How real is the protest threat over F1’s flexi-wing row?

While the nature of Monaco’s tight corners and short straights means flexi-wings will not be a defining factor on track this weekend, they remain Formula 1’s hot talking point

Listen to this article

For while a recent move by the FIA to introduce tough tests to clamp down on ‘bendy wings’ may have been aimed at bringing an end to controversy over the matter, the response has actually opened the door for a bigger mess in the short term.

The talk now is of a potential protest at either of the next two races, with McLaren in particular saying it is ‘unacceptable’ that some teams continue to gain from running flexi-wings.

That is because the FIA is not introducing its clampdown until the French Grand Prix next month, which means teams will be still allowed to run their current designs for two more races.

For Monaco that should not be too much of a contentious issue, because the hopes of getting a gain from flexi-wings is so minimal because the straights are not long enough.

But in two weeks’ time, the layout of Baku is absolutely perfect for a flexi-wing. A car that can run in maximum downforce trim for the city section, but then have a wing that flexes down to reduce drag on the long run from the final corner, could gain over a few tenths down the straights.

And it’s that advantage, which McLaren is particularly unhappy about, that has opened the door for a potential protest – even though all the cars at the moment pass the current tests.

The way that F1’s governance process has long worked is the final ruling on the interpretation of regulations is not made by the FIA – but instead is done by race stewards.

So although all cars with flexi-wings are passing the tests at the moment to the satisfaction of the FIA, it does not automatically mean that the stewards would agree over the legality of the designs if pushed for a ruling through a protest.

The FIA’s technical directives, in which teams are informed of new tests and rule interpretations, always carry at the bottom of every page a reminder.

“Any FIA opinions given above are advisory in nature and do not constitute Technical Regulations,” it states.

“It is for the Stewards, and ultimately the FIA International Court of Appeal, to offer binding interpretations of the Technical Regulations.”

The only way, therefore, for the proper legality of cars with flexi-wings to be ruled on is actually via the stewards.

And, actually, the best piece of evidence that teams can submit in a protest about the potential for the current flexi-wings to be in breach of the regulations is the TD itself that informed teams of the new tests.

In it, FIA technical director Nikolas Tombazis made clear that the governing body felt that teams could be in breach of the rules.

He wrote that the FIA had been aware of wings that passed the current pull back tests but ‘nonetheless exhibit excessive deflections while the cars are in motion.”

He added: “We believe that such deformations can have a significant influence on the car’s aerodynamic performance, and hence could be deemed to contravene the provisions of Article 3.8 (Aerodynamic Influence), which requires all components influencing the car’s aerodynamic performance to be ‘rigidly secured to the entirely sprung part of the car’ and to ‘remain immobile in relation to the sprung part of the car.’”

Read Also:

If a protesting team provided video evidence of the wings flexing, allied to the TD, then it would have a strong case to propose to the stewards that the rules banning flexible bodywork were being breached.

The main question is really whether a team would go ahead with a full on protest, because it’s not something that many competitors are eager to do.

McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl said about the prospect yesterday: “In principle, I'm not a big fan of protesting other teams and cars and so on.

"So, like I said, we are in dialogue with FIA, to understand what they will put in place in order to make sure that teams that designed devices or parts that allow things that you have seen in Barcelona, simply can't use these devices or parts anymore from now onwards. And then we take it from there."

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Photo by: Erik Junius

Mercedes may feel different, however, as it is locked in a tight fight with Red Bull for the world championship.

Plus, let’s not forget, that it was on the receiving end of a protest by Red Bull over its Dual Axis Steering System at last year’s Austrian Grand Prix.

Another potential scenario is that the actual threat of a protest may be enough to bring the matter to a head and force teams not to run their own flexi-wings any more.

If we rewind to the tail end of the 2019 F1 championship, F1 was locked in a similar scenario of the FIA technical department being happy with something, and some teams not.

That revolved around holes in the rear wheel rims of the Mercedes cars that were designed to help blow air and help control tyre temperatures.

Ferrari was unhappy with the design and felt that they were similar to the blown hub concept that Red Bull had been banned from using back in 2012.

While the FIA said it was satisfied the Mercedes design was legal, Ferrari remained uneasy – and there was the potential for a protest to be lodged.

