Why Racing Point is more than just a ‘pink Mercedes’

Will Racing Point make significant progress in 2020 before it morphs into Aston Martin next season?

The pink car’s pace in Barcelona testing certainly suggested that it will be in the mix at the sharp end of the midfield – and that if it really does show some pace, there might be a little controversy.

In many ways this weekend’s Australian GP will be the real start of Racing Point’s tenure under Lawrence Stroll. When the Canadian saved the then-Force India team in the summer of 2018 some elements of the 2019 car were already fixed, and in a way that saved money – when the design process began the team was struggling, and didn’t have a lot of resource to spare for its longer term future.

By the time that future was secure, it was too late to revisit the 2019 model from scratch, and inevitably that compromised the team last season in what was a tight midfield battle.

This year there are no excuses. Stroll has ploughed money into the growing the team, enabling technical director Andrew Green and his colleagues to take pretty much any direction they wanted for 2020, while also keeping an eye on the challenging 2021 project.

The strategy they chose was a bold one. Believing that there was little more to be gained from the concept they had pursuing they dumped it and switched to the route pursued by the most successful team, namely Mercedes.

It was a roll of the dice, potentially a way to get a jump on the rest of the midfield runners in one hit – but there was risk attached. If the team didn’t get it right, understanding in detail how the Mercedes worked and translating those concepts to its own car while allowing scope for further development, it could backfire massively.

Lance Stroll, Racing Point RP20

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

However, the really clever part was that if it went wrong, the pain would be short-lived. The 2021 car is a clean sheet of paper, so if the 2020 model flopped it would only lead to one wasted year – and indeed if it was a total disaster the team could abandon it early and focus on the new car.

It’s a clever strategy, albeit one that has drawn complaints from rivals suspicious of the team’s close relationship with its powertrain supplier. From the team”s point of view what it has done is totally logical, and legal.

“The things that we try to fix with this car I think we’ve we fixed,” says Racing Point boss Otmar Szafnauer. “We’ve been buying gearbox and engine from Mercedes for quite some time, ever since we stopped buying from McLaren.

“And we had a tricky situation with Mercedes, because we ran a high rake concept that was really developed by Red Bull. And from the days of the blown diffuser, which they ran a high rake then too, we copied the blown diffuser way in the day, and that required a high rake.

“But the Mercedes gearbox didn’t lend itself to what we were trying to do. And forever we grappled with it – we were limited at the rear with the aerodynamic development because of the gearbox we were using.

“And this is the first year where we could actually take time and do what we always needed to do at the rear. And I think we fixed some of those problems.”

The first sighting of the car in Barcelona triggered endless cynical comments about the Mercedes influence – ‘Tracing Point’ was one popular joke. Some pointed out how critical the team had been of the Haas/Ferrari model in the past.

“I don’t think it’s ironic,” says Szafnauer. “We copied the Red Bull in the past too, but we copy it within the rules. So we see what they’re doing. We take pictures, we try to understand it, we run it in the tunnel, and we do it ourselves. I think it’s different.

Sergio Perez, Racing Point, Lance Stroll, Racing Point and Otmar Szafnauer, Team Principal and CEO, Racing Point

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

“We’re adding people, we’re soon going to be at 500. And the people that we’re adding is all about design, development, manufacturing. So we can develop our own car. So although everyone says, ‘Ah you copied a Mercedes,’ it’s our own. It’s our own design. It’s our own development. It’s our own wind tunnel model. It’s our own concept.

“Yeah, we looked to see what’s fast and thought, ‘That’s fast, can we do the same?’ No different than we did with a Red Bull, when we ran a high rake concept. But the development is our own, and we will add another hundred people. So we can continue our own development, it’s a little bit different than what they do down the road.”

Szafnauer is adamant that the Haas/Ferrari relationship is different: “I mean, you can’t have a couple hundred people and design your own car and develop your own car. It just doesn’t work that way. It’s not about buying [parts], we don’t have a massive manufacturing capability either, we buy as well.

“But you know, we buy from people that machine it for us, but it’s about design and development, it’s the size of your model design and making capability for the wind tunnel, it’s the size of your aerodynamic team. Our aerodynamic team total total is bigger than their entire team. So where are they getting it from? It’s different, trust me it’s different.”

