In a decision published on 9th August 2020, the F1 stewards delivered a verdict fining Racing Point 15 points and 400,000 Euros. The reason? Copying the brake ducts from last year’s championship-winning Mercedes.
Renault raised a complaint about Racing Point’s brake ducts (a part which directs cooling air into the brakes) after the Styrian, Hungarian and British Grand Prix, and that complaint has now been upheld by the stewards.
Under the F1 rules teams are allowed to use certain parts of the car which they did not themselves design – for example the engine and suspension – but other parts must be designed by the team itself. In this case, the brake ducts were judged not to have been designed by Racing Point, in breach of the current regulations.
However, looking a little deeper, Racing Point had not perhaps behaved quite as badly as the headline verdict suggests.
In the 2019 season they had been buying brake ducts from Mercedes as was allowed under the rules at the time, and had also received design (CAD) data for the ducts from Mercedes. Racing Point argued that they used that data to design their own front brake ducts which they applied to their 2019 car. They did not however use the data for their rear brake ducts.
In 2020 the rules changed, forbidding brake ducts from other constructors to be used. The stewards’ decision found that Racing Point’s front brake ducts were allowed because, although designed using Mercedes data, they had been used in 2019, but the rear ducts were not.
As is so often the case, the devil is in the detail of the rules. In the world of F1, teams can deal with copycats by falling back on the sport’s regulations, but out in the real world designers would be well-advised to ensure their designs are sufficiently protected from copycats by patents, registered or unregistered designs or other intellectual property.