McLaren and Mercedes GP have separately sought clarification from the sport’s governing body about the rules governing flexible front wings, amid ongoing suspicion in the paddock that both Red Bull and Ferrari are running such a design to improve their cars’ performance.
Despite the FIA giving both teams’ front wings the thumbs up after an inspection at the German Grand Prix, rival outfits remain suspicious that both teams are somehow able to lower their front endplates closer to the ground – thereby aiding downforce – and circumvent the rules.
This seems to have been further fuelled by footage broadcast globally by Formula One Management showing both teams’ cars’ front wings to be running lower to the ground that rival outfits’.
It is not known what the two leading teams might be doing, and it again must be stressed that the FIA has found nothing wrong with either car. The latest speculation seems to point towards designs in the cars’ floors which could help to lower the front wing at high speed.
Rather than risk investing heavily in such a design concept only to have it banned thereafter by the FIA, Mercedes GP team principal Ross Brawn has sought clarification from the FIA as to the legitimacy of such a system before committing his team to pursue this apparent innovation.
“We know the whole area of stiffness is difficult and tests are devised to ensure that we are all in the same region,” Brawn said. “I think observation on the videos and stills show that Red Bull is the prime case, but Ferrari partially, has managed to set their cars up to run the front wings a lot lower to the ground than perhaps ourselves or McLaren have been able to achieve.
“I think probably what we are asking is, before we all go off and have a massive development programme, is Charlie [Whiting, the FIA’s Race Director] going to change the rules before we get there?
“When it is demonstrated to you, you look at all the ways that you can achieve it and I think for the latter part of this year, and next year, we will all be doing the same. We just want to make sure that Charlie is comfortable with it and is not going to change the rules when we get there, because it will be an awful waste of effort.”
Similarly, Martin Whitmarsh appeared equally unhappy with what this main rivals were doing, but ruled out protesting their designs.
“Flexi wings – do I think they are right in F1 to be flexing to that extent? No I don’t,” he said. “But I am not the rule maker or the rule interpreter, so I think we are asking for clarification on what is permissible here.
“Once we have that clarification, then we are able to push to do whatever seems to be allowed. I hope the clarification really does not allow the endplates to continue to touch the ground. There are endplates out there whose metallic skids are touching the ground, which are meant to be way off the ground,” he continued.
“Clearly no wing can be infinitely rigid, but there are limits to which they should be allowed to flex. I think the FIA has got to take a view now of what is acceptable, and if it is acceptable, to get the endplates down. Every millimetre is about one point of downforce at the front, although it also improves the rear. So 25-30mm of vertical lowering of the endplates is one second [per lap], so it is fairly substantial.
“Progressively we have seen some teams’ bodywork has become much more flexible – but maybe they are right, maybe they have got the right interpretation, maybe we have to be hard on ourselves that we have not been as brave, as creative or as diligent in this area as some of these teams,” he concluded.
Both Red Bull and Ferrari have been quick and repeated in their denials about having flexible front wings, and stressed that their cars have continued to pass all FIA scrutineering checks.
But for how much longer?
[Original images via GP Update]