Why Aston decided on two-car concept approach amid Red Bull F1 saga
The apparent similarity between the Aston Martin Formula 1 team’s B-spec AMR22 and Red Bull’s RB18 inevitably stirred memories of the Racing Point “copygate” saga of two years ago.
There is however a major difference between the two situations. In the earlier case, the accusation was that the Silverstone team had borrowed IP from a friendly team in the form of its PU, gearbox and suspension supplier Mercedes.
This time round the clear suggestion from Red Bull bosses Christian Horner and Helmut Marko was that information had travelled from Milton Keynes with one of the seven employees who had switched camps in recent months.
Such matters are taken seriously within grand prix racing, which is why teams have strict controls within their IT systems, and why the FIA keeps such a close watch for potential breaches – whether they involve planned co-operation or possible theft.
By the time we saw the revised Aston Martin in Barcelona, the FIA had already seen the team’s submissions of its new designs, and an investigation had been conducted at the factory.
These people obviously know what they are looking for, and their conclusion was that Aston had done nothing wrong. If any of the former RBR people had brought knowledge in their heads, it was fair game. Anything more than that would have been illegal.
In parallel, having been alerted by the FIA, Red Bull had begun its own investigation, pursuing any digital trail left in the company system by the seven departed employees.
PLUS: What's next for the Green Red Bull controversy?
The unsubtle suggestion from the RBR camp was that an anomaly may have indeed shown up. What that was, and whether or not it will lead to further investigation by the FIA, has not yet been made clear.
The revised Aston Martin's similarity to Red Bull in Barcelona created much discussion
Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images
The whole story was incredibly frustrating for Aston Martin chief technical officer Andrew Green, who also took a lot of heat last time around.
Green stressed at the launch of the AMR22 in February that the car had been designed with a possible switch of aero concepts in mind, and when the fuss kicked off in Spain he pointed out that the design was in the works long before the RB18 was seen in public, so his team couldn’t have copied it.
Horner’s response was to hint that Aston had thus potentially seen it before the launch. It was a Catch 22 for Green and his team.
As Green explains, the process of pursuing two different concepts for 2022 was underway long before the first former Red Bull staff arrived late last year.
"The main thing is when we got to August time, when we'd had the two projects running together for seven or eight months, at that point, we really couldn't tell which one was going to end up being best,” says Green.
“They both had different traits. This car [the new spec] had a different characteristic, but it didn't look like it was generating a lot of downforce.
“The other one had relatively speaking quite poor characteristics, but was generating a huge amount of downforce. So, we got greedy. And we went with the one that was generating the downforce, thinking we'll sort out the characteristic further down the line.”
Some argue that a team can’t afford to pursue two concepts within the budget cap and aerodynamic testing constraints, but Green argues says it was all carefully managed.
Aston technical director Green has defended his team and says it did nothing wrong
Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images
“What we did was make sure the chassis contained the two concepts,” he says. “So the chassis was designed to be able to take the old cooling system and this cooling system without modification. That was a big thing – so chassis, there was no additional cost.
“And then we made sure for the A-spec car that we made the minimum amount of spares that we had to, to get us to race five. And that was the key, do no more than that. So it is possible.”
In terms of aero, Green says that the team focused on only one idea at a time.
“There was a time when we had the parallel two projects, but then for a period, we stopped this car and develop the A-car to see where it would go to,” he went on.
“We didn't run them both together all the time. We had two to a certain level, then extended the A-Spec car, realised that it was tailing off, and then stopped that one and started developing the B-spec.”
Green doesn’t deny that the team took some inspiration from the Red Bull when they saw it. The RB18 mirrored its own B-spec concept that was already underway, and when it worked well on track it was only natural that Aston kept a close on eye on its progress and had a good look at it.
“We saw people going along this route,” says Green. “And then when Red Bull launched in February time, it reinforced the route that we were going down. And naturally, you can take some inspiration from other teams. But we've already gone a long way down that route.”
Green is adamant that the FIA inspectors did their homework and were able to see a design trail via CFD and the wind tunnel to final manufacturing drawings. The sudden arrival of ready-cooked designs in the system, either borrowed or “stolen,” would have been apparent.
Aston Martin took inspiration from Red Bull's design, but Green stresses that it already had its own variation in the works
Photo by: Giorgio Piola
Teams are also not allowed to reverse engineer and use any form of technology to copy a rival’s design, even from photographs. After their visit to the Silverstone factory, the FIA was satisfied that nothing illegal had gone on.
“I think that's what we were able to demonstrate quite clearly to the FIA, that the majority of this package was developed by ourselves, clearly without any influence from outside,” says Green.
“They went in and looked and did a really deep dive, asking everybody who drew all the bits, and just randomly picked them out and went and interviewed them.
“And they came to the correct conclusion that we didn't use any other IP. And we didn't use any other IP. It was just all generated internally.
