What are the exact rules every F1 team must abide by when it comes to sharing components with customers or ‘B-teams’?
‘Technical partnerships’ between F1 teams have become de rigeur over the past two decades, with the sale and supply of components and technology now an accepted part of the sport.
But, with such arrangements coming under more intense scrutiny recently as a result of Red Bull and their sister team, soon-to-be-renamed AlphaTauri, collaborating more closely in 2024, just what do the F1 regulations actually permit as shareable?
F1 components sharing becomes normalised
Customer cars were once a big thing in F1, with privateer teams frequently showing up to participate with cars bought from bigger players like Ferrari or Lotus.
But these arrangements were effectively outlawed through the original Concorde Agreement of 1981, with rare examples of technology sales including Simtek running a 1994 Benetton gearbox in exchange for having Jos Verstappen as a racing driver for 1995.
It was the 2009 Concorde Agreement that signed off on the exact definitions of components and what every team needed to manufacture itself in order to be considered a constructor.
In 2009, Force India – as a small and lesser-resourced team – opted to buy a technical partnership role with McLaren-Mercedes. Starting that season, the first of the new aerodynamic regulations and the first season to run hybrid engine components through the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS), Force India bought engines, gearboxes, and hydraulics from the then-works Mercedes team.
That initial five-year deal gave way to an agreement solely with Mercedes from 2014 onward, and it’s a deal that has stood the now-Aston Martin team in good stead as they still use Mercedes power units and gearboxes.
Of course, such ideas led to it becoming normal across the grid. Smaller teams like Caterham, Virgin, and HRT all signed technical deals with bigger teams – with Red Bull, McLaren, and Williams, respectively.
Haas’ arrival onto the grid in 2016 resulted in the rules being brought into sharp focus again, with the American team entering into a technical partnership with Italian manufacturer Dallara for their chassis, as well as buying drivetrain and engine components from Ferrari.
Back then, listed parts (ie. those a team had to design itself) included the monocoque and survival cell, crash structures, bodywork (with a few exceptions), wings, floors, and diffusers.
We’ll delve into what’s permitted for sharing/purchase and what isn’t in a moment, but the parts that must still be designed by a team include the survival cells and primary roll structures, and all aero componentry. To that end, it’s in aerodynamic design where a team can still make the biggest difference relative to their suppliers.
It’s somewhat ironic that McLaren, whose CEO Zak Brown has made very public his discomfort with the synergy between Red Bull and AlphaTauri, was very much the catalyst for such arrangements becoming normalised in modern F1.
Indeed, McLaren currently has no such technical arrangements and then team boss Andreas Seidl has admitted that such agreements between teams are difficult to police.
“It’s clear that, in Formula 1, the maximum that you should be allowed to share is the power unit and the gearbox internals,” he said.
“That’s it, there should be no sharing of any infrastructure and so on because, as soon as you allow that, IP transfer is happening on the car side.
“We know from the FIA that it’s difficult to police, and if something is not possible to police then you need to ban it. For two reasons: because it makes B teams overly competitive compared to teams like us; and at the same time the A teams are also benefitting from this, which is even more worrying for us.”
Even more awkward is the likelihood of political alignments between suppliers and customers, which can lead to the customers having to ‘toe the line’ and show support for the interests of their suppliers.
With Red Bull boss Christian Horner outlining how, with AlphaTauri having the same shareholders as Red Bull, the Italian squad are fundamentally customers of Red Bull Racing, Zak Brown is eager to see IP sharing become a area that is more tightly controlled in the future.
“I’d like to effectively make sure that, as the constructors, everyone develops their own IP [Intellectual Property],” he said.
“That’s what a constructor is, that’s one of the big areas in which we are remunerated, and so sharing of parts and sharing of IP, which is legal in some elements, needs to come to an end and come to an end quickly.
“There will be some other teams that have a different view, but I think those teams are in the minority. I think the majority of the teams would agree with everything I’ve just said.”
What is and isn’t permitted under the F1 regulations for 2024?
Much has been made of the fact that Red Bull and AlphaTauri will share a lot more common ground in 2024. While Red Bull has risen to become F1’s dominant force in recent seasons, sister team AlphaTauri has slipped right to the back of the pack.
With former team boss Franz Tost retiring, Red Bull is taking the opportunity to re-align their other team with a rebrand, new sponsors, new management in the form of CEO Peter Bayer and team boss Laurent Mekies, and much more technological synergy.
AlphaTauri very much operated as an independent outfit from their factory in Faenza, with any question marks over how closely they and Red Bull collaborated easily answered by pointing to their respective performance levels.
