team(“Mercedes”)in the 2019 season ,with any potential differences being minor and the result of an evolution of an identical original geometry​”.
  • 3 ​Paragraph 2, “Procedure” of the referred decision.
  • ​4 The decision, from the 7th of August of 2020, is available at: https://www.fia.com/news/f1-renault-protest-decision
  • 5 Paragraphs 3 and 4, “FBD analysis”, of the referred decision.
  • ​6Paragraph 5 and 7, “FBD analysis”, from the referred decision.
  • 7 Paragraphs 3, 4 and 5, “RBD analysis”, from the referred decision.
  • 8 Paragraph 2, “Background and Regulations, from the referred decision​.
  • 9 https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/article.fia-to-amend-2021-regulations-to-prevent-car-copying-follo wing-racing-point.3NzwvfKFdCsH3XrU4YCRhl.html​ (visited on the 22th August, 2020).

3 thoughts on “The Curious Case of F1’s Pink Mercedes

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