The FIA is clamping down on front and rear wing designs, aiming to curb manipulative maneuvers by teams using flexible parts. This move comes unsettlingly close to the forthcoming Singapore Grand Prix. F1 Initiative has previously disclosed that the FIA required a detailed overview of all wing designs prior to the Marina Bay race – specifically, to scrutinize their conformity. It was noted that specific wing concepts considered to breach the rules were now rendered illegal.
Components falling under this ban include wing elements with the capacity to rotate or move in relation to the bodywork holding them. Additional targeted aspects mentioned are the employment of elastomeric (rubber based) fillets that might enable localized deflection, designs with the utilization of soft trailing edges for facilitating flexibility.
The technical director for single-seaters at the FIA, Nikolas Tombazis, explained on F1 Initiative’s Italian site about the logic underpinning their decision on introducing stricter measures related to flexi wings. The FIA‘s attempt to manage teams’ exploitation of flexible wings is not new. Interestingly, Tombazis delves deeper into the relentless innovative pursuits of some teams to side-step regulations, prompting FIA‘s stringent response.
Tombazis elucidates, “In the F1 regulations we have many flexibility criteria: there are loads that we apply and a certain deflection is allowed”. Static assessments are performed for monitoring and inevitably these tests can’t achieve absolute accuracy. This is due to dissimilarities between the test load direction and the real-world load exerted on the track due to aerodynamic forces.
He added that this led to disparities and hence, in compliance with the broader specifications of the regulation, mechanisms were essentially banned. A theoretically possible design of a wing could emerge, which is static under loads of FIA tests, but may display more flexibility under varied loads. Therefore, Tombazis states that they have been stressing for years the illegality of such mechanisms, occasionally revisiting definitions of what they consider a mechanism.
Tombazis points to certain innovative methods, involving designs concealed beneath rubber casings, teams had been leveraging to obfuscate the guidelines. Clever constructs concealed beneath carbon surfaces were of concern. These allowed for specific deflection paths but not others, categorizing them as a mechanism.
He adds, “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].” Several teams had adjacent components with significant movement but without accordance due to the presence of a rubber covering, which Tombazis and his team did not deem acceptable and thus, demanded a clarification.
Subject to the rules were both individual front wing elements and nose attachments. The FIA had been keeping a close watch on the flexibility of the lower rear wing parts in relation to the crash structure. The vigilance with respect to the flexibility of the upper wing components had seen an upswing post the introduction of reference dots from the start of the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Tombazis commented that they had observed various rotations. These were then analyzed in cooperation with the teams, as examinations were conducted for these rotations. Either by opening up an element of their machinery to get a closer look at the underlying parts or by perusing their technical drawings on CAD to gain an improved comprehension of their functionality.
Talking about the teams’ involvement in this process, he 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.”