Behind The Headlines – Anniversary – Brake duct wars and the fundamental questions

Behind The Headlines Features

The row about the brake ducts on the Racing Point’s reached a new level over the anniversary weekend following a ruling by the FIA which declared the teams illegally copying Mercedes’ 2019 rear brake ducts for use on their car this season.

At the heart of this debate is what is a constructor and what is acceptable for teams to copy from other teams, as well to what extent teams are allowed to collaborate with manufacturers. This is a fundamental argument at the heart of F1 because it what allowed to be shared or copied from other teams.

There has always been a degree of customer teams and buying cars in the early days of the sport it was common for privateer teams to buy cars from manufacturers. But in the 1970s a shift towards the privateers becoming manufacturers and only buying the drive train from the manufacturers was common.

This debate about Racing Point is centred on the brake ducts, last season was not listed parts, and this was allowed. The debate is about what you can photograph and try and copy, which all teams do. The thing which everyone does.

The whole saga has divided the teams, into those which believe the sanction on Racing Point doesn’t fit the crime and the team who believe they are innocent. It’s an issue which the FIA need to look at because it centres on a grey area in the regulations. Racing Point was excluded on a sporting matter.

The behaviour of team owners and principals has been uncivil and unprofessional, but I think it shows how much they care about the sport and want to resolve this issue. To most casual fans they care about having great on-track racing.

The question is where does F1 draw the line, it needs to encourage more closer racing one of the key aims of the 2022 regulations and the sharing of parts and knowledge between suppliers (in this case Mercedes) and customers (Racing Point)?

I don’t understand the full ruling and technical regulations as these are long and open to interruption. But essentially the stewards ruled rear brake ducts on Racing Point’s car contravened F1’s sporting regulations, in a case centred on the way they came to design them and their resemblance to those Mercedes ran in 2019.

The truth is what do the non-engine manufacturers who design their own cars with minimal being brought from other teams like Williams and McLaren do, both teams will have the Mercedes drive train for next year. But they are engineering/car manufacturers in their own rights, they are arguably the biggest losers if this continues.

The other thing is which is puzzling is that the team are allowed to continue to use the illegal parts. The team will only be given a reprimand every time it races with the ducts, as was the case after the 70th Anniversary GP.

When Haas entered F1 in 2016, they employed a business model of buying as much as they could from Ferrari and sub-contracted some parts which they couldn’t buy to companies like Dallara and Bembro. This has also opened a pandora’s box when it comes to collaboration and sharing of parts.

It’s also a fundamental debate about what makes F1 different from other sports. The sport doesn’t want to be F2 or W Series where the teams all run the same car, F1 should be one where you should build the whole car by themselves or should they be allowed to buy cars.

There continue to be questions about Mercedes involvement in the transfer of information, with some believing there could have been the supply of  CAD information and brake ducts to Racing Point. But if Racing Point is telling the truth that they built the car from photographs they have broken no regulations.

We also know that there was a transfer of information between Mercedes and Racing Point, its possible that Racing Point could have legally obtained the design of the brake ducts before the regulations made them a listed part. There is however no evidence that Mercedes have broken rules.

Christian Horner believes that having supplied CAD information and brake ducts to Racing Point, Mercedes could be a guilty party.

We now are in a situation where half the grid wants a more serve punishment and the other half believe the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. The Racing Point team also have strongly vowed to contest the decision having maintained their innocence throughout.

This case is more than about Racing Point running illegal or legal brake ducts, it is also about what is F1. How can Racing Point design new brakes which don’t look like the illegal ones they have now, they cannot get rid of the knowledge they have already gained?

The other thing is does the fine, from now on every time they run these brake ducts which is basically saying ‘you shouldn’t be bullying but carry on.’ The reason this has been allowed is because of Coronavirus, the debate should be how long should they be allowed to use the ruling?

There is going to be change in the regulations to close this loophole in a better way, it’s a likely outcome. F1 is based on French law. It’s a very complicated case, but one which could change is the regulations to clearly define transfers of parts and information.

This is just the way we understand the story as it stands, but I don’t believe this is the end of the matter… what happens next is unknown? Remember, this is my understanding of the story.


Jack is responsible for the day-to-day running of Formula One Vault. He brings you all the brilliant content. Has an obsession with all things Formula One and anything with an engine.