Wednesday, June 02, 2021
Dirty rules fight in F1
Mercedes threatens Red Bull with the escalation
The balance of power is shifting in Formula 1: Red Bull is back at the top of the World Cup – but has exhausted the gray areas in the regulations. Mercedes is already threatening protests, it could get dirty as early as the race in Baku.
With a lot of momentum, Max Verstappen will pass the Maiden Tower and leave Baku’s old town behind. The world championship leader will depress the accelerator – and not let go for almost 20 seconds. While driving his Red Bull through one of the longest full throttle sections in Formula 1, Mercedes will take a very close look. And watch Verstappen’s rear wing. Because the close duel between world champion Mercedes and challenger Red Bull comes to a head before the Azerbaijan Grand Prix: The big point of contention is actually the few square centimeters at the end of the cars. The dispute over the “flexi wings” threatens to escalate properly, Mercedes sports director Toto Wolff calls on the law enforcement officers to intervene – otherwise it could get “very dirty”, according to the Austrian.
To understand how things got this far, a look at the World Cup stand helps. Mercedes is no longer the first force: Verstappen is four points ahead of record world champion Lewis Hamilton in the drivers’ standings, and Red Bull is also one point ahead in the team championship. The Brause racing team is strong on all tracks, mostly stronger than Mercedes, so every single point is important. And one of the many reasons for this strength is a trick with the rear wing: The flexible material bends to the pressure at high speed on the straights and bends backwards, making the wing flatter and enabling higher speeds. In the bends it returns to its original shape and thus brings the necessary downforce.
Flexi wings are made for Baku
“If these wings are used in Baku,” says Mercedes sports director Wolff, “then they bring an advantage, and then the matter goes to the stewards. And if the stewards are not enough, it goes to the court of appeal.” The world federation has already announced that the regulations for the subsequent race in France (June 20th) will be more precise, but Wolff considers this decision to be “half-baked”. And there is probably a good reason for this: the Flexi wings are made for the Baku track. In the slow tangle of curves in the old town, you need high wings for strong downforce, but on the 2.2 kilometer long top-speed passage these are only in the way – the flexible wing solves the problem. Some experts have even calculated an advantage of around half a second per lap.
The gray area in which Red Bull operates results from two different articles of the regulations. All parts are tested for mobility under load before use, flexibility is allowed to a certain extent. Red Bull’s wing has existed here. Elsewhere, however, it is stipulated that parts that serve aerodynamic performance must be immobile. According to Wolff, Mercedes therefore sees itself in a “fairly robust position”: the wings of the competition are not compliant with the rules. In Formula 1, however, the opinion is different. He “doesn’t think”, says sporting director Ross Brawn, that the race result could be challenged with a protest: “I would be amazed.”
And for Brawn, who has been in the premier class for over 40 years, this topic is not a particularly hot one anyway. Red Bull by no means invented the Flexi wing: “That is probably version 27 in the history of Formula 1.”