By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Racing Point are aiming for fourth place in the Formula One championship and have copied a winner to help them get there.
Their RP20 car was dubbed the ‘Pink Mercedes’ as soon as it broke cover, a near carbon-fibre copy of six times world champion Lewis Hamilton’s title-winning 2019 machine.
If some midfield rivals are unhappy with the similarities, McLaren boss Zak Brown referring to the team as ‘Copy Point’ while others preferred ‘Tracing Point’, then Racing Point principal Otmar Szafnauer says that’s just the way it is.
“We’re well within all the regulations,” he told Reuters as the car went through its paces in testing ahead of next week’s Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
“Who better to copy than Mercedes? We took pictures of their car but the design and development were totally our own.
“We’ve got some 125 people just working on aero.”
Previously, Racing Point — or Force India as they were before — copied Red Bull’s high-rake philosophy. But with a Mercedes engine, gearbox and rear suspension, this route became a conflict.
“We were always compromised, because we would run their (Mercedes) gearbox and their constraints on the rear as to what you could do with the rear suspension and a Red Bull philosophy aero,” said Szafnauer.
“We’ve always wanted to go away from it but it was only until now that we had the abundance of resource to be able to do it.”
Force India, co-owned by financially troubled Indian liquor baron Vijay Mallya, finished fourth in 2016 and 2017 but were so short of cash they went into administration in 2018.
The rebirth under Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll, who is now also the Aston Martin chairman after buying into the sportscar maker and whose son Lance drives for the team alongside Mexican Sergio Perez, transformed the situation.
Racing Point will become Aston Martin next year, when the sport is set for a major overhaul with a budget cap and new rules aimed at leveling the playing field. They are also building a new factory.
By being ‘fast followers’, Racing Point reckon they can have a car competitive enough to score solid points through the season while allowing an early switch in focus to 2021.
“Right now we’re 465 people and about mid-year we’re going to be over 500. The big teams are over 1,000,” said Szafnauer.
“It’s really hard with half the human resource to also innovate. So if… you’re limited by the amount of people you have, then you’ve got to be a fast follower.”
“We’ve got to do Aston Martin proud. We know that,” he added.
“So we’ve got a year to hire. I don’t like hiring people just for the sake of hiring people, we’ve got to hire the right people that allow us to innovate, to be at the front of the grid. It takes time.”
Szafnauer said it could be ultimately that 600 was the right size, and not 900.
“It’s not budget constraint. It’s how quickly can you hire the people, what do you need to be competitive and putting the structure in place… that will determine the number we need.”
The point at which development of the 2020 car ends and all the focus is directed to next year’s will be crucial for all competitors.
“The more competitive we are, the quicker we’ll switch over,” said Szafnauer. “The less competitive we are, the more we’ve got to catch up this year. We can’t throw this year away. We’ve got some expectations of this year.”
The team had to ensure also that the building of the new Silverstone factory did not prove a distraction.
“I haven’t seen many people in Formula One build a new factory without a dip in performance. So hopefully we’ll be the first,” said Szafnauer.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Ken Ferris)