PERSPECTIVE: Bending the Rules

PERSPECTIVE: Bending the Rules

Crikey, everything’s gone a bit crazy in the last few weeks in F1 over this flexible wing scandal, which fortunately no crass and lazy journalist has branded ‘wing-gate’ or ‘flexgate’. Yet.

In case you haven’t been following it, people up and down the paddock have been getting in an almighty flap (pun intended) over the front wings on the Red Bull and Ferrari.

The regulations state that the front wing must be rigid and remain 85mm off the track, and slow motion footage of the bowing wings on the Red cars and, to an even greater extent, the Bulls show that their wings are clearly in contravention of the regulations. Or are they?

Here’s the thing: before each race the cars must pass scrutineering and it’s up to the FIA’s inspectors using a series FIA-defined visual and mechanical tests to make sure the cars are safe and legal to race. If they pass all the tests then the car is legal – it’s as simple as that, even if the car is actually illegal… if you see what I mean? In the case of front wings, a specific load is applied and the component is supposed to stay rigid, which in the case of the Ferraris and the Red Bulls it clearly did. The fact that the test is insufficient is not the problem of the teams.

There will be calls, no doubt, for some kind of retrospective punishment to be applied; for Ferrari and Red Bull to lose their points if it is determined that the front wings are to be deemed illegal from now on, but I think this would be a disaster for F1. Not because of any kind of garbage about the fans wanting a fair race, but because cheating… no, not cheating… ‘finding loopholes in the regulations and exploiting them’ is part of motor sport – it always has been and should continue to be.

In a recent interview, Patrick Head said that he reckons Red Bull has developed a kind of carbon fibre with non-linear flexibility – that is to say, when you put 50kg on a Williams wing it flexes 10mm, when you put 100kg on it flexes 20mm. The Red Bull and Ferrari wings might flex 10mm when you put 50kg on them, but flex 25mm when you put 100kg on them. How clever is that?!

Motor sport is peppered with brilliant stories about mind-bendingly creative engineering solutions that are just as interesting and exciting as some of the most epic drives by motor sport heroes. Ingenious ideas like Toyota’s restrictor plate bypass valve that effectively hid itself automatically when it was removed for inspection and basically everything Smokey Yunich ever did to a car. Look him up on Wikipedia or, better still, read one of the many books about him if you want a master class on ‘creative engineering solutions’.

To lose this part of motor sport by regulators starting to apply retrospective punishments would be to lose one of the most intriguing, mysterious and (I think) glamorous aspects of the sport.

The approach to the type of loophole-finding that Red Bull and Ferrari have done should be a shake of the fist and a ‘you pesky kids’-type exclamation by the FIA. They should alter the test they use to determine the legality of the wings, yes, but there should certainly not be any kind of punishment for the races in which they managed to get around the regs.

While I believe that the other teams should be bringing the contravention to the attention of the officials who should, if the part is in contravention of the spirit of the regulations, ban the component from future races by improving the testing procedure, they should also accept that on this occasion, they simply were not clever enough. Or, perhaps, not ballsy enough.

Image credits: Liffonmelsmork.

  • Very interesting article, but I think there's a mistakes in the sentence below:

    “when you put 50kg on a Williams wing it flexes 10mm, when you put 100kg on it flexes 20mm. The Red Bull and Ferrari wings might flex 10mm when you put 50kg on them, but flex 20mm when you put 100kg on them. How clever is that?!”

    Surely the wings in question are flexing by more than 20mm in order to be nonlinear?

  • SteveDR

    Thanks for noticing that Paul, an earlier edit read as “…when you put 50kg on a Williams wing it flexes 5mm, when you put 100kg on it flexes 10mm. The Red Bull and Ferrari wings might flex 5mm when you put 50kg on them, but flex 15mm when you put 100kg on them. How clever is that?!”.

    I've adjusted the sentence to reflect the same non-linear relationship..