Mercedes, having been alerted to the potential for a protest, elected to voluntarily modify its wheel rim designs to stave off the threat.

The question is therefore whether teams like Red Bull and Ferrari elect to continue running with designs that pass the tests for Baku, and risk potentially losing a result if a protest is successful.

Or will they back away and make moves to ensure their rear wings do not flex so there can be no grounds for a complaint?

shares
comments

Related video

Why Ferrari should be quietly confident it's in the Monaco mix
Previous article

Why Ferrari should be quietly confident it's in the Monaco mix

Next article

Leclerc: Ferrari’s Monaco F1 practice form too good to believe

Leclerc: Ferrari’s Monaco F1 practice form too good to believe
The physical focus bringing out the best from Esteban Ocon Prime

The physical focus bringing out the best from Esteban Ocon

Esteban Ocon likes to point out he’s the first driver since Lewis Hamilton to emerge from a spell as Fernando Alonso’s teammate with a superior overall points record. While some may disagree, as LUKE SMITH discovered, the 2021 Hungarian GP winner reckons it’s not just luck which has made him France’s pre-eminent Formula 1 driver of the moment…

How Red Bull's dynamic leader Mateschitz shaped its F1 philosophy Prime

How Red Bull's dynamic leader Mateschitz shaped its F1 philosophy

The death of Dietrich Mateschitz last month has not only deprived Red Bull of its visionary founder, it has shorn Formula 1 of one of its most influential benefactors. Mateschitz himself was famously media-shy, preferring to let the brand do the talking on his behalf. And, while it’s now normal to speak of Red Bull F1 titles and champions made, Mateschitz never assumed it would be easy or even possible – as ANTHONY ROWLINSON discovered during this previously unpublished interview from 2006…

Formula 1
Nov 27, 2022
Can Mercedes break Formula 1's cycle of doom? Prime

Can Mercedes break Formula 1's cycle of doom?

OPINION: Teams that have dominated for long periods throughout Formula 1's history often take years to get back to the top of the tree once they've slipped down. But it remains to be seen whether the same will happen to Mercedes after a challenging 2022 season

Formula 1
Nov 24, 2022
What hurt Perez most in his ill-fated fight for second in Abu Dhabi Prime

What hurt Perez most in his ill-fated fight for second in Abu Dhabi

Arguably the favourite in the battle to finish second-best in 2022's Formula 1 standings, Sergio Perez's two-stop strategy at Abu Dhabi couldn't take him ahead of Charles Leclerc when the music stopped - and several key factors ultimately precluded him from the much-coveted runner-up spot.

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2022
The Abu Dhabi momentum that can propel Leclerc and Ferrari to F1 2023 success Prime

The Abu Dhabi momentum that can propel Leclerc and Ferrari to F1 2023 success

OPINION: Charles Leclerc achieved his target of sealing runner-up in the 2022 world championship with a masterful drive behind Max Verstappen in Abu Dhabi. And that race contained key elements that may help him, and Ferrari, go one better in Formula 1 2023

Formula 1
Nov 22, 2022
2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Driver Ratings Prime

2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Driver Ratings

The 2022 Formula 1 season came to a close at the Yas Marina Circuit, where the battle for second in the standings was decided, the wins in a season record extended and a retiring four-time world champion bowed out on a high. Here's how we rated the drivers

Formula 1
Nov 21, 2022
The factors that stopped Perez catching Leclerc in Verstappen's Abu Dhabi triumph Prime

The factors that stopped Perez catching Leclerc in Verstappen's Abu Dhabi triumph

Max Verstappen ended the 2022 Formula 1 season in fitting fashion with a dominant drive to victory in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But behind him, early season rival Charles Leclerc achieved his target of securing the runner-up spot with a well-executed a one-stop strategy to beat Sergio Perez, whose pursuit on a two-stop strategy was hampered by several critical factors

Formula 1
Nov 21, 2022
Why the impact of FIA’s anti-bouncing metric is hard to judge Prime

Why the impact of FIA’s anti-bouncing metric is hard to judge

Faced with drivers complaining about the long-term health effects of car ‘bouncing’, the FIA stepped in to deal with it. JAKE BOXALL-LEGGE explains how the so-called ‘Aerodynamic Oscillation Metric’ works, and asks if it is fit for purpose?

Formula 1
Nov 20, 2022