Horner warns Aston Martin engineer he might have committed a ‘criminal offence’ after ‘green Red Bull’ emerges

Aston Martin have been cleared of any wrong doing by the FIA amid their new sidepod design.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horne has no problem with engineers going to other teams and giving them the expertise they have acquired at the Milton Keynes factory, but warns that he will not “accept” any transfer of intellectual property.

Aston Martin showed up to the Spanish Grand Prix this weekend with sidepods that looked remarkably similar to those of Red Bull, but they affirmed that they started making the new design of their car in November.

Following a short investigation, the FIA ruled that no rules had been breached, but the team has developed an unfortunate reputation having been found guilty of intimately copying the 2019 Mercedes in 2020.

READ: Red Bull to bring further upgrades after Spain but Horner admits Ferrari could have the edge at Monaco

Red Bull lost Dan Fallows to Aston Martin over the winter, and the Briton had been a crucial part of their aerodynamics department for 16 years prior to his departure.

Horner believes that the poaching of employees might well be linked to this controversy, and reveals that he was notified by the FIA of the similarities earlier this week.

“Imitation is the biggest form of flattery at the end of the day,” he said.

“It’s no coincidence that we’ve had a few individuals who have transferred from Red Bull to Aston Martin over the winter and the early part of this season.

“It was actually brought to our attention earlier in the week by the FIA who said ‘We’ve got a car that looks remarkably like yours. Can we have a list of your leavers to see where they went’. Of course, that immediately raises alarm bells.

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“Now what is permissible, we see it up and down the paddock, is individuals moving 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 at all.”

The 48-year-old did not wish to point the finger at Aston Martin, but he warned that data theft is a “criminal offence.”

“I’m not going to disclose exactly where we are with certain individuals “[but] It would be a criminal offence,” he explained.

“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 organisation, otherwise we may as well franchise it, [and] be able to sell aerodynamics.

“We will have an internal investigation, we’ve got our own software protections. We know exactly what software is looked at, where that software is controlled.

“But I think that it’s the job of the regulator, the FIA, because they have the access and we rely on them to ensure there is no transfer of IP, that there has been no abuse of that. It’s very much their job to go and police that.

“[So far] They’ve followed a timeline and they’re accepting of what Aston Martin has presented here.

“Of course, if any evidence of foul play came to light then it becomes a different issue.”

The Briton revealed that the team intend to maintain a dialogue with the FIA around the issue, and pointed out that it is unfair on other teams in the midfield if Aston Martin beat them with an illegal car.

“We will work with the FIA. As the regulator, it’s down to them,” said Horner.

“In reality, it’s the precedent it sets. It’s not the biggest of issues for us unless Aston Martin starts beating us.

“But for the teams that are in that midfield, it could have a material effect on them.

“The biggest thing for us that we want to ensure is our IP is protected and hasn’t been abused because that would very much be a breach of the rules.”

While looking at another chassis and taking inspiration from it is not illegal, taking documents from another team and using their design philosophy certainly is, as McLaren discovered in 2007.

The Austrian believes that there is “evidence” of data theft amid Aston Martin’s poaching of several Red Bull employees.

“You have to take into account that seven people were poached from us and that our chief aerodynamics specialist was drawn to Aston Martin for a disproportionately high fee,” he explained.

READ: Wolff hoping for ‘mini milestone’ at 2022 Spanish Grand Prix

“There are still some facts which we are examining. We will investigate the matter in detail.

“There is evidence that data was downloaded. Copying is not strictly forbidden but can you copy without documents and then get such a detailed copy of our car?”

The 79-year-old also questioned whether Aston Martin will eventually be in breach of the circa $140 million cost cap this year due to the salary they are paying Fallows.

“The sums that are used here are incomprehensible,” added Dr Marko.

“Also in connection with the cost cap, if an aerodynamics specialist suddenly earns so much more, how is it supposed to work out overall?”

For now at least, Aston Martin are not in breach of any rules, but this is a debate that is set to rage on far beyond the Spanish Grand Prix weekend.