Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes team have been drawn into a ‘cheating’ storm that casts a shadow over the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix.
The touchpaper was lit on Friday morning when the FIA fined Racing Point £361,000 and stripped them of 15 points for copying parts of the Mercedes car.
But most intriguing is reference in the verdict to a ‘transfer from the former to the latter of a complete set of Mercedes 2019 BDs (brake ducts) that arrived at Racing Point on or about January 6, 2020.’
Although the stewards acknowledged this ‘did not constitute a significant breach of the sporting regulations’, it raises the awkward question of why elements of one team’s car ended up inside the Silverstone factory of another.
The judgment found that 10 times between November 2018 and October 2019 champions Mercedes provided Racing Point with computer-aided design models for parts that helped to build this year’s car, dubbed the ‘Pink Mercedes’ by disgruntled rivals.
In an apparent conflict of interest, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff bought shares in Aston Martin in April, which have since been diluted by a rights issue to a 0.95 per cent stake. Aston’s chairman is the Austrian’s friend, Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll, who will next season rebrand Racing Point, where he is co-owner, as Aston Martin.
Ferrari indicated they would appeal seeking a sterner sanction, possibly along with Renault — who first challenged the legality of the Racing Point cars — and McLaren.
Several teams see it as illogical that cars deemed to have broken the regulations are still allowed to race and collect prize money. Although the docked constructors’ points moved Racing Point from fifth to sixth in the standings, their drivers Lance Stroll, son of the team owner, and Sergio Perez, have escaped sanction. Nor will Racing Point be asked to redesign their car, even the controversial brake ducts.
McLaren chief executive Zak Brown said: ‘They (Racing Point) claimed that they had copied the car via photography. It’s clear from reading the document that that is BS.
‘And therefore you have to question everything else around that car. This is potentially the tip of the iceberg.
‘I don’t think it’s healthy for the sport. The constructor gets a penalty but the drivers don’t. As teams we all compete with each other, but then the drivers compete with each other and are able to keep their points when driving for the drivers’ championship. It’s confusing for the fans.
‘I think it’s thrown up a lot more questions than answers. I am concerned that they still have what was deemed illegal in Austria on the race car now. How is something that is not legal in Austria still on the car?’
Wolff declined to comment directly on his involvement with both Mercedes and Racing Point, but said: ‘We feel 100 per cent comfortable with our position. We have read the rules over and over again. The verdict that came out today is extremely complicated, and comes up with an interpretation that is new to all of us.
‘We have provided certain data in 2019, which was totally within the rules. The January 6 delivery of ducts has no material effect on any of the action.’
Racing Point, who are also considering whether to appeal, will be without Perez this weekend after he again failed a Covid-19 test — the only positive result among more than 5,127 tests of F1 personnel over the past week. The Mexican’s place will be taken by German Nico Hulkenberg.
Meanwhile, the real Mercedes cars set the pace in practice on Friday. Hamilton was fastest, with team-mate Valtteri Bottas second best.
Hamilton only required three wheels on his final lap a week ago to triumph in the first part of this Silverstone double-header. ‘It would be incredible for me and the team to have two British GP victories in successive weeks,’ said Hamilton (left), ‘but there is a lot of work to do.’