The Haas Formula One team says it has launched a protest against rivals Force India at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in a bid to seek 'equality' over a long-running prize money dispute.
The protest hearing took place in Abu Dhabi on Friday and the race stewards are currently deliberating over the evidence ahead of a decision before final practice on Saturday. The exact details of the protest have not been made public but it is believed to be linked to Force India's change of ownership over the summer and, ultimately, its claim to a strand of prize money from F1's revenues.
When Force India was rescued from administration in August, it entered Formula One as a new entity known as Racing Point Force India. The new team had to sacrifice all the points earned by Sahara Force India in the first half of the season, but it was allowed to continue racing with the same car and, significantly, did not lose its claim over its 'Column 1' prize money -- a share of F1's revenues which teams qualify for as long as they have finished two of the previous three constructors' championships in the top ten.
Haas has argued that, as a new team, Racing Point Force India should have forfeited its right to Column 1 money as Haas did not receive any Column 1 money for the first two years of its time in Formula One. Team principal Guenther Steiner claims his team raised the issue with both F1 and the FIA after Racing Point Force India joined the grid, but without a clear answer on the subject, was forced to launch a protest at the final race as a last resort.
Certain parts of a Formula One car, known as listed parts, cannot be shared between teams and it could be argued that the current Racing Point Force India car was designed and produced by the previous incarnation of the team. If that is found to be the case by the stewards it could result in disqualification or simply help bolster Haas' argument that Racing Point Force India should not qualify for Column 1 money.
Speaking on Friday night, Steiner would not confirm the exact details of the protest but said the outcome was aimed at gaining "equality" for F1 teams and setting a precedent for the future.
"I don't want to go into detail," he said, "but I will try to speak with you and then avoid any more questions because I cannot speak too much. What we are seeking for is equality for all the teams.
"We came into Formula One under certain circumstances, we were aware of what we have to do, we did it all, and we feel that this was not done this time with Force India -- so we are just seeking quality or at least an explanation why it isn't done.
"The problem is maybe bigger than Force India, but we are just seeking that everybody is treated equally. That is the only thing we are seeking. We are not trying to get more. We are just trying to make sure that everybody in this position in the future knows what he's going to do."
Haas was subject to a protest from Renault at the Italian Grand Prix over the legality of its car's floor and was stripped of Romain Grosjean's sixth place finish as a result. However, Steiner insists the protest Haas has lodged in Abu Dhabi is entirely different and not an attempt to stop Force India racing.
"It's a completely different story in my opinion," he said. "We are doing it for other [reasons], we don't want to disqualify them on something wrong on the track. I think it's a different story, and this is nothing to do with the Renault thing. It's a completely different protest."
Force India team principal Otmar Szafnauer said he welcomed the protest to get all the details out in the open.
"We weren't expecting it really, so it was a bit of a surprise," Szafnauer said. "But in a way it's good that all of the information can be presented to the stewards and in due course I think they'll make a very informed decision."