The dispute over car copying in Formula 1 continues to gather pace as Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has warned any transfer of intellectual property to Aston Martin by former employees would be “a criminal offense.”
Aston Martin was investigated by the FIA after developing an upgrade package that was extremely similar in design to the Red Bull, but cleared of breaking any regulations around reverse engineering. However, Horner suggests there could have been a transfer of IP after multiple Red Bull team members were recruited by Aston Martin in recent months.
“It is no coincidence that a few individuals that have transferred from Red Bull to Aston Martin over the winter and during the early part of the season,” Horner told Sky Sports. “It was brought to our attention actually by the FIA earlier this week who said: ‘There is a car that looks remarkably like your car, can we have a list of your leavers?’ Of course that immediately raises alarm bells.
“What is permissible — we see it up and down the paddock, where individuals move from team to team after a ‘garden leave’ period — what they take in their head, that’s fair game. That’s their knowledge. What isn’t fair and what is totally unacceptable — which we wouldn’t accept — is if there has been any transfer of IP.
“I’m not going to disclose exactly where we are with certain individuals. It would be a criminal offense because IP is a team’s lifeblood, it’s what we invest millions and millions of pounds into. You wouldn’t want to see that turning up in a rival’s organization. Otherwise, we may as well franchise it — we may as well be able to sell aerodynamics.”
Horner says Red Bull will review its own security measures but believes the FIA needs to do more to look into how IP could have been accessed.
“We will have an internal investigation. We have got our own software protections — we know exactly what software is looked at and where that software is controlled. But it is the job of the regulator, the FIA, because they have the access and we rely very much on them to ensure that there is no transfer of IP and there has been no abuse of that. So it’s very much their job to police that.”
Although the FIA stated Aston Martin had satisfied the governing body that it didn’t reverse engineer the design, Horner says that was an obvious outcome because of the timeline for such a development and when the Red Bull concept first broke cover.
“The look of this wasn’t even realized until a month ago, so the work started well before that. The updates weren’t even seen by that point, so you haven’t reversed engineered it from a picture because it didn’t exist on our car. What we want to ensure is that no IP has in any way transferred between one organization and another, because that would be very much a breach of the rules.
“We will work with the FIA but, as the regulators, it is down to them. In reality, this is about the precedent that it sets. It’s not the biggest of issues for us unless Aston Martin start beating us. But for the teams in the midfield, it could have a material effect on them. The biggest thing for us is that we want to ensure that our IP is protected and hasn’t been abused.
“(The FIA) said that they followed the timeline and they are accepting of what Aston Martin have presented. Of course, if any evidence of foul play comes to light, it becomes a different issue.”