Mercedes AMG F1 to start a new team?

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Mercedes AMG F1 has sent 54 questions to the FIA Technical Director, Charlie Whiting relating to the provision for existing teams to assist incoming teams with development, including parts, expertise and aerodynamic assistance through wind tunnels and Computer Fluid Dynamics (CFD). The matter has been referred to the Stewards who are set to deliver a response prior to the start of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix later today.

While not making any accusations, Mercedes is seeking clarification regarding the type of arrangement between Scuderia Ferrari and Haas F1 Team, which will join the grid in 2016.

Ferrari has provided high levels of support to Haas, such as expertise from its personnel, power units, parts, and use of Ferrari’s wind tunnel and CFD resources, the latter 2 of which have resource restrictions in place as part of the “formula”. This close cooperation has led to Haas openly referred to as a Ferrari B-team.

The rules of Formula 1 have never been interpreted by the teams by the spirit of the regulations, but rather to be exploited to gain any advantage without breaking the letter of the law. The rules limit the level of support that a team can provide to a current competitor, which Haas will not be until they join the championship in 2016. Until that time, Haas is unrestricted in their aero development, which Ferrari is alleged to have learned a lot from, perhaps conducting their own development through Haas, leading to the drastic improvement of Ferrari in 2015, which would also lead into any improvements in 2016, which other teams can not legally match.

Have Ferrari found a loophole allowing virtually unlimited aerodynamic development? If continued to be allowed, this will result in a new F1 arms race, leading to a new cost blowout and the arrival of new teams. The grid has been a bit anaemic with the loss of several teams over recent years, and this would be an interesting way to replenish the grid, rather than potentially triggering the third car rule should there be a further reduction in teams.

Surely such a loophole would have to be closed as it would lead to an unfair advantage to those who could afford to run a B-Team, which would realistically be limited to Ferrari and Mercedes.

Mercedes are currently weak on their Mercedes Young Driver Program in comparison to the Ferrari Driver Academy. Mercedes don’t even have a website for their program. Ferrari has been able to develop drivers such as Sergio Perez (Force India F1) and the late Jules Bianchi (Marusia F1 Team), along with their F1 development driver Esteban Gutierrez, who they were influential in his signing to Haas F1 for the 2016 Formula 1 grid.

Esteban Gutierrez-2

Ferrari development driver and 2016 Haas F1 driver, Esteban Gutierrez. Source: Scuderia Ferrari.

Meanwhile, Mercedes have 2015 DTM Champion Pascal Wherlein as their F1 reserve and development driver, although they have supported him through testing duties for Mercedes and engine customer team Force India, they have yet to place him in a race seat, with Manor still a possibility for 2016 when they will switch to Mercedes power units.

Pascal Wherlein

Mercedes F1 test driver and 2015 DTM Champion, Pascal Wherlein. Source: Mercedes AMG F1.

Mercedes were previously negotiating with Max Verstappen to join their young driver program for 2015, although without a seat to place him in Verstappen instead took up Red Bull’s offer to join theirs, including a race seat in Torro Rosso for 2015. Unable to compete with such an offer, Mercedes lost a great talent who is tipped to become a future world champion.

Even Mercedes F1 driver and 3 times world champion Lewis Hamilton came up through the McLaren Young Driver Development Programme, although with some support from Mercedes, which didn’t have an F1 team of their own at the time.

This makes two key arguments as to why Mercedes could start a B-team, firstly to take advantage of unlimited wind tunnel and CFD aerodynamic testing and development in the lead up to the major changes that are coming in 2017, and so Ferrari don’t continue to use the same plan to catch up and gain an advantage over them. Secondly, to have an enhanced young driver program with a path to F1. Through this Mercedes could build up Pascal Wherlein as a future Mercedes F1 driver, and to be able to better compete for Max Verstappen like talent in the future.

max-verstappen-to-drive-for-toro-rosso-in-2015-announcement

Max Verstappen – Lost to Torro Rosso. Source: Red Bull Racing

If the FIA doesn’t soon block such a B-team creation approach, Mercedes may have a second mover advantage over Ferrari, due to Haas F1 launching within the current formula, which Ferrari would have been focussing their development efforts for with Haas. Although this has helped them bridge the gap to Mercedes, they wont have this advantage to exploit for 2017 formula development (unless they’ve managed to get some of this in already).

If the FIA clarify that arrangements like that between Ferrari and Haas are completely legitimate, watch out for an announcement from Mercedes of a new F1 team (with a 2 year launch time frame) and an enhanced young driver development program.

 

 

Further reading:

Mercedes warns of F1 ‘arms race’ if rules queries aren’t clarified
Autosport.com, Lawrence Barretto and Ben Anderson, 28 November 2015.

Mercedes seeks rule clarifications on F1 listed parts/aero testing
Autosport.com, Ian Parkes, 28 November 2015.

Mercedes seeks FIA clarification over Ferrari/Haas partnership
Crash.net, 28 November 2015.

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