AUGUST 1, 2010

Flexible wing endplates - legal or not?

McLaren and Mercedes are seeking an FIA clarification on flexible front wings after Red Bull and, to a lesser extent Ferrari, demonstrated enormous superiority in Hungarian GP qualifying.

Sebastian Vettel's pole position was 1.2s quicker than Fernando Alonso's third placed Ferrari, which was in turn more than half a second quicker than McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, who qualified fifth.

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, whose cars and drivers still lead both world championships, and his Mercedes opposite number Ross Brawn, want rule clarification from FIA technical delegate Charlie Whiting before embarking on their own programme to try to replicate the Red Bull and Ferrari systems.

Asked directly whether he thought the Red Bull and Ferrari front wings were legal, Whitmarsh said: "They have passed scrutineering, so they must be, mustn't they? It's well known that if you can run the wing endplates close to the ground there's a substantial performance advantage. Years ago when you watched the start of races you'd see that the endplates had metallic rubbing strips and they were sealing to the ground and sparking.

"The regulations have evolved so that these rigid pieces of bodywork are designed to be 85mm above the bottom of the car, so in theory you'd think they'd be even further from the ground than that. No wing is infinitely rigid but there are limits to which they should be allowed to flex."

In-session TV pictures appear to show the Red Bull and Ferrari wings running much lower and Whitmarsh added: "You could explain it by hugely raked cars but if you just do simple geometry, then the ride height is going to be over 100mm and there is no evidence of that being the case. Or else, by some means the outer edge of those wings is lowering down more than we would expect or the front of the floor is moving up more than we would expect, because that is not a piece of bodywork that's meant to be rigidly attached.

"In truth, we don't understand it but the FIA has to take a view on what's acceptable. If it is acceptable to get the endplates down, then every millimetre represents about a point of downforce, so 25-30mm of vertical lowering of the endplate is about a second, so it's very substantial.

"Do I think flexi wings are right in F1? No, I don't. But I'm not the rule maker or interpreter. So we are asking for a clarification on what is permissible and when we have that we will push to do whatever seems to be allowed."

For teams hoping to develop a similar concept, the situation is not helped by the rules surrounding F1's mid-season summer break, with both Mercedes and McLaren due to close their doors immediately after the Hungarian Grand Prix, for a fortnight.

Ross Brawn added: "Red Bull particularly and Ferrari partially have managed to set their cars up to run their front wings lower to the ground than perhaps us or McLaren have been able to achieve. What we're asking is that before we all go off and have a massive development programme, is Charlie going to change the rules before we get there? Because, when it's demonstrated to you, you start to think of all the ways you can achieve it and, for the latter part of this year and next year, we will be doing the same. We just want to make sure that Charlie is comfortable with it and he's not going to change the rules because it would be an awful waste of money and effort."

Brawn said that lower front wing endplates, while obviously an advantage, is clearly not the sole explanation for the Red Bull's pace and conceded that the RB6 is an exceptionally strong all round package.

Williams co-owner Patrick Head, meanwhile, was left contemplating a situation where his first driver, Nico Hulkenberg, while through to Q3, qualified fully 3s from Vettel's pole position on one of the shortest laps on the calendar.

Head said: "I doubt that Fernando Alonso, who's 1.2s behind, is sitting there telling his team how good their car is, and I think this circuit's characteristics are showing our car more than other tracks, but the gap to Red Bull is absolutely huge. It's sobering.

"The FIA appears to be saying that if the car passes the front wing load tests, it's therefore okay. What's difficult is that we've got a conventional structure with a linear load deflection - if 500 Newtons deflects our wing 9mm, then 1000 Newtons will deflect it 18mm. When you see our wing on the track it looks level at high speed but the Red Bull wing is pulling down a long way.

"You can only assume that it has some characteristic which above the 500 Newton limit is non-linear. There are ways and means of doing it, so if the FIA is saying that as far as they're concerned it's okay, then we've all got to get on and do it..."

Whitmarsh has ruled out formally protesting the wings as a negative way forward for the sport, but is hoping for an FIA clarification sooner rather than later.