F1 in the dock

Wed, 16 November 2005, 09:17

In recent months murmurings in the world of F1 have grown into full-blown accusations. Since late 2002, it had been reported that F1 team secrets were being offered around the paddock and pit lane. In recent weeks reports suggest that two ex-Ferrari personnel are being taken to court, because of the similarities between the Ferrari 2002 and the Toyota T103. The ex-Ferrari personnel had moved to Toyota at the time the TF103 was being designed. These same two men had also supposedly approached David Richards, then of BAR, with the promise of insider knowledge of Ferrari’s speed.

It isn’t the first time, and undoubtedly won’t be the last. At the end of 2001 an experiment was conducted in the pit lane at Suzuka. Every driver was shown eight photographs. These pictures were of the then current F1 cars, digitally altered to appear to be plain black, driven by a man in a plain white helmet. Not one driver could identify his own car, such were the similarities.

More recently, and just after Peter Sauber had agreed not only to use Ferrari engines, but, to all intents, to test experimental gearbox parts, glances toward the Hinwil chassis could make one think you were looking at a blue Ferrari.
The current case differs in that part of the action concerns computer software, although it isn’t specified if it is factory or chassis based software. This could be much harder to prove. As for the chassis, design work has been severely restricted by regulations and by the results of the wind tunnel, even road cars are looking more and more similar, so with the needs of straight line speed in F1, the wind tunnel will always carve a similar shape, regardless of where, or who owns the wind tunnel.

Plagiarism of design will be hard to prove. The first Arrows, the A1, looked a lot like the unfinished Shadow DN9, enough for journalist Alan Henry to remark on first spying the Arrows, “f@*# me, it’s a Shadow!” The courts later decided it was too close for comfort, and Arrows built a replacement in around forty days. Of course it would be easy to think that in the days of the Cosworth DFV, similarities between cars would be more common, but freedom in design led to some stark changes. Compare a Brabham BT44 to a Tyrrell 006, or a Lotus 72, but then again compare the same car to a Surtees TS19. Now days however design teams face huge constraints, with little to no freedom to try anything revolutionary, and what is done is copied within days, and therefore apart from sponsors colours, the cars are incredibly similar.

When, or even if, the case against the two ex-Ferrari staff makes it to court, it will be interesting to see what the knock on effects will be. With Adrian Newey about to move to Red Bull, and designers becoming THE gurus of the pit lane, it can’t be long before the man behind the CAD system has to sign a secrecy contract?

Steve Holter
Daily F1 News

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