Renault Disqualified From The Japanese Grand Prix Over A Not-Totally-Illegal Braking Device

Photo: Mark Thompson (Getty)

After almost a week and a half of deliberation, the FIA has decided that both of Renault F1 Teams’ cars should be disqualified from the Japanese Grand Prix. The reason? A braking device on the car that wasn’t totally illegal was determined to be personally offensive to the FIA, who did not like it and decided to ban it.

If you’re confused, you’re not the only one! So let’s break this down in a way that is slightly easier to understand.

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The problem here was a brake bias adjustment system used by both Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg. Every car has a brake bias adjustment system that helps determine the split between front and rear brake force. Basically, it keeps cars from locking up.

However, this system has to be controlled by the driver via a button on the steering wheel. After reviewing onboard footage of the Renaults, rival team Racing Point petitioned the FIA that Renault’s brake bias was automatically changing without any driver input. That would put Renault in breach of Article 27.1 of the sporting regulations that ban driver aids.

The FIA’s technical department impounded Renault’s steering wheels and electronic control units after the Japanese GP, with more evidence being submitted by both teams via email.

Here’s the ultimatum from the FIA:

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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Sounds pretty cut-and-dry, right? Renault didn’t do anything wrong! So why are they getting disqualified?

That, my friends, is where the FIA gets you. You have to keep reading to find out:

5. However, although legal under the FIA Formula 1 Technical Regulations, as noted above, the Stewards find the Renault system constitutes a driver aid and is, therefore, not in compliance with Article 27.1 FIA Formula 1 Sporting Regulations, which requires the driver to drive the car alone and unaided.

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Haha... what?

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 one that there is a clear distinction between this system and one which provides actual feedback control, which would be a substitute for driver skills or reflexes. Nevertheless, it is still an aid and, therefore, contravenes Article 27.1.

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Just to clarify here: the FIA has simultaneously ruled that Renault’s brake bias system is both a driver aid and not a driver aid.

In my eyes, it sounds like Renault exploited a loophole in the regulations and came up with something cool and clever that the FIA has now decided is retroactively illegal in order to... I don’t know. Exert their dictatorial power over a midfield racing team? Prove that no one can outsmart them, actually? Who knows. All I can tell is, it sounds like a hot pile of garbage.

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Of course, actual details regarding the braking system have not been released publicly, so there could be something there that throws a monkey wrench into my assessment of the situation. But given that the FIA itself still claims Renault didn’t actually break a rule so much as find a way around it, I can confidently claim the FIA is being really really absurd right now. And it’s a huge blow to a team that has been struggling on track all season.

Renault had the chance to appeal the penalty up until early this morning but have decided not to do so. But what I do know is that the Drive to Survive episode covering this whole fiasco is going to be, as the kids say, lit.

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About the author

Elizabeth Blackstock

Staff writer. Motorsport fanatic. Proud owner of a 2013 Mazda 2.