Updated: May 23
Has Aston Martin done it again? Why there are all sorts of drama over the latest Aston Martin upgrades that dubbed them the "Green Red Bull"
The Spanish Grand Prix was set to be the first major upgrade weekend of the season for teams up and down the grid. Having run a pre-season testing/ shakedown weekend there this season, it represented an opportunity to compare datasets with the old and new parts directly. A critical test for every team's understanding of the cars they built for the new 2022 ruleset and the development direction they have chosen.
A number of major upgrades were brought forward, including a major update from Mercedes aimed at solving their proposing issues, however, none managed to quite capture the attention that Lawrence Stroll's Cognizant - Aston Martin F1 Team did.
Why? Well... it appears at first glance that they had copied much of Red Bull's aero strategy with parts that appear almost identical. This wouldn't be out of place for Aston Martin, the team that ran the car dubbed the "Pink Mercedes" in 2020-2021, directly copying much of the previous year's double world championship winning car, and received a significant fine for doing so. Copying of parts and approaches is not a new thing in Formula 1, almost every generation of car design eventually converges as the aerodynamic principles are better understood and engineers notice what is working across the grid.
The new 2022 F1 regulations have been quite clear on the legality of copying parts: saying that photos can be used, but 3D scanning, transfer of data, and direct 3D recreation from photos have been outlawed. But this doesn't forbid the teams from using photos to guide their own development and reaching the same aerodynamic ideas as others. The FIA requires that teams submit data on their parts as part of this new process to ensure that nothing sketchy is happening. It's important to note that the FIA cleared Aston Martin as part of this process, in which an investigation was triggered due to the similarity of the upgrades to the Red Bulls concept, by proving that the development trail of the upgrades all the way back to wind tunnel testing in November.
However, Red Bull's team principal Christian Horner has raised his hand wondering how it is possible that they could have had such a distinctly similar concept in testing, even before the Red Bull concept had been publically unveiled publically. At its core, the issue stems from Aston Martin's acquisition of several Red Bull engineers as they were building up their team following Lawrence Stroll's acquisition. The most notable addition, Dan Fallows, was a lead aerodynamic engineer at Red Bull and had direct knowledge and input into the design that Red Bull was developing for the new 2022 ruleset. Fellows was allowed to join the Aston Martin team in April after a lengthy court battle over the "Gardening Leave" portion of his contract. So it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility that once Dan joined the team, he could recreate much of what Aston Martin brought to Barcelona, and that would in all probability not step foul of the rules.
But, as Aston Martin showed in the data to the FIA, the concept was in testing as far back as November, which is why Red Bull, Christian Horner, and Marko Helmut are raising a stink.
If in fact, an eerily similar concept was in testing back in November, long before Dan Fallows was allowed to bring his knowledge to Aston Martin, did something outside the rules happen? With so much freedom in design direction, how does one team come up with something that seemingly is an almost exact replica of another without knowing they were doing so? Possible, yes. Probable? Maybe not. At least as far as Red Bull is concerned.
So far there has been no actual evidence that Dan Fallows, or any other former Red Bull employee with insider knowledge, provided Aston Martin with data, direction, or influence outside of what the rules allow. As always though there is a twist, Helmet Marko was quoted as saying that there is in fact evidence of data transfer, with Christian implying that a transfer of data would not only be running afoul of F1 regulations but also could be criminal intellectual property theft. Marko has a history of making wild comments with little to back it up, but only time, the FIA investigation, and an internal Red Bull investigation will tell.
If anything it provided an epic opportunity for memes on Reddit's FormulaDank, and some top-tier trolling from the Red Bull pit wall with everyone, including Christian Horner and lead designer Adrian Newey drinking from Red Bull's Green flavored cans.