The Formula One row over the current car design regulations rolls on. To make it easier for cars to follow more closely and not destroying their tyres the 2022 FIA regulations stripped downforce from the upper surface of the car and introduced “ground effect” underneath the car. The latter creates a negative air pressure via the airflow under the F1 cars that ‘sucks’ them onto the track.
However, certain teams’ designs have been less effective than others and when significant downforce is added through the rear wing of the car, it is made to bounce causing the driver significant discomfort.
Mercerdes have been the most vocal over this issue along with the fact their car is no where near as competitive as it has been for the past 8 seasons.
Toto Wolff is in effect calling for the ‘ground effect’ aspect of the new car designs to be ditched for 2023 and is using driver safety/welfare as the basis for his argument.
The Formula One race in Baku saw the cars behave as badly as they have all season, though the bumpy nature of the street circuit was predominantly to blame. However, images of a nigh on crippled Lewis Hamilton trying to extricate himself from his car following the race in Azerbaijan clearly resounded within the FIA headquarters.
Such that during the week between the next race, the FIA issued a technical directive designed to solve the bouncing.
Just one day later, Mercedes W13 car appeared in Montreal with an addition stay (support rod) for the floor of their car. This was excluded from the previous regulations but included as allowable in the new technical directive.
The stay is designed to help balance the floor of the W13 and therefore help to stabilise the car from. Bouncing.
Yet, for F1 teams to bring new parts to their cars takes weeks to design and manufacture, so the Mercedes second floor stay in Montreal immediately was questioned by other teams.
The accusation being made is that Mercedes knew in advance of the change in regulations and therefore had time to design and manufacture the second stay, while other teams were in the dark.
Red Bull’s Christian Horner spoke for the collective when he observed, “What was particularly disappointing was the second stay. It has to be discussed in a technical forum and that is overtly biased to sorting one terms problems out – the only team who turned up here with it – even in advance of the technical directive. So work that one out.”
Christian Horner and Ferrari’s Matt Binotto put it to Mercedes in a team boss meeting that Wolff and his team were exaggerating the bouncing issues to force FIA intervention.
In front of the Netflix cameras Wolff responded with indignation accusing his opposite numbers of “Chinese Whispers” and “pitiful political games”.
Yet Christian Horner has repeatedly argued the problem Mercedes have is less about their drivers’ discomfort and their failure to deliver a competitive car under the new regulations.
“The issue with the Mercedes car is more sever, or certainly it was before Canada, than with any other car. This is surely down to the team. It is within their control to deal with that if it is not affecting others,” the Red Bull boss stated.
Wolff has repeatedly asserted all the F1 drivers have complained at some point about the bouncing, but Horner counters this.
“I know it was said that other drivers have been complaining. Our drivers have never complained – ever – about porpoising. They’ve said certain circuits could do with tidying up, perhaps resurfacing in places. But we haven’t had an issue with bouncing. The problem is that Mercedes are running their car so stiff”.
Another Mercedes controversy was highlighted by Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto. The FIA have appointed Shaila-Ann Rao as their ‘Interim Secretary” – a legal position. She has previously been the “special counsel” fore Wolff and Mercedes and she oversaw the new technical directive issued before Canada that is causing a huge amount of concern.
Binotto described the appointment as “one of concern”.
The Ferrari bos added, “Its down to them to ensure there are no conflicts of interest at all and to behave properly.”
Toto has endorsed Rao’s appointment enthusiastically claiming, “she’s a lawyer and she is about governance and transparency. This is what she will be trying to implement and this is good news.”
Clearly Toto Wolff’s competitors are skeptical.
With regard to transparency, Christian Horner is aggrieved at the timing on the latest FIA technical directive and the lack of transparency ins how it was introduced.
“There is a process for these things to be introduced.” Horner added the directive had dropped while he was in transit to Canada.
“You can’t just change technical regulations half way through a season” argued the Red Bull boss.
This is indeed true. Regulation changes mid season are required to have the unanimity of all the competitors.
The only grounds on which the FIA can act unilaterally is for safety. Clearly Ferrari and Red Bull believe Mercedes have been hamming up the driver health issues and have a sympathetic back channel now inside the FIA.