Will Gray

Tech Talk: Flexible wings set to continue?

Will Gray

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The flexible wing controversy in Germany was quickly overshadowed by Ferrari's thinly veiled team orders and the confirmation that Red Bull and Ferrari had passed all tests - but is the debate set to continue?

This year's front wings have become increasingly intricate, their endplates perhaps the most developed ever seen with flick-ups, slot-gaps, winglets and wide flat low feet. The closer these can work with the floor, the greater effect they can have, producing more downforce through increased ground effect - one of the most efficient methods of achieving downforce with limited increase in drag.

In Germany, there is clear video evidence (available on YouTube) from Sebastian Vettel's pole position lap in which the endplates of the front wings appear to be moving in the vertical plain when referenced against the non-moving front chassis. It is understood Ferrari's front wing is doing something similar.

If this is the case, it will cause the endplates and outer wing elements to create more downforce at higher speeds through high-speed corners and on certain tracks is understood to have the potential for significant lap time improvement - sources suggest it could be worth more time than the f-duct.

The regulations state, however, that any specific part of the car that affects its aerodynamic performance (with three exceptions, none of which are relevant in this case) must be rigidly secured to the entirely sprung part of the car, where rigidly secured means not having any degree of freedom. (Tech Reg. 3.15)

The way this regulation is tested, regarding the front wing, is through a deflection test performed at the track during scrutineering. This deflection test requires the bodywork to deflect no more than 10mm vertically when a 500N load is applied vertically to it 800mm forward of the front wheel centre line and 795mm from the car centre line. The load will be applied in a downward direction using a 50mm diameter ram and an adapter 300mm long and 150mm wide. Teams must supply the latter when such a test is deemed necessary. (Tech Reg. 3.17.1)

A statement from the FIA in Germany confirmed that the Red Bull and Ferrari cars had been "inspected and found to be within the rules".

But it is rumoured that the teams may have discovered a way of flexing the wing in the non-vertical plane, enabling it to lower when under aerodynamic force at low speed while still passing the one test the FIA uses to determine whether the wing is flexing.

It is understood that this can be done by the directional lay-up of the carbon strands in the carbon fibre, making them strong in the direction of the test but much more flexible in other directions where on-track aero forces take effect.

Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner said: "Obviously the car has to comply with all the tests that the FIA prescribe, which are fairly comprehensive. We are happy that our car complies in every area."

But it appears that complying with the tests does not necessarily mean the wing is not flexing - which is why the FIA was open to viewing the apparent new evidence in Germany.

In 2007, after viewing onboard footage that suggested Red Bull's rear wing may have been flexing, the FIA introduced more stringent tests, although that was limited by the scrutineers' equipment and instead tolerance was reduced. Ultimately, there are much stricter tests for rear wing flexing than there are on front wings.

The FIA retains the right to introduce further load/deflection tests on any part of the bodywork that appears to be (or is suspected of), moving whilst the car is in motion (3.17.8), but it seems that FIA delegate Charlie Whiting decided in Germany that the evidence available was not enough to convince him to introduce more stringent front wing flexing regulations.

Which leaves the teams with two options.

Either they must now come up with new evidence to show clear flexing beyond tolerance on the cars in question or they must work out how Red Bull, if indeed it is the case, has apparently made its wing flex in a way that is not measured in the tests and follow their lead.

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