Protests were lodged by Renault following every race so far this season, with allegations that the brake ducts used on the cars driven by Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll were a carbon copy of those utilised by Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas last season.
Having first lodged the protest immediately after the Styrian Grand Prix, the FIA upheld the protest and have subsequently punished Racing Point on the eve of the F1 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone, reducing their championship tally from 42 to 27 points that drops them behind rivals Renault.
The FIA stewards ruled that punishments of a €200,000 fine and a 7.5-point deduction should be applied to each car following the Styrian Grand Prix protest, while the subsequent protests following the rounds in Hungary and Britain resulted in reprimands only deemed “sufficient” punishment.
Renault initially complained to the FIA on 12 July, the day of the Styrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring, alleging that the “Racing Point uses front and rear brake air ducts on its RP20 chassis that are based on and near-identical to the same brake ducts of the Mercedes AMG F1 W10 used by Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team in the 2019 season, with any potential differences being minor and the result of an evolution of an identical original geometry”.
Racing Point submitted their formal technical response to the allegations 18 days later ahead of the British Grand Prix, where Renault lodged a third consecutive protest against the same component of the RP20.
A change in the regulations between the 2019 and 2020 seasons meant that brake ducts were added to the list of classified listed parts, meaning that each team was responsible for designing and making their own product rather than rely on another team. Renault claimed that Racing Point had “received data and/or designs and/or information and/or actual parts from Mercedes” in 2019, which were then used in their design of the 2020 car, with similarities not attainable from photographic evidence alone.
Racing Point argued that ‘reverse engineering’ is a “default starting process” within the sport, with teams regularly looking at successful models and working out what can be added to them to make them better, noting the “observable and demonstrable differences” between their brake ducts and those on the 2019 Mercedes.
Having considered both sides of the argument, the FIA ruled that the rear brake ducts proved that Racing Point had copied the Mercedes’ rear brake ducts, which it noted was unsurprising “since it also did its best to copy the aerodynamic aspects of the rest of the Mercedes W10 including all of its other listed parts”.
Had the protest been made against the front brake ducts alone, Racing Point would have been allowed to use them without breach of the regulations.
It added that had Racing Point asked for clarification between September and November last year on whether they could use the Mercedes part in their design plans, “the FIA would have said definitely not” because the RP20 needed to conform to the 2020 regulations, and that their brake ducts “were designed in large part by Mercedes, not by Racing Point”.
The FIA’s findings did however state that Racing Point breached the sporting regulations rather than the technical ones, and as a result the decision was taken not to disqualify them from any races this season or the Championship, with the Silverstone-based team showing “no deliberate intent to any breach of the regulations” as they fully believed what they were doing was within the rules.
Racing Point will be free to use the brake ducts for the remainder of the 2020 season, and although teams have the right to appeal their use, the FIA has already determined that a reprimand will continue to be a sufficient punishment due to the original design breach being punished.
Racing Point have until 10:30am BST on Saturday to lodge an appeal against the decision.