Racing Point’s aerodynamic concept continuity has also been impacted by a double change of wind tunnel in recent years. The team’s own tunnel in Brackley, where its aero guys are based, had some limitations – so a switch was made to the more advanced Toyota facility in Cologne, which made for a lot of commuting to and from Germany.

Last season, and as a direct result of Stroll’s influence, the aero programme returned to Brackley for the 2020 model – but this time it’s based not at RP’s own facility, but at the nearby Mercedes tunnel.

“It’s a lot better for us,” says Szafnauer. “Their wind tunnel is in Brackley, our wind tunnel is in Brackley. You know some of the aerodynamicists say, ‘Well, when I get up in the morning, instead of turning left, I turn right, and I’m there in the same amount of distance.’

Lance Stroll, Racing Point RP20

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

“The thing that’s very, very useful is we used to have to travel the Cologne, do all of our testing in a different country, and then travel back, and it’s just sub-optimal. This is a lot better for us. I think the Mercedes tunnel is a very good one as well. So we’re not lacking at all from there.

“And you know, the rest of the aerodynamic team is our own. So we have our own model design facilities, our own CFD. CFD is totally different, our own programmes, our own computers.

“When I first got to Force India, we were using a CFD computer that was based in Mumbai, which didn’t work that well but since then we’ve come along. Our aerodynamic team is well over 100 people now.”

The use of the Mercedes tunnel has added fuel to the fire in terms of the criticism from those who think the two cars are rather more alike than they should be. Szafnauer admits that a shared tunnel was part of the change in concept, but in a totally legal way.

“The two things that happened is one, we finally had the resources such that we can start looking at a lower ride height car, which goes with the Mercedes gearbox. And we used to always, always struggle with high rake, and a gearbox that doesn’t lend itself to high rake. And it was a huge compromise. More than people knew, because we never said anything about it.

“So number one, the gearbox lends itself to a different aerodynamic concept, and two, using a tunnel that we were confident would produce the results because it did for them, I mean just from a global perspective, so that gave us even more confidence to pursue that aerodynamic concept.

“And it was a risk if it didn’t work. You know, we developed the high rake concept for nine years, so you have a good understanding even with the limitations of what to do when something doesn’t work. Here, you have less of an understanding because you’ve got to do experiments before you come to the right answer, and it was a risk. But we’ll see if it paid off.”

Lance Stroll, Racing Point

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

A quicker car is one thing, but the team also needs an improved driver. For much of 2019, Lance Stroll struggled to match teammate Sergio Perez, and to win the midfield battle Racing Point needs two drivers performing at the top of their game, and regularly scoring points. Szafnauer believes that Stroll Jr can up his game.

“I’m very, very, very confident. The second year with us means he’s on the steep end of the learning curve. He’s got the speed, it’s just understanding the people around him. We’ve made some adjustments as well to help him. So I’m very confident that he’ll score as many points as Sergio, and it’s exactly what we need for us to finish fourth.

“The years where we did finish fourth, it was because we were consistently in the points with both cars, and when we weren’t in the points with both cars it’s because something happened to one of them.

“But the opportunity for both of them score points was always there, and that’s exactly what we’re targeting, and I think it will happen.”

Whatever happens in 2020, it’s clear that there’s much more to come in the longer term as Stroll Sr pursues his ambitious targets. The brand new Silverstone base is on the way, and rebadging as Aston Martin will bring all suits of benefits, including increased appeal both to potential sponsors and to quality personnel from the top teams.

“It’s one of the great British brands,” says Szafnauer. “It’ll be great to bring Aston Martin back to F1 racing. I’m really, really excited, really excited. We’ve got to do the brand justice. So we got to make sure we perform. We’re still recruiting, looking for big people, good people.

“We’re looking to get bigger. Like I said, we’re nearly at 500 now, and we’re not going to stop. But my philosophy has always been you have to recruit the right people. Because it’s a team effort.

“We got to make sure we have the best team that we can, not just for the sake of recruiting, get the numbers up. We got to recruit the right people. But I think Aston will also help in recruiting and getting the team bigger.”

Lance Stroll, Racing Point RP20

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

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