Will Gray

Tech Talk: The FIA clampdown

Will Gray

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Red Bull Racing and Ferrari passed tougher wing tests in Belgium last weekend and now face more new tests
at the next race in Monza
- but does F1 need to take an even tougher stance in future?

There were some interesting comments in the paddock this
weekend about the flexiwing controversy. Is it over? Was it just a distraction?
How will the new floor test change things at Monza? But out of all the discussion, it
became clear that Formula One could now be facing a fundamental issue in the
way it manages its regulations.

Early in the Spa weekend, it appeared that the Red Bull
Racing and Ferrari front wings were running higher than at previous races. Red
Bull boss Christian Horner said they were no different to those used at the
previous race but they were able to pass the more stringent tests (which
doubled the loads run in the tests) with flying colours - proving that the
wings were stiff enough not to over-deflect at higher downforce levels.

Still, there were further hints towards potential
flexifloors that some believe play a major part in the aerodynamic controversy
but suggestions that the bib stays on some cars (which hold the front foot of
the plank leading under the floor) hinge, buckle, slide or have dampers are as
yet unfounded.

However, the confirmation that the FIA will bring in an
additional flexibility test in Monza,
adding a new test on the foot of the floor, proves the sport's governing body
are serious about stopping teams from stepping out of line.

The FIA already tests floor flexing to a limit of 5mm by
loading the underside to 200kg, a test introduced at the 2007 Spanish Grand
Prix following the controversy over an alleged moveable floor run on the
Ferrari. Now an additional test of the same load and criteria will be applied
to the side of the floor and also individual plank sections will not be allowed
to be less than 100cm in length.

The fundamental aim of whatever the teams are doing,
however, appears to be finding ways to reduce the ride height when the car is
in motion, with every millimetre that the aerodynamic surfaces can be lowered
towards the ground offering major and importantly highly efficient gains in
aerodynamic downforce.

Some team bosses have indicated that the fact such tiny
measures of adjustment are not only valuable but also achievable in modern
Formula One mean the "temptation to take liberties" will always remain and the
FIA must keep on top of the innovative engineering and make sure they keep the
boundaries tight.

Calls have been made for the FIA to act more quickly when it
sees something that may be pushing those boundaries, because if an unfair
advantage is gained in several races before it is dealt with, it can have a
major impact on the championship.

In terms of the flexing wing, Ferrari claims that they have
focused on making their front wing with the minimum material weight required to
meet the stiffness tests. Once those test have been met, they have suggested,
any flexing beyond that level is merely a by-product of weight reduction not a
deliberate attempt to bend the wings.

They have also been reported as saying that while their car
parts are not flexing beyond the regulated amounts (the old test, and the new
test) the way they are running the set-up of the car is what is causing the
ride height change. By running a softer set-up that keeps the car more level on
a static position their car is more prone to nose-diving and bottoming out when
in motion, while Mercedes and McLaren run much higher at the front but much
lower at the rear to avoid the dynamics that Ferrari (and possibly Red Bull)
have been working to.

In saying this, Ferrari effectively seem to be admitting
their front wing is running below the permitted height when the car is in
motion because of the way the car moves relative to the reference plane when it
is out on track.

So where do you draw the line?

The regulations state the wing must not run lower than 75mm
above the reference plane, full stop, and the FIA have certain rules to test
this. But no matter how you do it, going below this distance above the
reference plane is going against that rule.

The problem is that the in-motion dynamics of the cars are
completely different to the static dynamics.

Modern wind tunnels and CFD allow much more detailed
measurement and understanding of motion effects on scale model cars and
innovative hard-to-detect set-up solutions are becoming easier to find.

Ross Brawn, whose team pioneered the double diffuser
loophole last year, admitted that it is the nature of Formula One that the
boundaries are pushed at all times but was reported as saying: "That's the way
we work, and if we see something we don't like on another car, we will
challenge it with the FIA, and if the FIA eventually say 'no, that's the way
it's going to be', we join the club."

So until some kind of sophisticated digital on-track
measurement techniques are developed to understand the cars in motion, perhaps
the only way the sport will be able to stop its innovative designers pushing
the boundaries is by internal regulation...and yet more static tests.

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