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Tracing Point: Is it ok to copy other cars?

Is the Pink Mercedes even legal?

Ever since Racing Point's RP20 was revealed in Barcelona, comparisons have been made to last year's title-winning Mercedes W10. It was quickly given the nickname of the 'Pink Mercedes' due to the clear similarities between the two cars and it now faces a protest by Renault over the legality of the design.

The French outfit have highlighted that in Appendix 6 of the Sporting Regulations, paragraph 1, article 2 states: “A competitor shall, in respect of the Listed Parts to be used in its cars in Formula One, only use Listed Parts which are designed by it.” Article 2 (c) adds: “In the case of the Outsourcing of design, such third party shall not be a competitor or a party that directly or indirectly designs Listed Parts for any competitor.”

This shows that Renault clearly believe that the Pink Panthers are using a design which features parts not designed by themselves, which would be a violation of these rules. However, wouldn't you be pissed off if a team with a smaller budget produces a faster car than you?

Now, I'll admit that I'm not even remotely qualified enough to come to a decision on whether this protest is right or wrong. However, having said that, I am going to try and show why I don't think Racing Point are in the wrong.

Let me explain.

Why did Racing Point copy Mercedes?

For many years, the Racing Point team (formerly Force India) struggled financially. They were known for a long time as the team that made the most of the small budget that they had to work with, consistently making fairly decent cars sometimes for half the money their rivals were spending. However, this business model was quite clearly unsustainable and it hit a boiling point towards the end of the 2018 season. The team were forced into administration, facing the very real prospect of leaving the sport.

Thankfully for the team and fans alike, a consortium led by Lawrence Stroll (Lance's father) swooped in to provide some new investment to move the team forward. This meant that going into 2019, the team were in a good place financially for what might have been the first time in their history.

Since 2014, the team had pursued an aero concept which was similar to what we had seen on the Adrian Newey designed Red Bull. This meant that the car had a high rake, which is where the rear of the car is higher than the front of the car. This higher angle means that the air passing under the car is sped up, creating an area of low pressure under the floor that sucks the car down onto the track. The problem with this is that Racing Point are a Mercedes customer team, buying their engines, gearboxes and outboard suspension components from the Silver Arrows. These components were all designed around Mercedes' low rake philosophy, forcing Racing Point to compromise the design of their car to accommodate them.

In the picture below, the different rake angles of the top three teams can clearly be seen. The lower rake on the Mercedes also comes with a much longer wheelbase in comparison to what we see on the Red Bull.

Credit: u/MrHyperion_ via Reddit

Credit: u/MrHyperion_ via Reddit

Since the new investment came at the tail end of the 2018 season, the 2019 car was in the latter stages of development so there was nothing that the team could really do to change this. However, with the added funds they were able to dedicate more resources to their 2020 challenger, which they had decided from the outset would make the change to the low rake philosophy.

Their team principal Otmar Szafnauer told the official Formula 1 website that: “We have been looking at that concept for a long time, mainly because we are constrained with the gearbox that we buy from Mercedes. Mercedes have developed their gearbox casing to go along with that concept. We would buy that casing from them and use a totally different aero concept, which meant we are always compromised.

"So for a long time, we wanted to move to the Mercedes-type aerodynamic concept - not having a high rake, a lower rear end - but we just never had the financial resources to do it. We always had to carry things over.”

The team were clearly getting frustrated with trying to pursue the high rake concept, but it was always going to be a risk to change such a fundamental design aspect of the car. However, then they had an idea. They realised that they only had one year left of the regulations (two now that the new rules have been pushed back), so what better way to eliminate the risk than using the championship-winning car as your inspiration?

The team also switched from using Toyota's wind tunnel in Cologne to Mercedes' own tunnel in Brackley. This wind tunnel is obviously configured to put a low rake car to the test, meaning that Racing Point could be sure the data they were gathering was accurate. Their technical director Andy Green did not say that the change in the wind tunnel was a deciding factor in the decision to copy Mercedes, but it did add weight to the already strong argument.

Why are other teams not happy?

I think that the answer to this question is quite self-explanatory, otherwise, the phrase 'nobody likes a copycat' would not be a thing. The other teams are not only frustrated because they have invested a lot of time and money into developing their own designs, but because Racing Point are fast. Very fast.

The team have looked like they are at the head of the midfield with a design which is effectively a year older than everyone else's. Although they were unlucky during the first two races at the Red Bull Ring, they still showed some very impressive pace and even looked faster than last year's 'best of the rest', McLaren.

Before we got underway this season, McLaren boss Zak Brown was asked about the challenge that the British team faced going into the 2020 championship. He replied: "I do think this year is going to be tougher. The whole grid, if you look at winter testing, Racing Point was clearly very quick with what appears to be last year's Mercedes, and it should be quick because it won the championship last year. So they're going to be very tough. They've made the biggest off-season progress."

I think this quote perfectly sums up what all the fuss is about, as although Brown does not directly say it you can tell that he is pissed off. He makes the joke that the Racing Point is exactly the same as the 2019 Mercedes, implying that his team have done their own thing and should be commended for it.

