Racing Point: Who better to copy than Mercedes?

Racing Point are aiming for fourth place in the Formula 1 World Championship and have copied a winning package to help them achieve their goal and perhaps even an occasional visit to the podium if preseason form is anything to go by.

After a challenging 2019 season, their drivers Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll rarely cracked a smile as they toiled at the wrong end of the grid with a troublesome first race car for the new owners, but that all changed during testing in Barcelona last month when the lads in pink could not stop the big grins.

The Racing Point RP20 is a handy car no doubt and was dubbed the ‘Pink Mercedes’ as soon as it broke cover ahead of testing, a near carbon-fibre copy of six times F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton’s 2019 title-winning Mercedes W10.

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,” explained Szafnauer.

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 levelling 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 years 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 F1 build a new factory without a dip in performance. So hopefully we’ll be the first,” said Szafnauer.