Lewis Hamilton said after qualifying in Spain this past weekend that the Red Bull cars had “bendy” rear wings on their car, which made them three-tenths of a second faster. That would be big if true, because Formula 1 has been battling flexible wings for decades.
The problem, of course, is that a Formula 1 car’s wing can’t be too rigid, lest it shatter. Going too far in the other direction — with a wing that is shaped one way at low speeds, to increase downforce while cornering, and another way at high speeds, to reduce drag and increase straight-line speed — is against F1 regulations.
Here’s how Max Verstappen’s wing looked on Sunday vs Lewis Hamilton’s:
Now, that doesn’t seem to bend much to my eye, but there is a definite bend, and I’m sure that a racecar engineer would say that even the slightest bend helps, since Formula 1 is less a game of inches and more a game of nanoseconds.
In any case, the FIA is sufficiently concerned that it will be starting new visual tests next month to monitor the issue, per Formula1.com:
The teams were informed by the FIA’s Head of Single Seater Technical Matters Nikolas Tombazis of the new load/deflection tests on Tuesday via a Technical Directive.
The FIA will also use on-board cameras to monitor how rear wings flex at speed, with the teams required to put 12 markings on certain areas of the wing to allow for analysis.
Article 3.8 of the Technical Regulations requires all components influencing the car’s aerodynamic performance to be “rigidly secured to the entirely sprung part of the car”, and to “remain immobile in relation to the sprung part of the car”.
Red Bull, for their part, have denied any wrongdoing, but, as Motorsport.com notes, they have a bit of a history with this. Back in 2014, Red Bull (not the only team caught with flexible wings that year) faced penalties for having flexible front wings that skimmed low to the ground at speed. The way F1 tested wing deflection was a bit of a grey area at the time, and it went on to institute clearer tests putting pressure on the front wing itself and measuring its deflection, as F1 tech guru Craig Scarborough explained in this old Autosport article.
That test didn’t stop Red Bull from getting caught up in another flexible wing drama in 2017, that time about rotating outer footplates.
Certainly, any team chasing Mercedes is going to bend any rule it can, and Red Bull has good reason to be worried about this drama. Any change to the Red Bull could have a big effect on this year’s championship race, with Max Verstappen seemingly having his best shot ever to finally win.
Anyway, here’s a good Autosport video on the FIA’s history with this: