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Opinion

The 'Pink Mercedes': Clever engineering or a blatant cheat?

Are Racing Point playing by the rules? (Photo by Joe Klamar/Pool via Getty Images)
Roar Guru
11th August, 2020
14

Formula One is never devoid of controversy and regardless how much we wax lyrical about the spirit of game and competition, there is always going to be pushing of boundaries.

Racing Point find themselves embroiled with their midfield rivals in defending their RP20 race car, which has been found to have blatantly copied last year’s championship-winning Mercedes.

Ahead of the 70th anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone, the FIA stewards released a 14-page document detailing the findings of their investigation. This followed a protest from Renault against the ‘Pink Mercedes’ after the Styrian race last month.

The FIA revealed the RP20 was indeed running brake ducts that were the same as the world-beating W10, however the manner in which the penalty was handed down to Racing Point was bizarre and has left their rivals fuming.

Racing Point were fined $AU660,000 and stripped of 15 points in the constructors’ standings, with the stewards ruling that only their rear brake ducts are illegal.

Why just the rears? Well here is where things get complex.

Given Racing Point share a technical alliance with Mercedes, which includes running the all-conquering power-unit, the CAD (computer aided design) drawings for the W10 brake ducts were given by Mercedes to the customer team in 2019. Racing Point replicated the ducts for the front of their car, though due to differences in their floor and aero rake couldn’t do the same for the rear.

The stewards cited that the regulations permit the front ducts in this instance, due to the fact they’ve effectively been carried over as a legacy part from the previous iteration of the Racing Point car.

However Racing Point were found to be in breach with the rear brakes, because they followed a different aerodynamic concept for their RP20 and thus introduced new ducts.

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Team owner Lawrence Stroll lashed out at rivals, saying he was “appalled by the poor sportsmanship of our competitors”, and that in developing the RP20 the team was fully transparent with the FIA.

Nothing highlighted in the findings over whether essentially copying another team’s car from the previous year through photography and reverse engineering – as Racing Point have been so genius in doing here – will be outlawed in Formula One. This has thrown Ferrari, McLaren, Renault and Williams into a furore to the point where even though they won their protest, they are still going to appeal the outcome in quest of further punishment to Racing Point.

It’s worth noting Ferrari holds a broadly similar technical alliance with teams such as Haas and Alfa Romeo (nee Sauber) – though given those two outfits are hardly competitive, there is less cause to be upset about their dealings.

Also, consider Ferrari’s own behind-closed-doors settlement with the FIA over their dubious power-unit advantage last year when asking for transparency.

Sebastian Vettel on track in his Ferrari SF90.

(Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Given there is nothing in the technical regulations prohibiting what Racing Point have done, the team should be commended for exploiting this avenue to bolster their standing on the grid as others have done in the past.

The team have always been competitive on a shoestring budget and the ‘Pink Mercedes’ concept is just another example of clever engineering.

Racing Point won’t have to change their brake ducts, which also will carry over to next year given the freeze on major development between seasons.

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And when the accused outfit’s account of the proceedings is considered, it makes more sense as to why harsher penalties weren’t handed down.

“There was no guidance in place by the FIA surrounding the transition of non-listed to listed items and Racing Point received in March 2020 written confirmation from the FIA with regards to our compliance on the matter,” Stroll said in a video statement.

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But the debate rages on about the spirit of the game and the meaning of being a constructor in Formula One. Racing Point believe they are a genuine constructor, while this virtue of the team continues to be questioned by their competitors.

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If they were to consistently finish inside the top six at each race, then the matter will drag on. In a way, their race day inconsistencies so far in 2020 have masked the on-paper potential of the threatening RP20.

The only solution for this shambolic saga would be to completely close the loophole, or to at least reduce the grey areas enough to avoid a recurrence – which the 2022 regulations changes will surely seek to address.

At the end of the day, Racing Point have only broken one rule and even that was something that came into effect well after their car was conceived and debuted on-track.

Formula One, as the pinnacle of motorsport, will always see teams push the boundaries to get an advantage and this tiresome hostility is just another chapter in the F1 team book of feuds.