Renault disqualified from Japanese GP due to illegal driver aid

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Japan, Circuit Suzukajp

The Renault F1 team have been found guilty of implementing and using an illegal driver aid in their cars. The stewards decided in today's hearing in Geneva that both Renault cars are disqualified from the Japanese GP results.

On October 13, 2019, after the Japanese Grand Prix was held at Suzuka, a protest was filed by SporPesa Racing Point F1 Team. Racing Point claimed Renault was using a pre-set, automated brake bias system that does not comply with the technical regulations.

After the protest was considered admissible, the sealed FIA standard electronic control units and Renault's steering wheels were impounded to conduct a thorough investigation in preparation for another hearing. Renault subsequently submitted further documents to defend their system.

The FIA Technical Department carried out an analysis of Renault's software and data and reviewed the submissions from both involved teams. They filed their report to the stewards, dealing with Renault's different software versions, rear brake controller and FIA standard ECU.

Claims from Racing Point

In essence, Racing Point had seen on onboard video footage that brake bias was changing without driver input. They thus concluded that this bias must have been pre-set, which could be in breach of articles 11.1.3, 11.1.4 and 8.6.3 (prohibition of powered devices altering the brake balance; brake system changes to be made solely by driver physical input; driving controls only affected by driver actions).

Renault's defence

Renault on the other hand contended:

  • it is not using a lap distance-dependent brake bias adjustment system.
  • The brake balance indicated on the steering wheel may change due to the operation of a specific Renault system (information provided to the stewards, but not shared with Racing Point due to the intellectual property contained therein)
  • Video evidence is not conclusive, though the team did not dispute the possibility of changing the brake bias without the driver's physical input.

Renault also claimed that Racing Point was only speculating of such a system based on allegations from a former Renault employee "who was not aware of all the pertinent details of Renault's brake control system".

Steward findings

The stewards examined the report provided by the experts, along with data presented by the teams. They agreed that:

  • The contested brake control system is not pre-set, lap distance-depended as alleged.
  • Renault drivers use buttons mounted on the steering wheel to control brake balance, in compliance with Article 8.6.3 of the technical regulations. These are connected to the FIA standard ECU.
  • Given the above, it was found Renault uses innovative solutions to exploit certain ambiguities in the Technical Regulations, but in essence, their system does not breach any current regulation.
  • However, the stewards found the Renault system constitutes a driver aid and is, therefore, not in compliance with Article 27.1 of the FIA Sporting Regulations, which requires a driver to drive a car unaided. The automatic brake balance adjustment system acts as a driver aid, as it prevents the driver from having to make a number of adjustments himself during a lap.

Based on these findings, the stewards have disqualified both cars #3 and #27 from the results of the Japanese Grand Prix. It is acknowledged this penalty is more severe than with other recent breaches against this regulation, but after evaluating the relative gains, it was found to be a justified penalty.

Renault thereby loses a 6th place finish for Ricciardo and 10th for Nico Hulkenberg. The team is entitled to appeal the decision until 10:00 local time at Mexico City, on October 24, 2019.