“Obviously when the Red Bull comes out, you're going to take some inspiration from it, just like they've taken inspiration from our car, and they've got bits where they've taken inspiration from us.
“I think that's only natural. But the overall concept was something that we've developed independently."
It was obvious in Spain that parts of the AMR22’s aero package, around the sidepods and floor area, look very similar to the RB18. Green stresses that much does not.
“There's a lot of detail all over the car that's completely different,” he says. “The whole front wing concept, the front suspension, the chassis are completely different.
“Obviously, we’re running a completely different power unit. The cooling system, gearbox, rear suspension, rear brake ducts, rear wing, rear beam wing, all completely different.
Green says the many areas of difference to the Red Bull are being overlooked
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
“There's a philosophy of downwashing in the sidepod area that we adopted, and not only Red Bull, but there are a couple of other teams adopted a similar approach.
“I think there's a lot of differences. And everyone seems to be just focused on a small section of it.”
So why the decision to change? Green is adamant that the team realised early on that its original design relied far too much on running close to the ground, something that has manifested itself in porpoising and the need to go higher – which in turn costs performance. The B-spec addresses that.
“Over the course of the generation of these regulations we think we were going to be blocked, locked, and development will be hampered if we kept going with the A-car,” says Green.
“You're always up against the fact that you're trying to work the car very, very close to the ground, where things fall over and break down aerodynamically. And it can induce instabilities.
“So the decision to say, ‘Okay, forget that, let's run the car away from that, and let's try and develop [and be] as performant further away from the ground,’ just made sense.
"I think you're going to find that some people are going to persevere with the alternative route. And then maybe the alternative route ultimately does get you into a better place, but we took the decision, right or wrong.”
Green has suggested that the B-spec is so different to the original that it should be regarded as a launch car, and thus there’s still a lot of learning to do.
“The aerodynamic characteristic is quite different. And it's quite different delivery deliberately, to try and allow us some set-up freedom.
The significant differences with the B-spec Aston meant the team treated the Spanish GP weekend like an extended test
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
“We were hemmed in with the previous spec car, and needed to run so stiff to prevent it from porpoising, and also had to run very high, which was completely outside of where it was designed to run. So we had two issues.
“We've now got it to acceptable spring rates, and we've got it in the ride height range that it's supposed to be working in. Now we've got to tune it, now we've got to set it up.
“And it is different, and the drivers felt the difference. And we've got to work and find out where the sweet spot is."
Barcelona was in effect a test weekend for the team. It was realised early on that there was insufficient cooling for the unexpectedly hot conditions in Spain, and without the resources that the manufacturer teams have to run dyno simulations and so on, there was some estimation involved. There were also issues with fragility of some new aero parts.
The drivers reported that the car felt different, and the indications are that once the team understands it better, it will represent a step that could not be made by its predecessor.
“This car was in the tunnel six to eight weeks ago,” says Green. “Since then, we've been carrying on development in the factory and it's continuing to deliver, so it's delivering more and more performance, so we're going to end up doing a good upgrade to it in a few races time.
“It does feel as though it's at the beginning of its journey, even though it's a reasonable step and improvement from where we were.”
The copying fuss has been an extra headache for team principal Mike Krack, who has only been in the job for a few months. He concedes that the team expected that there would be a fuss once the revised car was seen.
"It would be a lie to say we're surprised about this,” Krack notes. “For us the situation is now what it is, the explanations were given, and we look forward. We have enough to work on our side to not get too much distracted by this.”
Krack admits the team isn't surprised by the attention it has garnered
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
He also cited the inspiration provided by the AMR22 to rivals that Green referenced: “You remember on the bottom of the chassis, the wing that we had on the chin that was also taken over by others? We didn't make a fuss out of it. We could have, but I think it's not worth it.
“It's something that we have had in F1 for many years, that you are inspired from little details. But you cannot copy car contents, it doesn't work.
"There is a very, very clear definition in Article 17.3 of the technical regulations. I think it's well defined, obviously copying or taking inspiration, it's up to the FIA then to judge what is copying, and what is not, how you came to this.”
As noted, Aston’s ability to pursue two different concepts with finite resources has come under some scrutiny. However, Krack’s predecessor in the job, current Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer, believes that it’s possible.
Given the history between the Silverstone and Enstone camps on technical matters – the 2020 copygate case was just one example - his team would have good reason to stir the pot.
“That kind of decision is made a while back,” says Szafnauer. “And yeah, I was there at the time of deciding what kind of aero philosophy to take forward.
“But those decisions are made after you learn stuff. And then when you learn, you think, ‘Ooh, this route might be better than that route, let's take it.’
“And I've done that before but for different reasons at Force India, when we had a B-spec car that we brought out at Silverstone one year. So it can be done."
The question now is will Red Bull pursue the matter further with the FIA, and prompt a second investigation? If and when that happens, things could get messy.
As Aston presses on with developing its latest contender, the ball goes into Red Bull's court
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
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