Renaults disqualified from Japanese GP over illegal braking aid

Renault has had both its cars disqualified from the Japanese Grand Prix for using an illegal driver aid.

Following a protest lodged by the Racing Point team, the FIA stewards held a teleconference hearing on Wednesday to evaluate whether a brake bias adjustment system used by Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg in Suzuka was legal.

In the end, while the stewards believed that the secret system was not in contravention of F1’s technical regulations, they did feel that it was a driver aid. As a result Ricciardo and Hulkenberg have been stripped of their sixth and ninth placed finishes.

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Racing Point’s protest was based on claims that it believed a pre-set lap distance dependent brake bias adjustment system was in breach of a number of F1’s regulations. FIA documents revealed the suggestions had originally been made by an ex-Renault employee.

The Silverstone-based team argued the system was against Article 27.1 of F1’s sporting regulations which demand a driver drives the car alone and unaided. Plus it felt it breached Articles 11.1.3, 11.1.4 and 8.6.3 of the technical regulations that outlaw powered devices which alter brake balance, or any system not controlled by the driver.

Renault insisted that its brake bias adjustment system did not use a lap distance trigger, and was within the technical regulations. It offered full details of the system to the FIA, but these have been kept confidential and have not been revealed in public.

Following the teleconference hearing between the Japanese GP stewards, it was concluded that Renault’s secret system did comply with the technical regulations.

The stewards found that...

1. The rear brake controller software used by Renault is an integral part of the control system referred to in Article 11.9 FIA Formula One Technical Regulations. As such, it is used in compliance with Article 11.1.3 and 11.1.4 of the FIA Formula One Technical Regulations.

2. The described control system is not pre-set, lap distance-dependent as alleged.

3. Renault drivers use buttons mounted on the steering wheel to control brake balance in compliance with Article 8.6.3 FIA Formula One Technical Regulations. These are connected to the FIA Standard ECU.

4. Given the above, the Stewards conclude that while Renault used innovative solutions to exploit certain ambiguities in the Technical Regulations and other supporting documents, their system does not breach any current Technical Regulation.

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However, despite being clear that the system was in line with the technical rules, the stewards felt that the device was an illegal driver aid.

They added: “The brake balance adjustment system in question acts as a driver aid, by saving the driver from having to make a number of adjustments during a lap. 

“The Stewards note that there is a clear distinction between this system and one which provides actual feedback control, which could be a substitute for driver skills or reflexes. Nevertheless, it is still an aid and, therefore, contravenes Article 27.1 FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations.”

The decision was taken to disqualify Ricciardo and Hulkenberg from the Suzuka race, because it was felt that they had gained an advantage from the system.

Because of the unique nature of the hearing, an extended deadline has been proposed should Renault decide to appeal the penalty. It has until 10am local time in Mexico on Thursday to notify the FIA of its intent to appeal if it wishes to do so.

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