Haas F1 has faced criticism in the past weeks from McLaren and Force India after both teams claimed that Haas’ 2018 car, the VF-18, could be an illegal culmination of technical ideas originally pioneered by Ferrari, who Haas share a strong technical relationship with.
Formula 1’s sporting regulations clearly state that teams are not allowed to cooperate in the design of any aerodynamic surfaces.
But, following a strong showing from Haas during qualifying for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, where the Ferrari-powered outfit had both cars in Q3, McLaren and Force India both confessed to media their personal belief that Haas may have broken those regulations.
“All the aerodynamic surfaces have to be your own,” commented Otmar Szafnauer, Force India’s COO. McLaren’s Zak Brown said, “I don’t have any evidence,” but remained adamant that there are “certainly some parts of the [Haas] car that look very similar to last year’s [Ferrari] car.”
The first key area where there is a clear similarity between the VF-18 and SF70-H is the sidepods. When Ferrari released their 2017 car, they pioneered the sidepod area by placing the deformable safety structure outside the sidepod, which created two major intake areas, one on the front end of the sidepod, and one more on the top, nearer the cockpit.
However, Haas are not the only ones to introduce this dual-inlet design in 2018. Alfa Romeo-Sauber, a Ferrari power unit customer, have used this sidepod idea alongside Red Bull and Williams.
Though, the Haas and Ferrari similarities are not just limited to the sidepods. In fact, the front wing is another area of concern. Comparing the Ferrari SF70-H, Haas VF-18, and Mercedes W08, it’s clear that the Haas and Ferrari are very alike, despite the fact that by regulation, all three cars should be unique in their own way.
Another notable likeness between Ferrari and Haas is the design on the front wing main plane around the winglets. Mercedes opted for a symmetrical upward semi-circle to form the surface, whereas both Ferrari and Haas have a longer, more flowing design.
Lastly, the Haas VF-18’s barge boards have a shape very reminiscent of Ferrari’s SF70-H. At the start of 2018, Paddy Lowe revealed to Autosport that the 2017 regulations had allowed for a “new volume and new freedom in the bargeboard area.” Despite this apparent freedom, Haas seem to have simply copied the design originally pioneered by Ferrari.
This observation may be far more visual instead of structural than the other aforementioned examples.
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso was the first one to raise any of the issues with the VF-18 publicly, after he called the Haas chassis a “Ferrari replica” following Friday practice in Australia. It was only after the race that Force India and McLaren staff made their feelings clear to the media.
Haas have been quick to shut the rumors down, however. “I’m perfectly fine with how we do business,” commented Guenther Steiner, Haas’ Team Principal.
“We design our own aero, as per the regulations, and yes, we use mechanical parts from Ferrari, but everybody’s known that for the past two years,” he told Motorsport.com at the end of March.
Steiner was adamant that the accusations from Force India and McLaren were “based on no facts.”
Formula 1 Journalist Pablo Elizalde defended Haas’ approach to the 2018 season, writing in a recent article for Motorsport.com PRIME, “Haas has captalised perfectly on an opportunity that existed in the rulebook.”
Elizalde’s approach is simple; Force India and McLaren are annoyed because the business model used by Haas is more effective and successful and would cause teams like themselves a “great deal of pain” to switch to the same efficient model.
As Elizalde pointed out, there is nothing preventing current privateers from approaching a team such as Mercedes and forming a similar technical relationship to that of Haas and Ferrari.
The one thing that all parties have agreed on, however, is that there is no clear evidence to show that Haas have broken Formula 1 regulation. Although there are certainly similarities between the VF-18 and the SF70-H, even McLaren’s Zak Brown admitted, “I don’t have any evidence.”
As Guenther Steiner said on the topic: “Everybody is allowed to have an opinion.” The next few months of Haas developments promises to raise many important questions.
Will the VF-18 continue to be inspired by the SF70-H? Will Haas keep their strong pace up? And lastly and most important, will this opinion develop into any hard facts?