During the Formula E qualifying round in Portland, Oregon, today, the DS Penske team was fined €25,000 after it surreptitiously installed an RFID scanner at the entrance to the pit, which the FIA stewards said could collect data from other race cars and give them an advantage. The team’s racers, Stoffel Vandoorne and Jean-Éric Vergne, were also hit with a pit lane start penalty for today’s race — meaning they will have to wait at the end of the pit lane until all of the other cars have driven past before entering the race.
The FIA Stewards explanation for the penalty was provided to The Verge via email:
The Stewards were advised by the Technical Delegate that the competitor had installed RFID scanning equipment in the pit lane entry this morning that was able to collect live data from all cars. Firstly, it is forbidden in general for competitors to install or place any equipment in the pit lane. Secondly, the collection of data by this method gives the competitor a lot of information, which is a huge and unfair advantage. Taking all the circumstances together, the Stewards feel that the given penalty is appropriate.
Vandoorne later said his team wasn’t “stealing data” — that the RFID scanner was used to see what tires other teams were using, adding that it’s normal for teams to use photographers in the pitlane for that purpose. His team “found a clever way, or an easy way,” and paid a big price (via Autosport).
RFID chips have been used in Formula E tires for the entirety of the still-young motorsport, primarily to track the condition of tires, including temperature and tire pressure, and encourage their efficient use, according to a 2014 article in Tyrepress.
For the 2023 season, Formula E has switched to a new “Gen 3” car design and a new tire manufacturer, going from Michelins to the Hankook iON. A Motorsport.com report from off-season testing discussed how much of a challenge that presented for the teams and a possible reason why attempting to glean data from the entire field was something Penske would even try.
For the 2022-2023 season, the series picked up a sponsorship from Hankook tires, which a report in Motorsport indicated presented challenges for the drivers, who had been used to the same Michelin tires for the previous 8 seasons.
Update June 27, 2023, 10:08AM PT: Updated to add comments from DS Penske’s Vandoorne.