Formula E

"Huge & unfair advantage" - DS Penske gets severe penalties ahead of Formula E race in Portland following data scanner affair

Tobias Wirtz

Tobias Wirtz

Big news at the Portland E-Prix: Right before the start of Formula E's qualifying session on Saturday, the FIA stewards announced that Stoffel Vandoorne and Jean-Eric Vergne would have to start the race from the pit lane. In addition, DS Penske received a hefty fine of 25,000 Euro. The reason is a misconduct of the team, as it has probably never experienced the race series before.

What happened?

Saturday morning in Portland: Laurent Arnaud, the FIA's technical delegate, informs the stewards about an incident that was observed in the pit lane. DS Penske employees had installed an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) scanner for contactless data reading in the pit lane entrance. With this the team was able to read out in real time data of all vehicles that drove into the pit lane.

This meant that DS Penske always knew which driver was currently using which set of tyres. The evaluation of this data in conjunction with the lap times and the number of laps a driver had completed with the set of tyres allowed the team to draw conclusions about the tyre wear of competitors, for example.

In an amended version of the official document, however, the race commissioners deleted the reference to tyres: it is therefore suspected that, in addition to tyre information, it may have been possible to read other data from the vehicles through the RFID scanners too.

What penalty was given?

The stewards handed out a fine of 25,000 Euro - one of the highest in the history of Formula E. In addition, the team's two drivers, Stoffel Vandoorne and Jean-Eric Vergne, have to start the race from the pit lane. They thus lost their good starting positions: 6th place for Vergne, 10th place for Vandoorne.

Which rules were broken?

The stewards investigated the incident and found several rules had been breached: article 8.9 of the Technical Regulations, articles 23.11 and 30.25 of the Sporting Regulations, and article 12.2.1.l of the FIA International Sporting Code. The first prohibits teams from using telemetry of any kind that is not under the direct control of the FIA. Telemetry is the automated measurement and transmission of data from remote sources.

According to Article 23.11 of the Sporting Regulations, teams are only allowed to use equipment in the pit lane that is used to cool the cars or change the comfort of the driver, or that is used when changing tires. Article 30.25 even explicitly prohibits teams from installing equipment in the pit lane, on the track or in the surrounding area (walls, fences or TecPro barriers).

Finally, Article 12.2.1.l of the International Sporting Code defines a fundamental rule violation in motorsport as "any breach of the principles of fairness in competition, unsportsmanlike conduct or an attempt to influence the outcome of a competition in a manner contrary to sporting ethics."

How was the penalty justified?

The stewards gave two justifications for the harsh penalty. First, they said, teams are generally prohibited from installing or placing equipment in the pit lane. Secondly, collecting data in this way gives the team a great deal of information, which is "a huge and unfair advantage". Considering all the circumstances, they felt that the penalty imposed was appropriate.

How did the paddock react to the incident?

According to information from e-Formula.news, it was reported from the team's environment that they had only wanted to gather information about the tyres and not gain a performance advantage. In addition, there had been a different interpretation of what was allowed and what was not.

According to our colleagues at The Race, two high-level team officials from competitors, who asked not to be named, said they thought the penalty was lenient. One even described DS Penske's offense as "out and out cheating."

Jean-Eric Vergne: "Read so many unfair comments"

Jean-Eric Vergne, on the other hand, defended his team on Twitter: "I've read so many unfair comments about the decision that lead us to start last for the Portland race."

"'My team had installed RFID scanning equipement in the pit lane entry that was able to collect live data from all cars'. This is completely wrong, with that system we merely read the serial number of the tyres in order for us to know what tyres are being used by others. Something any team can do (and surely does) by taking photos. This information in all other categories is in any way given."

"But we never had access to any kind of live data from other teams. We never had pressure, temperatures, or anything else. I stand by my team, we accept the decision as having this machine in the first place was not allowed. In no case this can be considered as what we are being described."

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