A row over flexible front wings looks set to overshadow the German Grand Prix, with a number of teams expressing concerns to the FIA about the designs on the Red Bull Racing and Ferrari cars.
AUTOSPORT reports that several teams are unhappy with the fact that photographs of the RB6 and F10 at speed appear to show the front wings running much lower to the ground than rival squads. The pictures, a number of which were first published in French newspaper Le Parisien on Sunday, indicate that the FIA-prescribed central section of the front wing could be tipping forward to help lower the entire wing – and especially the endplates – much closer to the ground.
The FIA regulations stipulate that the central section should be 75mm above the reference plane – so 85mm from the ground taking into account the under-car plank. Rival teams suggest from their analysis of trackside photographs that the wings under question are running much lower than that. If the wing is flexing, rather than it doing so to help improve straightline speed, such an action could in theory help produce a better 'ground effect' situation – which will boost downforce in high speed corners.
One leading engineer suggested that the benefits of having a wing operate in such a manner to seal off the air around it could be worth up to three tenths of a second per lap.
Discussions have taken place between a number of teams and the FIA at this weekend's German Grand Prix, and that the governing body has been handed photographic evidence to indicate the height differences of the front wings between the Red Bull Racing and Ferrari machines, and other cars on the grid.
The teams at the center of the controversy both insist that they are doing nothing wrong – although it is possible that the FIA may look into the designs of both cars after the German Grand Prix has finished in its normal post-race scrutineering checks.
Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner said before the Hockenheim race that he had no doubts his car complied with the regulations, and that if rivals were unhappy about the situation they should speak to him – or even go ahead and protest his squad.
"Obviously the car has to comply with all the tests that the FIA prescribe, which are fairly comprehensive," Horner told AUTOSPORT. "We are happy that our car complies in every area."
"Using photographs is always dangerous. If the teams feel that there is a problem with it, normally the gentlemanly thing to do is to raise it with the team or, if they feel that there is a dramatic problem, obviously they have a right to protest. But we are happy that our car complies with the regulations.
"Using photographic evidence is only ever subjective. Has the camera moved? What is the fuel weight in the car? Has the driver braked heavier? Are the tires pressures lower? There are so many variables that can influence what a picture looks like."
Article 3.15 of the F1 technical regulations states that bodywork that affects the aerodynamic performance of the car: "must be rigidly secured to the entirely sprung part of the car (rigidly secured means not having any degree of freedom)" and "must remain immobile in relation to the sprung part of the car." Such flexibility in the front wing is tested with a deflection test on the wing endplates, but there is currently no test for the flexibility of the central section.
Should the FIA find anything wrong with the designs of the car there are a number of options open to it. If there is a blatant breach of the regulations it could choose to disqualify such cars from the race, or it could introduce a fresh wing deflection test for the next event in a bid to deter teams from trying to get the front wing to flex in such a way. Another possibility is for one of the teams that is upset about the matter to take the issue as far as a protest.
Should the FIA give the designs the all-clear, then it will be up to other squads to work out ways to copy the wing designs in a bid to boost their own performance.