Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton spent a lot of time behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen during the Spanish Grand Prix two weeks ago before eventually passing the Dutchman for the win. It was enough time for Hamilton to familiarise himself with the Red Bull’s flexible rear wing — a design characteristic that Mercedes quickly pointed out went against the rules, which state that devices influencing aerodynamics must be rigid.
Well, Mercedes is getting its wish; it brought its case before the FIA, and the FIA stated it would institute tests to confirm rear wing rigidity later this season. Unfortunately for Mercedes, the FIA doesn’t plan to do that until the middle of June, before the French Grand Prix.
That means teams like Red Bull that have wing designs that should be disallowed will have another two races — the one this weekend in Monaco and another in two weeks in Azerbaijan — to continue running them.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff doesn’t like that, and related as much to the media ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix courtesy of The Race:
“It’s clear that if you have back-to-back races, or maybe even two-week [gap], it’s too short for everybody to adjust.
“But we have four weeks to Baku and it is incomprehensible that within four weeks you cannot stiffen up a rear wing for the track that is probably the most affected by flexible rear wings.
“That leaves us in a no man’s land because the technical directive says that the movement of some rear wings has been judged as excessive.
“So teams who would run these kind of wings are prone to be protested, and probably this is going to go to the ICA [FIA International Court of Appeal]. Nobody needs this messy situation.”
Wolff concedes that teams in Red Bull’s position won’t be able to stiffen up their wings between races, and he’s probably not too bothered about Red Bull’s advantage on the narrow, serpentine streets of Monaco. The bendy rear wing would pose the most obvious benefit on a circuit with long straights, which Monaco doesn’t have.
However, the Baku City Circuit in Azerbaijan does have straightaways, and Wolff argues the FIA is dragging their feet by not enforcing teams to make changes before that weekend. The FIA’s chosen test for rigidity will involve reviewing video footage, but crucially may also allow for a certain degree of rotation that Mercedes is not operating with at the moment. Again, from Wolff:
“We flagged a flexible rear wing situation last summer without having received any feedback. This was an area that should have been tackled much earlier.
“Yes, we will need to modify our wing: we need to soften it. Our wing is extremely rigid, complying to the famous Article 3.8 that it must remain immobile.
“The new test that has been introduced is a half-baked solution, which is giving us opportunity and the whole thing can soften and can bend more in the future.”
This is the perennial merry-go-round of all racing, but especially Formula 1: the team finding clever or discreet ways to exploit the rules one year will argue its been an extra goody two-shoes the next. After all the doom saying through the first four rounds that Red Bull had finally cracked Mercedes’s advantage and Mercedes was in crisis, the truth is Hamilton has won three races to Verstappen’s one. The Silver Arrows are still very much the cars to beat; I think they’ll be just fine. They always are.