[Updated] After two Grands Prix of phoney war and back room discussions, Lotus F1 came out and lodged a formal protest against the Mercedes F Duct front wing system in Shanghai. A hearing involving both teams took place at 17-15pm local time on Thursday in the FIA stewards’ room at the circuit. The stewards rejected the protest and Lotus has made it clear it will not appeal the decision.
The system sheds drag from the front wing when the driver activates the DRS rear wing, by means of a pair of pipes which channel the air forwards through the chassis to exit in the front wing element. This has the effect of stalling the front wing and balancing out the aerodynamics in tandem with the reduced downforce on the rear wing when DRS is operational. Mercedes has been getting good gains from the system so far, as illustrated by the difference between its performance in qualifying (where DRS is allowed) and in the race (where it is restricted).
Lotus’ protest was lodged against the scrutineers finding the Mercedes car legal when presented on Thursday at Shanghai. They specifically felt that the system violated Article 3.15 of the 2012 F1 Technical Regulations, which states,
“With the exception of the parts necessary for the adjustment described in Article 3.18, any car system, device or procedure which uses driver movement as a means of altering the aerodynamic characteristics of the car is prohibited.”
Article 3.18 deals with driver operated bodywork, notably the DRS wing.
According to the FIA stewards’ statement after the hearing, “The protest centred on the fact the link created was for the sole purpose of using a driver-created movement to alter the aerodynamics of the car.
Mercedes say that the function of the front wing F Duct is a secondary function of the DRS system, the primarly one being the opening of the gap in the rear DRS wing, as with all other cars.”
Lotus and other teams’ argument is that if the front wing has F Duct functionality as a result of a driver operated switch, whatever the primary purpose, it must be illegal.
The FIA’s Charlie Whiting said in Australia that the opposing teams had not come to him with a plausible enough reason to ban it, due to their lack of knowledge and understanding of the system. However there were some signs that by the end of the Malaysia weekend, there were more sophisticated arguments coming in.
Nevertheless, the stewards found the Mercedes system legal and now it appears that others will have to move ahead with copying it, which won’t be easy to optimise as Mercedes designed its monocoque around the concept. The stewards said that the fact that Mercedes had checked the legality of the system prior to adopting it had stood them in good stead.