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.
Formula 1 (“F1”) is considered the pinnacle of motorsports. The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (“FIA”) is the regulatory body of the motorsport and publishes the extremely comprehensive Sporting Regulations (“SRs) and Technical Regulations (“TRs”) providing the most detailed guidelines for every part of a racing car, from the power unit to the brake calipers. It is within the loopholes of these regulations that the constructor teams (“Constructors”) find ways to innovate and make their car the best it can be. Innovations such as the Double Diffuser in 2009 Brawn GP or the new Dual Axis Steering in the Mercedes 2020 F1 car are what keeps the sport exciting.
However, the spirit of the sport and competition is lost when Constructors take the easy way out by making a car similar to one of their competitors. Though the SRs allow sharing of parts between competitors, there are certain restrictions. In this piece, the author looks at the current controversy involving BWT Racing Point (“RP”) and analyses the regulations governing the sharing of parts in the sport and discusses the FIA’s recent decision on the matter.
The Pink Mercedes Story
The top three teams; Mercedes, Scuderia Ferrari and Red Bull Racing have been the frontrunners for more than a decade. RP, the successor to Sahara Force India has traditionally been considered a mid-field team, unable to break into the top three. However, it was first during 2020 pre-season testing in Barcelona, that the RP’s 2020 F1 car (“RP20”) surprised the frontrunners with their pace.[i] The similarity to the nose and front wing of the 2019 championship winning Mercedes F1 car (“W10”), dubbed them the nickname “Pink Mercedes”. While the RP20 marked a stark difference from RP’s design philosophy, they did not shy away from admitting that it was heavily “inspired” by the W10. This pressed the FIA to look into the legality of the car during the pre-season and they concluded that the RP20 was legal. RP has had a contractual relationship with Mercedes for the supply of engine, gearbox and hydraulics since 2009.[ii] Such contracts are not unheard of in the sport. The Haas F1 team has had a similar relationship with Ferrari ever since they joined the sport.[iii]
Regulatory issues in sharing of parts
The issue arose when the Renault F1 team launched a formal protest against the RP20, specifically against the front and rear brake ducts after the first few Grand Prixs (“GPs”). The plot thickened, as the FIA confirmed that during the pre-season inspection of the RP20, they did not inspect the brake ducts. The protest was concerned with Articles 2.1 and 3.2 read with Appendix 6 paragraphs 1, 2(a) and 2(c) of the aforementioned SRs. Regulation 2.1 and 3.2 are general undertakings and require teams to demonstrate, upon demand, that their cars comply with the SRs.
The point of contention arises in Appendix 6, which regulates certain Listed Parts, which the Constructors are required to design themselves. The definition of Listed Parts in Appendix 6 is a list of parts including, “Air ducts as regulated by Articles 11.4, 11.5 and 11.6 of the F1 Technical Regulations”. When we look at the concerned Article in the TRs, we see that Article 11.4 is concerned with front brake ducts, 11.5 with rear brake ducts and 11.6 to regulations common to both.[iv] Interestingly, the 2019 Sporting Regulations did not list the brake ducts as a Listed Part.
Constructors can outsource designing and manufacturing of Listed Parts to third parties with certain caveats mentioned under paragraph 2. Relevant to the present case, paragraph 2(a) requires these outsourced Listed Parts to be used exclusively by the Constructor outsourcing it and para 2(c) prohibits a competitor to the Constructor outsourcing parts to them. Haas F1 team has taken advantage of these regulations, and have outsourced the chassis from the Italian manufacturer Dallara, besides outsourcing non Listed Parts from SF. The chassis is a Listed Part under Appendix 6 read with Article 15.2 of the TRs. Although Dallara produces chassis for F2, they are the exclusive partner of Haas in F1.
RP was required under the SRs to manufacture the brake ducts by themselves, as Mercedes is a competitor to the team. Though the FIA had established that they would consider the process of designing the brake ducts to determine the legality of RP20, the design philosophy also played a major role in the decision.
The FIA Decision
The FIA received a lot of criticism after they entered into a confidential settlement with Ferrari post investigation by the FIA into their 2019 power unit which was formally protested by Red Bull. However, making the findings of the RP investigation public restores the faith of the teams in the regulatory body to some extent while also ensuring transparency in the sport. Though copying is not new to F1, this is the first time such an issue has come up in front of the FIA, apart from the 2018 Haas controversy where no formal protest was launched.
The stewards have upheld all 3 protests lodged by Renault, awarding a fine of € 200,000 along with a penalty of 7.5 points for each car, totalling a 15 point deduction and € 400,000 fine for the Styrian GP, however, only issued a reprimand for every GP after that. The two major factors that the FIA took into account while deciding on the protest were the DNA of an F1 car and the definition of design.
