FIA new directive to stop “flexi-wings”

The FIA has been using ‘soft power’ this year to clamp down on certain Formula One teams who are believed to be using illegal “flexi-wings.” Unlike in days of old where they FIA would wait until a team had its car design ‘protested’ by another before acting, their new approach has been to work with the F1 competitors and advise them to change their ‘illegal’ car before a ruling and penalties are issued.

Of course the game within F1 has always been for teams to find ‘grey areas’ in the FIA’s technical regulations which allow them to circumvent the intention of certain restrictions without necessarily breaking the letter of the law.



Brawn ‘double diffuser’

The Brawn double diffuser in 2009 was a case in point. The FIA had decided to revise the car design rules to reduce the downforce the teams were able to deploy, but Brawn and his team found a way around the regulations which was eventually declared legal and then saw the rest of the field dash to catch up with the runaway leaders designs that year.

The use of moveable bodywork on an F1 car has been banned for a very long time, however the past few seasons have seen the rise in teams deploying flexible aerodynamic components to gain an advantage.

There’s a simple reason why this creates a significant advantage and why the FIA wants it banned.

On many of the F1 circuits the teams prefer to deploy more downforce using their rear wing to increase their speed through the corners and reduce tyre wear because the rubber slips around less when stuck to the circuit.

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Flexi-wing rows in epic 2021 battle

The disadvantage is this higher wing level on the straights increases drag and slows down the car in a straight line.

To solve this problem the teams develop ways to make their rear wing deflect on the straight so it creates less drag when under the greatest load from the pressure of the air flowing over the car at the highest speeds.

During the epic battle between Verstappen and Hamilton in 2021, both Red Bull and Mercedes were called out for deploying flexi-wings.

Video footage of red Bull’s rear wing at the Spanish Grand Prix showed the rear wing tilting back on the straight which Hamilton and Mercedes immediately jumped on calling it the “bendy” wing.

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Mercedes disqualified for wing infringement

The FIA introduced more stringent tests for the race in France in an attempt to restrict Red Bull’s car design but the issue was to rear its head again later in the season.

Max Verstappen was caught touching the Mercedes car in Brazil – which is illegal and for which he was fined – while checking to see of their rear wing was “flexible.”

“I was just looking at how much their rear wing was flexing,” the Red Bull driver confirmed.

“At a certain speed, it seems like the wing is flexing and of course we all had to change the wings at the beginning of the season but it seems like something is still backing off on theirs.”

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Aston Martin suffer FIA scrutiny

Whilst the FIA didn’t find a problem with Mercedes design on grounds of flexibility the team were punished because the gap between the upper and lower elements of the rear wing was too large thus creating an advantage when using DRS.

Hamilton was disqualified from qualifying and so started the Sprint race from the back of the pack.

This year Aston Martin were off to a flying start until something changed around the time of the British Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso blamed their drop in performance to the new tyre compounds Pirelli had issued, though a number of reports have since suggested the team were leaned on by the FIA over their flexi-front wing.

Having conducted a significant investigation into how the teams are beating its current tests which check the deflection of the wings by subjecting them to a static load, the FIA have finally realised their test fails to take into account how the load affects the F1 cars when they are moving.

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FIA new technical directive game changer

And so F1’s governing body has issued a new technical directive which gets to the heart of the problem, which is the way the teams are using certain composites in their assembly of their wings that only become malleable given certain conditions not checked by the FIA test.

Technical Directive 18 (TD18) now states any component in breach of Article 3.2.2 of F1’s Technical Regulations which requires all components influencing a car’s aerodynamic performance be “rigidly secured and immobile with respect to their frame of reference.”

Further these components must produce “a uniform, solid, hard, continuous, impervious surface under all circumstances.”

So how are the FIA going to control this given their load tests do not reveal these hidden tricks?

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Elastic materials now banned

Designs that use “elastomeric fillets, compliant sections of wing profile or thin flexible laminate at a junction that can either distort, deflect out of plane or twist to permit localised deflection relative to the bodywork the component is attached to” are now banned.

Clearly it has taken some time, but the FIA now clearly understand how the F1 car designs and assembly methods are defeating their load tests.

Who this will affect the most is uncertain.

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FIA game changer in regulation enforcement

Of course Red Bull Racing’s guru designer may have a number of these methods at the heart of his all conquering RB19. But only time will tell which team’s performance is affected the most.

The regulation will only come into effect from the Singapore Grand Prix onwards which ironically allows the flexible bodywork in Monza – the circuit where it is most beneficial of all in the season.

The teams are now instructed to present their wing designs, assembly techniques and use of materials to the FIA by September the 8th who will enforce TD18 form the Singapore race weekend onwards. 

However, pausing for thought – this new ability of the FIA to ban clever interpretations of their regulations by examining exactly what the teams are doing in their construction methodology – appears to be against the spirit of the rules which pits them both against each other in the game of cat and mouse that has existed for decades.

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