McLaren and Mercedes GP have asked the FIA for clarification about flexible front wings in Formula 1, amid continued suspicions that Red Bull Racing and Ferrari are doing something clever with their designs to improve car performance.
The Red Bull and Ferrari cars both passed post-race scrutineering in Germany, but Martin Whitmarsh says the cars’ behaviour out on the circuit – where they are subjected to higher loads than in FIA deflection tests – doesn’t appear to comply with regulations requiring bodywork to be rigid.
Whitmarsh insists that the rules are clearly stated in terms of the required height between the endplates and the bottom of the car, and that endplates should not be touching as television pictures appeared to show. In fact during morning practice today, Red Bull engineers could be seen sanding down the underneath of Vettel’s front wing which had become rough due to touching the tarmac!
“They passed scrutineering so they must be legal, mustn’t they!” joked Whitmarsh, who described the McLaren as “quickest of the fixed wing vehicles” in qualifying after Lewis Hamilton took fifth on the grid behind the Red Bulls and Ferraris.
“It’s well known that if you can get the front wing endplates close to the ground, there’s a substantial performance advantage.
“The regulations have evolved such that these rigid pieces of bodywork are designed to be 85mm above the bottom of the car.
“You would think that in theory at least they would be even further from the ground than that.
“Clearly no wing can be infinitely rigid, but there are limits to which they should be allowed to flex.
“If you were to try and explain what is happening, either you can explain it by hugely raked cars, but if you just do simple geometry then the ride height is going to be over 100mm and there’s no evidence of that being the case.
“Or, by some means the outer edge of those wings is lowering down more than we would expect.
“Or, the front of the floor is moving up further than we expect, because that’s another piece of bodywork that’s intended to be rigidly attached.
“In truth we don’t understand it.
“Maybe there’s another way, but I as a fairly simple engineer can thing of anything other than those three explanations.
“If there’s another one, I’ll be happy to hear it. It’s surprising.
“I think the FIA has got to take a view now of what is acceptable, if it is acceptable to get the endplates down.”
The McLaren boss suggested that flexible wings could be worth up to a second per lap.
“Every mm is about a point of downforce at the front, and it also improves the rear,” he noted.
“So 25-30mm of vertical lowering of the endplates is worth a second. So it’s fairly substantial.
“We’re obviously not trying hard enough. We’ll have to try a bit harder!”
Whitmarsh said that if the FIA clarifies that wings are legal, McLaren will have to pursue the same route, but made clear his preference for greater ground clearance.
“Do I think that they’re right in F1 to be flexing to that extent? No I don’t,” he said.
“But I’m not the rule maker, or rule interpreter.
“I think we’re asking for clarification on what is permissible here, and once we have that clarification then we’re able to push to do whatever seems to be allowed.
“I hope the clarification doesn’t continue to allow endplates to continue to touch the ground.
“There are endplates put there that have metallic skids that are touching the ground. Again, they’re meant to be way off the ground.”
The McLaren chief emphasised that he did not mean to imply rival teams were cheating, merely that the current rules were being inadequately policed.
“Again, I’m not trying to criticise Ferrari or Red Bull,” he said.
“Their job is to push the boundary of permissibility, and maybe we’re just not pushing it hard enough.”