Racing Point has had 15 championship points deducted and been fined 400,000 Euros ($472,942) after the FIA upheld Renault's protest over its controversial car.
Renault protested its midfield rivals over its controversial 'pink Mercedes' at the previous three races, specifically the design of the car's brake ducts. The FIA seized Racing Point's brake ducts after the first protest at the Styrian Grand Prix.
The FIA upheld the protests, which centred around the legality of the brake duct components on a car that bares striking similarities to Mercedes' 2019 title-winning car, the W10. Racing Point maintained it copied the design within the rules and that the RP20 is legal.
The points deduction and fine were for the Styrian Grand Prix and only apply to the team standings and not the drivers, while Racing Point was issued a reprimand for the following two events at which Renault protested the car again. Racing Point has the right to appeal, but is currently weighing up its options.
Why was the design illegal?
It is important to note that the stewards hearing never brought into question the legality of Racing Point's car under the technical regulations, but was instead investigating a breach of the sporting regulations. The question essentially came down to the design process of the brake ducts over the winter, and whether Racing Point used designs from Mercedes to copy the W10's design.
The issue was made more complicated by a change in the rules over the winter that meant teams could purchase brake ducts from rivals last year but must design their own this year. Racing Point had legally bought the designs from Mercedes last year and ran front brake ducts based on the world champions' design on its 2019 car. However, due to the overall aerodynamic philosophy of the RP19 last year, its rear brake ducts held no real similarities to Mercedes' or the ones on this year's RP20.
But when it came to designing the RP20, the team made the decision to ditch its previous aerodynamic philosophy and copy Mercedes' low-rake design. In doing so, it kept a similar front brake duct design to 2019 but changed the rear brake ducts to versions based on Mercedes' 2019 rear brake ducts. Combined with the change in the sporting regulations over the winter prohibiting the sharing of brake duct designs for 2020, that created an issue.
The stewards determined that while the front brake ducts were based on Mercedes' 2019 design, Racing Point could not reasonably be expected to forget what they had learned with last year's RP19 and start from scratch -- referring to that design process as "grandfathering". However, because it had not used Mercedes' rear brake duct design until this year, despite having access to the design last year, the stewards determined that the rear brake duct design process for the RP20 was in breach of the sporting regulations.
Because it was a breach of the sporting regulations and not the technical regulations, the stewards did feel it was necessary to disqualify Racing Point from the results and instead imposed the penalties, both sporting and financial, mentioned above.
Will Racing Point have to redesign its car?
Despite Racing Point's design process being found to be against the regulations, the team will be allowed to continue with the same rear brake ducts for the rest of the year. Although that may seem counter intuitive, the stewards determined that the penalty is aimed at penalising the design process and therefore covers use of the brake ducts for the entire season not just the races at which it was protested by Renault.
The stewards also considered mitigating circumstances, such as the change in status of brake ducts in the regulations from last year to this year, the lack of guidance from the FIA on that change and the fact the car's design was inspected in March by the FIA and found to be legal.
The head of the FIA's technical department, Nikolas Tombazis, went on to explain that it would be very difficult for the FIA to determine how different a redesigned set of rear brake ducts would have to be in order not to fall foul of the same regulation again.
"It would be very unreasonable to expect Racing Point to forget their knowledge and to design again from a clean sheet of paper from scratch, because designs never work that way, they always start with existing knowledge, so somehow to expect them to do something completely different would be very unreasonable.
"It would also be very difficult for us to ascertain whether something is sufficiently different or not, so that would be quite an unreasonable expectation."
How will the FIA stop more teams doing the same?
Aside from the deterrent that Racing Point's penalty should hold, the FIA is also planning to change the regulations to prevent teams copying each other in the future. The similarities between the Mercedes and the Racing Point combined with Racing Point's improved competitiveness this year has led the FIA to consider changes to the regulations for 2021.
"Even though it wasn't the focus of the Renault protest, Renault, among others, have expressed quite a lot of concern about what technique Racing Point have used to copy Mercedes to a large extent," Tombazis said "And we, FIA, and Formula One, have been spending quite a lot of time discussing this topic and we think it is important to explain a few concepts and what we're planning to do about it.
"First of all copying has been taking place in Formula One for a long time, taking photos, and sometimes reverse-engineering them and make similar concepts or in some areas even identical concepts or close to identical as other teams. We do not 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 adopt this philosophy for the whole car for what I would call a paradigm shift. They actually used a disruption in the process that has been the norm in designing a Formula One car for the last 40 years.
"One should not be penalised for that as they have been original in deciding to follow this approach. However, we do not think this is what F1 should become.
"We don't want next year to have eight or 10 Mercedes, or copies of Mercedes, on the grid, where the main skill becomes how you do this process. We don't want this to become the norm of Formula One.
"We do plan, in the very short notice, to introduce some amendments to the 2021 sporting regulations that will prevent this becoming the norm. It will prevent from using extensive parts of photos to copy whole prions of other cars in the way racing point has done.
"We will still accept individual components to be copied, and local areas, but we don't want the whole car to be a fundamental copy of another car."