Formula E team DS Penske is facing a fine of €25,000 and had both its drivers penalized after discovering that the team had installed illegal Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) scanning equipment at the pitlane entrance before a practice session at the Portland E-Prix.
FIA Stewards (the sport's governing body) told The Verge in a statement that it's against the rules for "competitors to install or place any equipment in the pit lane." The FIA also said that the data collected by this equipment would give the competitor a "huge and unfair advantage."
In addition to the fine, both team drivers, Stoffel Vandoorne and Jean-Éric Vergne, were required to start the day's race from the pitlane, meaning they had to join the track after all of their competitors had passed them.
Stoffel Vandoorne, one of the drivers for DS Penske, said in an interview with Autosport that the team wasn't trying to "steal data" from other teams. "That's not what we did; we were just trying to check what set of tires others were using."
He said that other teams often use photographers in the pitlane to scope out what sort of setups other teams are running and that they simply found a "clever way, or an easy way, and we paid a big price for that."
In the fine notice, the FIA said that this technology could "collect live data from all cars," which would be in violation of the rules but didn't accuse DS Penske of it outright; it just penalized them for setting up the illegal scanning equipment.
This year, Formula E switched to a new tire manufacturer and introduced a new car design. Some teams have encountered difficulties adjusting to the new tire, which might explain the motivation behind this "creative" data collection.
Despite the setback, DS Penske's drivers finished 12th and 13th place, starting from the back of the grid. The team sits in 5th place (out of 11 teams) in the season standings.