If you replayed this week’s first test in black and white, there are times when you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a repeat of 2019. That the Haas looks remarkably like last year’s Ferrari and the AlphaTauri resembles last year’s Red Bull was to be expected, but a third lookalike appeared when the Racing Point emerged for the first time.
Technical partnerships are plentiful in Formula 1, and are often a point of controversy. But Racing Point – in its former guise of Force India – often rallied against them, stating the importance of being an independent constructor.
This year, however, it has opted for a car that looks very much like last year’s Mercedes W10 painted pink.
“It shares some resemblance in some areas, I have to say,” technical director Andrew Green admits. “Lots of cars look like other cars up and down the pit lane, and I don’t think ours is any particularly different to anybody else’s in that respect.
“I think what we have seen is a change in where we were last year. It is a conscious decision from about the middle of last year, when we saw where the RP19 was developing to and going – it wasn’t making the gains we were hoping for, and think it was clear that if we carried on on the route we were going, we were going to end up, at best, where we finished the championship last year. To us, that wasn’t going to be acceptable.”
On the face of it, the idea of copying Mercedes – the dominant team of the past six years – would be an obvious one. So it begs the question: why hasn’t Racing Point done this before? The answer is multi-faceted, but ultimately comes down in no small part to the team’s financial position, and a switch last year to using another key component of Mercedes’ success.
“We have one more year left in these regulations, and it was time to try something new and take a risk, and we’ve taken a very big risk with what we have done with the car,” Green said.
“It made sense to do what we’ve done, which is to take the underlying architecture of what we have from MGP for many years – we have been using their gearbox since 2014. We are a year behind with their gearbox, we always have been, and trying to develop the Red Bull philosophy – the high rake philosophy (when the gap between the car’s floor and the track is much higher at the rear than the front, with implications on downforce and drag) – which people have emulated up and down the pit lane, became increasingly difficult with the gearbox we have from MGP.
“They have a different philosophy with a lower rake, they are the only one on the grid, and it is difficult to try and shoehorn and develop around a different philosophy from the underlying architecture that you have.
“It was a question we posed ourselves: what should we do? Should we move across and try and develop a car to a different philosophy? And it seemed obvious: running a 2019 gearbox, the same gearbox they ran last year with the Mercedes power unit, and we’ve also got a few outboard suspension components that we had from MGP last year as well… we decided to take a risk, and that risk was effectively to tear up what we’ve done in the past few years and start again from scratch, and from what we could see and what MGP had been doing.
“We have the same view everyone else has got, and there is nothing special in the information we have got. All we have got is what we see, and that’s what we’ve started from and developed from, and it’s a completely clean sheet of paper.
“And it’s a big risk – I don’t know if it is going to pay off. But I don’t think what we have done is particularly new, in so far as taking a team’s concept and doing it ourselves. That has been prolific in Formula 1 since the early days. I don’t think that is anything new at all. From double diffusers, to blown diffusers, to coanda exhausts [ED: when exhaust gases are redirected through the rear diffuser in pursuit of downforce], people have taken concepts and turned them into their own. We have done exactly the same.”
Now armed with much greater financial power, a slightly defensive Green also justifies the move based on the direction Formula 1 is taking next season. Yet there is no justification required other than the fact that it is within the rules, and it’s the fastest car the team can deliver.
“My question would really be, why hasn’t anyone done this before?,” he says. “When you look at it and look back at it, you think ‘crikey, this is something maybe we should have done earlier’. But unfortunately we didn’t have the resources earlier, or the people, or the funding to do this before. Now we have, and we have decided to do it for one year before it all gets thrown away anyway at the end of this year before new regulations in 2021. The risk of having to go back again was zero because it all changes in 2021.
“But if you are worried about cars looking the same, you might want to look at the 2021 regulations because they will all look the same and everyone is all going to converge to a solution very quickly, because areas of freedom are so restrictive.
“I don’t think what we have done is anything earth shattering or ground breaking. It’s been going on since the beginning of time, and we are a small team, we are only 400+ people, and we have got to cut our cloth to suit. For us, as a small team, we definitely want to be in the fast followers category rather than the pioneering, cutting-edge category, which I think the big teams have the resources to do. If we can lag a little bit behind we will, and as small team we will actively do that.”
In those comments comes a slight contradiction from Green. The limitations of the 2021 regulations and impending budget cap is designed to remove this small team and big team mentality, encouraging all of them to aim high.
But for now, following Mercedes’ lead is a risk worth taking, because the likely returns are so great.