[Hidden mechanisms and concealed parts: What triggered F1’s flexi-wing clampdown
From this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix, the FIA has got tougher on the design of front and rear wings in a bid to stop teams from playing games with flexible parts.
As first revealed by Motorsport.com, the FIA has demanded to see all design drawings of wings ahead of the Marina Bay race to check they comply and has outlawed specific wing ideas that it believes contravenes the rules.
This includes wing elements that move or rotate in relation to the bodywork they are fixed to, the use of elastomeric (rubber) fillets that can help permit localised deflection, plus designs that use soft trailing edges to aid flexing.
The FIA has long faced a battle to stay on top of the teams’ flexi-wing antics, but its single-seater director Nikolas Tombazis has revealed how it was pushed to respond after discovering the lengths some teams were going to get around the rules.
In an exclusive interview with Motorsport.com’s Italian site, Tombazis has explained the thinking behind the new tough stance over flexi wings.
“In the F1 regulations we have many flexibility criteria: there are loads that we apply and a certain deflection is allowed,” he said.
“There are static tests that we do to check, and it is obvious that these tests are never perfect because the direction of the [test] load you apply is always a bit different from the load that is on the track when it experiences genuine aerodynamic force.
“There may be differences and, for this reason, in the regulation there are some general and conceptual specifications that, in essence, prohibit mechanisms.
“For example, one could draw a wing that, when applying the forces of the FIA test, is fixed but when applying any other load, it could be more flexible. For this reason, we have been clarifying for years that mechanisms are not legal and we have written several clarifications on what we consider a mechanism.”
Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner talks with Nikolas Tombazis, FIA Single Seater Director
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
Tombazis then suggested that a line has had to be drawn because of clever mechanisms that teams could use to get around the rules – which has included the use of designs hidden beneath rubber coverings.
“If under a carbon surface, we have levers that allow a deflection in one direction and not in another, we can consider this a mechanism,” he said.
“Another thing we have said in the past is that it’s not acceptable when a component has relative motion against an adjacent element, sliding in a different direction [from it].
“What happened recently? Some teams have components adjacent to each other that have a fairly high movement but do not slide [in tandem] because these areas are covered with rubber material. We do not consider this acceptable and, for this reason, we have made a clarification.”
Tombazis suggested that teams had been exploiting this with both individual front-wing elements and the attachments with the nose.
Furthermore, it has been inspecting the flexibility of the lower rear wing components to the crash structure. The flexibility of upper wing elements has been better-policed thanks to the introduction of reference dots from the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
He added: “We have observed some rotations, and we have analysed them with the teams because we conduct some examinations.
“At the track, we will open up one of their components to see what’s underneath, or we will look at their drawings in CAD to better understand how the various elements work.”
Asked if this was done in collaboration with the teams, Tombazis said: “It’s not that they want to, but they have to. Lately, we have seen drawings in which things were exaggerated. The trend was evident, so then we intervened with a more severe clarification.”