McLaren team principal and FOTA chairman Martin Whitmarsh says Formula 1 teams and the FIA will make sure the new movable rear wing will have a favorable impact on racing this year – or it won't be used.
Whitmarsh thinks that efforts by the teams over forthcoming tests, plus intelligent implementation of regulations by the sport's governing body, will ensure the wing will only be used if it is a boost for F1.
Although there has been concern voiced in the last few weeks by various leading figures, including Red Bull Racing's Adrian Newey and Ferrari's Stefano Domenicali, that it could make the racing too artificial, Whitmarsh is convinced there is no reason to be worried about it.
"All cars are difficult in close racing to overtake," Whitmarsh told AUTOSPORT. "In F1, it is accentuated because of the professionalism of the teams, and the quality of the drivers, so it is even more difficult. Overtaking in most categories is a consequence of a mistake by the guy in front – and mistakes are less common in F1.
"I think what we have done now is give ourselves a tool – and between the teams and the FIA, we have responded to it. If it was an absolute disaster, which I don't think it will be, then frankly to delete the use of that item or modify its mode of operation, is very easy to do.
"If you got into this season and suddenly said: 'With these cars there isn't any overtaking, and it was perceived as a big public need, then we have more of a tool to address it.'"
He added: "I don't think it is going to be that easy to overtake, but there is going to be a variety of KERS users as well. So you are potentially going to have a stalled wing attack fought off with a KERS defense in some instances. Or, you will have an attack that is a combination of KERS plus stalled rear wing. I don't think you can predict it. We have just got to make sure we find a way to use it sensibly."
Teams and the FIA have left themselves open to tweaking the use of the wing in 2011 to ensure it works well enough without making passing too easy. Although the technical specification of the wings – which will expand the slot gap in the rear wing from 10-15mm to 50mm for a straight-line speed boost – have been laid down in the rules, the implementation of it in races is not yet wholly defined.
Drivers will have the system primed in the race when FIA-monitored GPS technology tells them they are less than one second behind the car in front at a certain point of the circuit. This only becomes valid two laps after the start of a safety car restart.
However, to ensure that the wing boost advantage is not over-exploited, the FIA will only allow use of the wing's speed boost at a single zone on the track. This will be carefully monitored and controlled to ensure that overtaking still remains a challenge – and this area may not even be on the main start-finish straight.
Newey told the Watkins Lecture at the AUTOSPORT International motorsports show in Birmingham last week that he was worried about the wing making it too easy to pass.
"The key is juggling it and adjusting it so that it makes overtaking possible, but not too easy," he said. "If it is so easy that you want to be second going into the last lap, then that becomes overly manufactured.
"The difficulty of overtaking is overstated. What difficult overtaking does mean is that when somebody does it, it is truly memorable. If [F1] racing becomes too much like a NASCAR slip-streamer, it's going to lose some appeal to me."
Whitmarsh concedes that there will be a fine balancing act between making passing easier but without ruining the spectacle. However, he criticized what he believes is an "obsession" with passing in F1, which he believes should not be viewed as the be-all and end-all of the sport.
"It is very fashionable to say that what we need in F1 is more overtaking," he said. "I lost count of moves last year, as Lewis [Hamilton] in the first four races did about 39 competitive overtakes. So they [passing maneuvers] are there.
"I don't think overtaking is an important as some people think it is. It has become a bit of an obsession. To be honest, some people with a lack of creativity have jumped on the bandwagon and are saying that is what we need to do.
"I think what people want is uncertainty of outcome. Going into the race weekend up until Saturday, you want uncertainty about the outcome of qualifying. And then, regardless of the outcome of qualifying, you want that uncertain outcome for the race, which causes you to want to watch it."