MARCH 23, 2007
Questions of legality
The rules of Formula 1 are complicated and often, at the start of a new season, the teams have to have a look at the cars to see not only the new ideas, but also whether they think the rules are being bent - often quite literally. The problem is that with the current regulations the importance of aerodynamics is paramount. Any smaller advantage gained can make a difference and there is much to be gained from having aerodynamic parts with flex or deflect. There are tests which are designed to ensure that this does not happen but not all of the tests are good enough to make sure that there is no flexing going on. Last year there was controversy about flexible rear wings, which resulted in new rules this year, but now there are similar questions over other parts of the car, notably flexible floors. The floors of an F1 car have to pass a static test in which a certain amount of force is applied from a certain angle. The floor must not flex beyond certain limits. But what happens if the force is applied from a different angle and the floor flexes?
The smarter teams have worked out that under higher forces there can be flexing which is not covered by the tests and thus it is impossible for the scrutineers to spot, unless they increase the force applied or apply the force in a different way. The FIA has the right to change the tests if there are suspicions that this is happening but these things take take to identify and to solve. It is better for the sport that they are sorted out away from the public spotlight.
The current situation is that some teams think others have floors which are flexing upwards and thus reducing drag which increased the speed that the cars can go down the straights. This means that these cars can carry more wing and thus can go down the straight at the same speed as rival cars but can corner more effectively. It is very difficult to spot who is doing what. Teams interpret the rules in different ways and these interpretations need rulings as to whether they are acceptable or not. This means that we can expect a little pushing and shoving in the weeks ahead before things settle down. Once everyone knows what is allowed and what is not allowed, then we will see a more balanced picture of the speed of the cars. But even then there are new parts coming along all the time and so the process is really ongoing.
The key is to make sure that while these matters are discussed the atmosphere in the sport is not poisoned as the sport gains nothing from such bad feelings.
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