Racing Point Controversy Ignites Again with Token-free Upgrades
Since the RP20 came into view, Racing Point has been the target of harsh criticism from competing teams. The so-called ‘pink Mercedes’ was built in a clever process of reverse engineering Lewis Hamilton’s winning Mercedes W10 on the basis of photographs. While Racing Point and the Silverstone factory team have insisted that throughout the process they have maintained close contact with the FIA, the team’s recent use of a regulation loophole has Ferrari, Renault and McLaren voicing harsh protests against Racing Point.
To limit team expenditures in 2021, a token system has been implemented for car upgrades. Each upgrade costs a token, and each team gets two tokens. Expenses are limited in that a team only has so much space to utilise R&D investments, and will therefore invest less in R&D. For smaller teams this is a godsend, allowing them to compete with much more well-off opponents. A quick look at the betting odds reveals the impact on the sport.
However, Racing Point has found a loophole in this system. According to the FIA regulations, buying non-listed parts from out-dated cars does not constitute a token upgrade. Hence, Racing Point is likely to add the Mercedes W11 gearbox and suspension to its car for the coming season. Any team is free to access the same loophole, but the controversy already surrounding Racing Point’s alleged corner cutting has made them the focus of outrage.
Andreas Seidl of McLaren has publicly stated that he’s confounded that adapting the Mercedes Power unit costs McLaren a token but Racing Point’s upgrading the entire rear of the RP20 does not constitute a development token.
Toto Wolff of Mercedes believes the protests bring about ‘less a technical discussion’ than a ‘more a philosophical discussion.’ The question becomes the market practice of R&D and it’s fruits, whether smaller clubs should be able to access the results of bigger club’s investments or be forced to fend for themselves. With the former, bigger teams can benefit through doing business and smaller clubs can resolve complaints over an uneven competition landscape.
Wolff adds that Racing Point did a commendable job reverse engineering the W10, and that in certain ways they’re faster than Mercedes.
The philosophical discussion can be extended to the nature of competitive racing. Successful engineering will breed copy-catting in attempts to access that same success. Historical precedents suggest Racing Point is far from the first to have engaged in this game of reverse-engineering and loop-hole seeking, but are merely the team in the crosshairs for playing the game more clever than the rest. Whether it is blameworthy enough to set a boundary for future seasons remains to be seen.