What is DNA of an F1 car?
RP had obtained the computer aided design (“CAD”) models of the brake ducts from Mercedes during the end of the 2018 season and had used them to design the front brake ducts of the 2019 RP F1 Car (“RP19”). This was permitted and legal under the SRs as brake ducts were non Listed Parts that season and therefore the front of RP19 was similar to the W10. However, the rear of RP19 had a different design philosophy as it had a high ride height and consequently had different rear brake ducts.[v] The FIA therefore considered the front brake ducts as being “grandfathered” into the RP20 as it was in the DNA of RP19.[vi] The rear brake ducts proposed an issue, as the RP19’s high rake angle and consequently a higher ride height was done away with in RP20.[vii] Therefore, the rear brake ducts were an entirely new component for the 2020 season and illegal under the SRs.
What constitutes design under Appendix 6 of the SRs?
The FIA was clear regarding the literal interpretation of the word “design” in the SRs. The FIA regulations are governed by French Law under which the meaning “that is most consistent with the natural and ordinary meaning of the words of the provision in question” should be applied.[viii] The interpretation RP contended was too narrow. “Design” is a qualitative test and who designed the crucial aspects of the part is what should be considered.[ix] The surface dimensions and shape are considered crucial and RP derived those from Mercedes’ CAD models. Thus, it was Mercedes who designed the Listed Part. The FIA has however allowed teams to reverse engineer other teams’ Listed Parts based on publicly available photographs. This would mean that the Listed Part is designed by them even if it is based on of a competitors’ car. This has been an age old practice in F1 and ensures competitiveness in the championship.
The above decision determines the difference between an “inspiration” and a “copy”. It comes as a breather for teams like Haas and Alpha Tauri, which have used brake ducts inspired by Ferrari and Red Bull respectively, in the 2020 season albeit not millimetric identical. The decision however comes as a shock to Constructers who feel that the penalty is not retributive enough for flouting the SRs. Renault and Ferrari have officially appealed against the decision, as the 15 point penalty and the reprimand issued for remaining GPs would have no effect to the continuing advantage that RP will have moving forward in the season with the illegal brake ducts. This appeal will most likely be dismissed considering the FIA feels the point deduction mitigates the potential advantage that RP have had.[i] Further, stricter action, such as disqualification, would have been taken if there would have been non conformity with the TRs.[ii] This is evident from the FIA’s previous decisions, for instance the disqualification of Romain Grosjean from the 2018 Italian GP after the driver finished 6th for Haas.
Renault while launching the formal protest, pointed out that FIA’s decision would be a significant one, as it would decide the future of F1. The FIA has recently announced that it would amend the 2021 Regulations to prevent whole car being copied in future seasons. The “Grandfathering Rule”, as it has been termed by the FIA stewards is a welcome step in determining the DNA and design philosophy of an F1 car. With the 2021/22 regulation overhaul, part sharing will become a norm as the introduction of financial caps in 2021 might restrict companies from pouring funds into research and development. Stricter TRs might lead to more such disputes as the teams move towards a similar design and with less scope of innovation to give way for competitive racing. This decision will act as the guidelines that Constructors have to take into account while sharing parts.
Sridutt Mishra is an undergraduate student at National Law University Odisha. An enthusiastic Formula 1 and Tennis fan, he has always been intrigued by the technicalities in the regulations behind sports and the innovations that lie therein. He is a sports enthusiast and his interests mainly lie in regulatory practice.
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- [i] Available at https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/article.tech-insight-why-the-new-racing-point-rp20-caused-a-stir-at-pre-season.2pEpt7pgigoQUNkULBmHWG.html.
- [ii] Available at https://www.autosport.com/f1/news/142907/mercedes-racing-point-deal-different-to-haas-model.
- [iii] Available at https://www.haasf1team.com/news/haas-f1-team-selects-scuderia-ferrari-technical-partner.
- [iv] Article 11: Brake System, The FIA F1 Technical Regulations 2020.
- [vi] The relevant facts established, Paragraph 3.b., Page 9, FIA Renault Protest Decision.
- [vi] Front Brake Duct analysis, Paragraph 5, Page 7, FIA Renault Protest Decision.
- [viii] Racing Point’s arguments in defence, Paragraph 5, Page 6, FIA Renault Protest Decision.
- [ix] What constitutes a design, Paragraph 1, Page 10, FIA Renault Protest Decision.
- [x] Conclusion of the Stewards – Paragraph 13, Page 12, FIA Renault Protest Decision.
- [xi] Conclusion of the Stewards – Paragraph 5, Page 12, FIA Renault Protest Decision.