Renault are clearly the ones that are the most upset with the RP20, lodging the protest (which I mentioned earlier) after the recent Styrian Grand Prix. The team will be hoping that the FIA will agree with them that the car is a direct copy and has not been designed in-house by the Racing Point team. However, I don't think this will be the case for a number of reasons.

Credit: Motorsport Images

Credit: Motorsport Images

Why I don't think they have done anything wrong.

Before I start this explanation, let me make it clear that I completely understand where all of the hate is coming from. If I was a rival team, or for that matter a fan of one of their rivals (which I am), then I too would be pissed off about how Racing Point have managed to improve so much. Anyway, with that said, let's get into this.

Firstly, I think the most obvious point to this argument is that Racing Point would not have invested the time and money into this idea if they were not 100% certain that what they were doing was legal. This is because interpreting the rules in a different way is alright for a small element that can be reverted back to the old one if deemed illegal, but doing this for the whole car is a different story. If the team were found guilty of not designing their own car, they would most likely have all of their points stripped away and may not even be allowed to compete until it was rectified. I just cannot see how a team would go down this route without being sure that it was on the right side of the rulebook.

Another major point in this is that the team worked with the FIA over the winter and were never given any of Mercedes' technical drawings of the W10. The designers of the car relied on the hundreds of photos that had been taken of the car over the course of the season and then did their best to imitate what they saw. This method complies with the rules because even though you may end up with the exact same design, you are drawing and manufacturing the parts yourself. The team released the following statement regarding the recent protest, and I think it sends a powerful message to the other teams who may be siding with Renault: “Prior to the start of the season, the team co-operated fully with the FIA and satisfactorily addressed all questions regarding the origins of the design of the RP20."

This statement from the team tells me that they have already been to the FIA themselves to confirm that the design is within the rules, and have the full confidence that they'll get the same answer a second time around.

Credit: GPToday.net

Credit: GPToday.net

Finally, my last point on this matter is that teams have been copying each other for years in Formula 1. As soon as the teams turn up to testing, they are all watching each other like hawks in the hope of spotting something new. For example, look at what happened in 2009. Brawn GP arrived at the first test with a double diffuser, a way of exploiting the new rules to regain some of the downforce that was lost with the regulation changes. This piece of technology allows for more air to flow through the diffuser at the back of the car, generating much more downforce and giving the team a clear pace advantage over the field. The other teams quickly caught on to this invention, proceeding to copy it and work it into their own designs.

In my view, what Racing Point have done with their 2020 car is no different to this, just what they have done is on a much larger scale. I think the real reason that the other midfield teams are pissed off is that they did not think to do it, not that it breaching any rules. We have actually seen this sort of thing done before to some extent, as for a number of years the Haas car looked very similar to the previous season's Ferrari.

To conclude...

Although I think you could make a pretty strong argument that what the Pink Panthers have done is against the spirit of Formula 1 (and you would probably be right), I think that their decision to copy the Mercedes was a moment of genius. After reading this article I hope you can see why it makes so much sense for the team, and they were in the perfect place and time to do it.

At the time, the team knew that they only had one more year of the current regulations and a car philosophy that wasn't really working for them. They could have settled for another year of fighting on the tail end of the top ten, or possibly challenge for podiums whilst attracting more sponsors to the team. Which option would you choose if you were in their position?

I think they could face a few problems now that the car has to be used for two seasons, as the team may struggle with the development of the car. Mercedes changed their car in a number of ways for 2020, and I don't think it would be possible for Racing Point to incorporate these changes with the new token system (for 2021, each team will only be able to use a certain number of tokens to develop the car).

In conclusion, I think that Andy Green summed up the point that I am trying to make very well in a recent interview: "It may have some similarities to the Mercedes, but it's just similar. It's not the same. And so there is no protest there.

"They can shout and scream as much as they want, but I think what they're actually shouting and screaming about is the fact that they've missed a trick. And that's what they're upset about."

Only time will tell if Renault are successful in their protest but I really don't see it happening. Yes, the teams might be pissed off but we as fans should be happy. We've got another team in the mix for what is already and will continue to be a thrilling midfield battle both this season and in 2021.

What do you think

Do you agree with this article? I'm sure a few people will disagree so feel free to try and change my mind in the comments section. If you liked this post, please consider joining the tribe and leaving a like.

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Comments (8)

  • If I were to write an article on this exact same topic with this article open and essentially copy it word for word and put my name on it saying that it is my work is it then my own work? I think there's a very strong case that even if Racing Point may have "designed" the parts themselves, if they directly copy the design of a competitor it is not of their own design. I believe there is a legal precedent that if a product is more than 70% similar then it is not an original design.

      1 year ago
  • I am in agreement with the Pink Panthers. All midfield and back enders should do this. We would then really see much closer racing and action in a single race then we have seen in one season! FIA should allow this even if a team does not manufacture themselves. By aero kits drawings off top contenders and produce yourself.

      1 year ago
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