It wasn’t until the rear suspension design of the RB19 was added to AlphaTauri’s AT04 that the performance of the sister team began to improve, and the small Italian team will be utilising far more of Red Bull’s developments for 2024.
Looking through the 2024 F1 Technical Regulations, components are grouped into four categories under Article 17.2 – these categories dictate where each component can be sourced from, or whether it has to be designed in-house or by an exclusive supplier.
These are listed team components (LTC), transferrable components (TRC), standard supply components (SSC), and open source components (OSC).
Listed Team Components (LTC):
These components are the ones for which a team is fully responsible for design or sourcing. This can be done in-house, or via an external agent (albeit not another F1 competitor), but the team must hold the copyright for it.
For instance, this is how Haas operates with Dallara for work on their chassis every year.
The designs of these parts must be bespoke for the team using them, with the definition including that “it is permissible to be influenced by the design of the concept of a competitor’s LTC.”
But while inspiration can be drawn from other team’s designs, reverse engineering is not permitted. To that end, teams can use photographs to help devise their own designs, but can’t use software on photos and images to extrapolate the geometry or mechanics of the components.
This also includes other techniques that could be used to help map out the components, such as stereophotogrammetry or surface scanning.
Components within this category include the survival cell and primary roll structure, the front impact structure, aerodynamic components (unless said component is grouped differently), the plank, the fuel bladder, and the wheel drum & drum deflector.
Standard Supply Components (SSC)
This one is fairly straightforward – these are the parts that are uniform across all the teams and are designed and manufactured by a supplier selected by the FIA following a tendering process.
These parts are usually regarded as being unimportant in terms of the performance differentiation a team can possibly get from running their own design, and help to reduce costs across the board as teams no longer need to come up with their own versions.
The parts must be used in the configuration they are supplied in, and must not be altered or modified in any way beyond usage parameters outlined through the supply agreement.
Obvious examples of spec parts are the tyres, standard ECUs (each team uses an ECU supplied by McLaren Applied Technologies), fuel-flow metres, wheel covers and tyre pressure sensors.
Other examples include voltage sensors, car-to-team telemetry units, car radios, cameras, transponders, rear lights, and wheel display panels.
Open Source Components (OSC)
Introduced at the start of 2022, open source components are those whose design and IP are made available for all the teams, in a similar idea to that of standard supply.
But while SSC parts are supplied to the teams, OSC parts require the teams to upload their design specs – and modifications – to a central FIA server. Every team will have access to this, and the uploads must be done before the component is first used on track.
If a team fancies the look of a design, they can take it and modify it as they wish – such modifications also being required to be uploaded for everyone.
Every team assumes sole responsibility for how they operate and install these parts, but are also required to share information on any issues that arise from using any design.
OSCs are also permissible to share across competitors directly, with examples of the parts with this classification including the front floor structure, car pedals, driveshafts, axles (front and rear), DRS, the fuel system and collector, brakes (discs, pads, calipers, brake-by-wire, master cylinder), steering column and steering wheel, and even onboard fire extinguishers and the driver’s drinking system.
Transferrable Components (TRC)
This is the big one – the transferrable components that competitors are allowed to share or purchase under agreements.
Aside from power unit supply agreements, agreements such as gearboxes and rear suspensions (such as the aforementioned AlphaTauri/RB19 arrangement) are covered under this classification.
There are umpteen components listed in the Technical Regulations, all of which are permitted to be used by customer teams.
The supplier must “own and/or control all rights, information and/or data of any nature (including all aspects of the design, manufacturing, know-how, operating procedures, properties and calibrations).”
TRC parts supplied to another team must be identical in every way, although modifications to the design are permitted – this is to ensure teams don’t design bespoke components specifically for the customer.
Suppliers must also give customers all the relevant costings and financial information on the manufacturing/logistics of the supply, as the Financial Regulations outline these parts must be granted a “fair value” for accounting purposes under the budget cap.
The following components, outlined in Appendix 5 of the Technical Regulations, are granted transferrable status and thus can be sold/shared by supplier teams to their customers.
Clutch actuation system
Exhaust system beyond turbine and wastegate exits
Front suspension members
Front upright assembly
Front axles and bearings
Fuel system components (that are not listed as OSC, SSC, or LTC)
Gearbox auxiliary components (such as the oil system or reverse gear)
Hydraulic pump and accumulator
Hydraulic manifold sensors and control valves
Inboard front suspension
Inboard rear suspension
Pipes between hydraulic pump, hydraulic manifold & gearbox or engine actuators
Power unit mountings to the gearbox and survival cell
Rear impact structure
Rear suspension members
Rear upright assembly
Rear axles and bearings
Secondary heat exchanger