In F1, politics are always going to be important. No matter how much you want F! to be about wheel to wheel racing and drivers at the top of their game battling it out, the behind the scenes politics are always going to play a part. These politics were pushed back into the spotlight after he Spanish grand prix, with race winner Lewis Hamilton claiming that Red Bulls rear wing was “bendy” and Mercedes claiming that this gave Red Bull up to three tenths per lap and a considerable straight line advantage.
What is the Flexiwing Issue?
The issue Mercedes are bringing up springs from article 3.8 of the technical regulations which dictates that all components influencing a car’s aerodynamic performance must be rigidly secured to the entirely sprung part of the car and remain immobile in relation to the sprung part of the car. Essentially, the front and rear wing are not allowed to flex considerably during high speed, as it gives the car a top speed advantage. The straight line speed advantage from the flexi wing comes from the idea that on high speed straights, the rear wing moves down to give the car more straight line speed as it has less resistance. The rear wing then pops back up to give the car increased downforce during corners. The FIA has tests that they conduct to see the flexibility of these parts and if any parts fail they cannot be used. No team has failed one of these deflection tests, but Mercedes believe that Red Bull are not meeting the guidelines for this wing.
Mercedes opinion on the issue is pretty clear. They have footage from the Spanish grand prix which they believe proves that Red Bull’s rear wing does not fit the criteria in the FIA regulations. Despite winning the Spanish grand prix, Mercedes lead driver Lewis Hamilton believes that at the Spanish Grand Prix, Red Bull gained about three tenths per lap with their flexi wing, with Hamilton going on to say that Red Bull could gain up to six tenths in the upcoming Baku grand prix, due to the races long straights. This years title battle looks closer than ever, with the disastrous Monaco grand prix giving Red Bull the advantage in both the drivers and constructors championship. They will be looking to make up time however they can, and if they believe that Red Bull are running an illegal rear wing, they are well within their right to launch their appeal. Mercedes have apparently been chasing action from the FIA on Red Bulls flexible wings since last month, and have been incredibly disappointed in the FIAs slow response to the issue, with team boss Toto Wolff telling Sky Sports that “ it’s a frustrating process” in relation to the Mercedes appeal. Wolff went on to say “ now we have a solution halfway which means we can make our rear wing flexible rather than an immobile rear wing”. The FIA being slow in their investigations and punishment is no new thing, with the FIA taking about a month to properly investigate and punish Racing Point last season for their use of illegal brake ducts in their 2020 “ Pink Mercedes”. Mercedes have considered launching a protest to the FIAs slow response, but that could be counter intuitive by making the process even longer and allowing Red Bull to continue with its current rear wing.
Red Bulls Take
Red Bull immediately jumped into defensive mode when Mercedes made these allegations public, with the championship leader stressing that their car passes “ all legality tests”. Red Bull have had an excellent start to the season, now leading both championships thanks to Max Verstappen’s dominant win in Monaco. It is no surprise therefore that they have hit back at Mercedes, as Mercedes have made it seem as if the only reason Red Bull has their current advantage is because they are running an illegal rear wing. Red Bull were adamant that the car is legal, with team boss Christian Horner telling Sky F1 that “ The car passes all the legality tests and that’s what the car has to do”. It is odd to see Red Bull on the other side of an appeal, as I think most F1 fans are much more used to seeing Red Bull make these types of appeals towards parts of the Mercedes car. However, Red Bull did strike back in their typical fashion, with Red Bull saying they had footage from the Emilia Romagna GP that shows the front wing of the Mercedes W12 moving up and down. Horner said “ You’ve only got to look at a bit of footage from Imola, when we’re talking about flexibility”. He added “ I think it’s very unfair to point at one direction at the rear of the car when you should also perhaps be looking at the front of the car”. It is no surprise that Red Bull are looking to also find problems with the Mercedes car, something they have done throughout the hybrid era, to no great success. Christian Horner did also say that he had spoken to his Mercedes equivalent, Toto Wolff on the subject. Horner also said that Lewis Hamilton’s claims that at a circuit with long straights like Azerbaijan, the Red Bull car would gain up to six tenths as ludicrous, as well as saying that Hamilton’s interest in the legality of the rear wing likely came from Wolff.
Other teams opinions
The current 3rd placed team in the championship have also been quite critical about the flexibility of Red Bulls rear wing, with McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl saying in reference to Red Bull “ to have the benefit from it because from our point of view, what these guys are using is clearly against the regulations”. McLaren have looked extremely competitive this year, adding another podium to their vast collection thanks to an excellent drive from Lando Norris. They’re at a point now where they are closer to Mercedes and Red Bull than they ever have been during the hybrid era. It is no surprise that they want to make sure that the pace advantage Red Bull have over them is legal. Since these allegations have come out, it looks as though it is not only Red Bull that may have to make adaptations to their car. Ferrari, Alpine and Alfa Romeo bosses have all admitted that they will have to “ slightly adapt” their cars as they may have been using the same flexible wings as Red Bull. Obviously, these teams will not necessarily come under the same scrutiny as Red Bull, simply because they’re not doing as well this year.
How have the FIA Reacted
Mercedes and other teams have been very critical of the FIA for their slow respone, and even more so since the FIA released their plan of action to deal with this. From the French GP onwards, there will be new tests introduced to help cut down on the flexibility of both the front and rear wing. The test will put higher load values onto the rear wings in order to properly test how flexible they are at high and low speeds. Despite Mercedes protests, the FIA have not said whether these new tests came about because of one particular team, but rather them becoming aware of some cases of the rear wing flexing heavily in motion. Mercedes especially have been very critical of these tests being delayed until June 15, as it means Red Bull can continue running their current rear wing in Baku, which Mercedes claim give them a large top speed advantage. Toto Wolff said that “ it is incomprehensible that, within four weeks you can’t stiffen-up a rear wing for the track that is probably the most affected by flexible rear wings”. It is very beneficial to Red Bull that these tests come after Baku, as it should give them a large advantage. Since the announcement of these new tests; Red Bull, Ferrari, Alpine and Alfa Romeo have all admitted to needing to stiffen up their wing before the new tests, however they have all been given ample time.
The Monaco Grand Prix will only have made Mercedes even angrier, and further looking to claw back the advantage that Red Bull have over them. Toto Wolff has said that they may protest the delay in the introduction to these new tests, however nothing like that has come about yet, and Red Bull will still have an advantage in aerodynamics in Baku.