The nature of car bodywork necessitates a certain degree of flexibility, which consequently opens a gray area that has drawn the attention of both competitors and regulators for many years. This flexibility can make regulating challenging as the bodywork is engineered to flex at high speeds but cannot be easily measured in this intended state.
Traditional static load and push tests are insufficient in detecting the extent of this flexion as in-motion forces will cause the car to behave more dynamically. Conscious of this, teams engineer components with a margin that ensures they pass garage tests, yet still flex optimally to enhance aerodynamics during high-speed races. There are instances, however, where teams cross the line and the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) steps in to reinforce acceptable bodywork flexibility standards.
Currently, such a scenario is unfolding. Last week the FIA sent a draft technical directive to alert teams of an impending crackdown to premiere at the Singapore Grand Prix. This directive expands on an original advisory limiting bodywork flexibility to rear wings, encompassing front wings too. Two main methods appear to be in use throughout the grid.
Among other aspects, the FIA is particularly interested in the design of rear wing endplates and mounting pillars. Teams are now obligated to provide assembly drawings or images plus cross sections that illustrate how the rear wing elements are fastened to the wing endplates, rear impact structure, and pylon(s). Several techniques could potentially be utilized to exploit flexion, largely aimed at drag reduction and thus enabling a higher downforce setting to balance out the benefits.
Traditionally, F1 teams achieved drag reduction via closure of gaps between elements and entire assembly’s longitudinal rotation. Following the mid-2000s launch of slot gap separators on the rear wing, the first option has been mostly curbed. The second option, harder to oversee, especially from a dynamic perspective, led to the FIA requesting teams to add reference dots on their rear wing elements from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in 2021. The dots, monitored through the camera facing the rear, offer insights on the wing’s tilt level under load.
Emerging rear wing developments have also drawn interest, as seen in Alpine and Aston Martin‘s similar solutions unveiled concurrently at the Monaco Grand Prix, and later mimicked by other teams. Recent front wing designs have also attracted the FIA‘s attention as teams use them to boost car performance. It seems teams are now focusing on how the front wing is attached to the nose.
The shift in the way the front wing is mounted to the nose, from pylons on the underside to new design architecture, has given teams a fresh playground to explore. The directive also indicates the teams are potentially trying to gain illegally via wing elements that can rotate relative to the parts they are attached to and are thus deemed unlawful by the FIA.
The recent FIA technical directive looks to cast a wide net to capture most of the current solutions and those that may come up soon. Nevertheless, the flexi-wing discussion is far from over, with teams expected to keep exploiting the rules to unearth more performance enhancements.