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Formula 1

Whole car copying like Racing Point’s illegal from 2021

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
3 min read

Formula 1’s rules will change next season to stop copycat designs becoming the norm following the “paradigm shift” in Racing Point’s process of replicating Mercedes’ 2019 car.

Racing Point opted for a major change this season by abandoning its own concept and trying to imitate Mercedes’ aerodynamic concept to complement its use of the Mercedes engine and gearbox.

That caused concern amongst several teams, including Ferrari, while Renault went as far as protesting Racing Point’s brake ducts, alleging they went beyond copying from photographs and illegally used Mercedes data – a protest the FIA upheld on Friday morning.

The issue has sparked a wider philosophical debate beyond the protest though, with several teams including McLaren insisting that such a wholesale replication of a design goes beyond the usual scope for F1 teams to copy one another’s ideas.

They argued the FIA and F1 needed to make a decision on whether such close copying should be allowed in the future, and FIA head of single-seater technical matters Nikolas Tombazis said this has been discussed at length among the championship’s stakeholders.

Rule changes will be enforced next season to prevent designs like the RP20 being legal in the future, although it is unclear which form these rules will take.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship British Grand Prix Qualifying Day Silverstone, England

“Copying has been taking place in F1 for a long time,” said Tombazis.

“People have been taking photos and sometimes reverse engineer them and make similar concepts or in some areas identical concepts or close to identical.

“We don’t 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 apply this philosophy for the whole car by doing what I would call a paradigm shift – a disruption in the process that has been the norm in design in F1 cars in the last 40 years.

“One should not penalise them for that because they were original in deciding to follow this approach.

“However, we do not think this is what F1 should become.

“We don’t want next to have eight or 10 copies of Mercedes on the grid, where the main skill becomes how you do this process.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship 70th Anniversary Grand Prix Practice Day Silverstone, England

“We do plan, with very short notice, to introduce some amendments to the 2021 sporting regulations that will prevent this from becoming the norm.

“It will prevent teams 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 in local areas but we don’t want the whole car to be fundamentally a copy of another car.”

Tombazis would not go into detail about what changes will be made to the rules or how they will be enforced.

“We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it,” he said.

“It’s probably too much detail to go into now. But we will providing guidance on that as well as the wording of the ruling 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.”

Mechanical components of this year’s cars are being carried over to 2021 as part of a raft of cost-saving initiatives from F1 and the FIA amid the coronavirus pandemic, though aerodynamic development will remain free.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship British Grand Prix Qualifying Day Silverstone, England

As such, the Mercedes-inspired RP20 will form the basis of what Racing Point races next year as well.

Tombazis said that even though the rules are changing to outlaw designs like the RP20 from next year, it would be unreasonable to force existing concepts to be wiped out and started again – similar to why the team is allowed to continue using the brake ducts it has been determined were designed illegally.

“It will be accepted that teams whatever they have now on 2020 cars they are not supposed to delete it and start afresh,” said Tombazis.

“Because that’s never how it works.”

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