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Why new FIA flexi test won’t clip Red Bull’s wings
Why new FIA flexi test won’t clip Red Bull’s wings
Posted By: James Allen  |  03 Aug 2010   |  10:33 am GMT  |  183 comments

The FIA has responded to lobbying from McLaren and Mercedes in particular and has decided to beef up the tests they carry out on the flexing of front wings.

On the face of it this will oblige Red Bull and Ferrari to stop their wings from flexing as much as they do now and this will cost them lap time. But let’s look more closely at this and establish how much we think this will slow the cars down relative to the opposition.

Jo Bauer looks for secrets. Photo: Darren Heath

The FIA is allowed to change the test as it sees fit thanks to a rule which says: “In order to ensure that the requirements of Article 3.15 are respected, the FIA reserves the right to introduce further load/deflection tests on any part of the bodywork which appears to be (or is suspected of), moving whilst the car is in motion.”

Current rules allow the tips of the wing to flex by 10mm when a load of 50kg, which is 500 Newtons, is applied to them. But rival teams estimate that Red Bull’s wing is flexing by up to 25mm at high speed and on board TV footage at the weekend in Budapest clearly showed the wing rising up at the end of the straight when the driver braked.

The FIA has indicated that it is likely to double up the test load, with up to 100 kilogrammes onto the wing – and it will only allow a linear increase of deflection up to 20mm, which would appear to rule out the current Red Bull wing.

Now, the key to this is what the FIA technical delegate, Jo Bauer, is physically going to do in Spa to test the wings. And in all likelihood the answer is that he and his boss Charlie Whiting won’t tell the teams what the test will consist of before Spa scrutineering, they’ll have to guess and beef up their wings accordingly.

The Darren Heath photo which sparked this issue

But this also matters because the linear flexing might only be a part of what the Red Bull nose is doing. There is a theory among engineers, based on looking at the whole front wing when its loaded up, that there is some kind of spring loaded device in the crash structure to deflect the whole wing down, over and above what the wing tips do.

This theory was given some added impetus when Sebastian Vettel’s wing snapped in practice at Silverstone.

This theory goes beyond grabbing a bit of extra downforce from wing endplates being close to the ground, it brings a gain of lowering the front of the car, which is very attractive under the 2010 rules.

So it will depend on how Bauer tests the wing as to how much it slows down the Red Bull car. How will Red Bull respond? They will look again at the rule and will have to think through whether the new test will be on the wing itself or the wing relative to the chassis, in which case they may have to do more.

With a two week compulsory shutdown, Red Bull will struggle to make anything up for Spa, so although they are likely stiffen the current wing when time allows, a short term fix might be to go back a step or two on the front wing.

But the new FIA test loading extra weight on the wing isn’t necessarily going to catch the whole of what Red Bull’s wing is doing.

Most teams, when they think up some brilliant new device, run it past the FIA’s Charlie Whiting first to get a view on whether it’s legal. It’s the way the FIA like things to be done and the Brawn double diffuser and the McLaren F Duct are examples of that.

But Red Bull Designer Adrian Newey doesn’t tend to work that way and neither did Rory Byrne on the winning Ferraris of the early 2000s. Newey puts things on the car and then waits to see if they get picked up. Whiting tends to like to keep things out of the public domain and so when he and Bauer pick something up, he marks a team’s cards that he doesn’t want to see it again at the next race. In this way Newey’s cars can have a few wins under their belt before something is spotted and has to come off.

There is a belief among engineers that some of the “all nighters” the Red Bull mechanics have done this year have not been simply due to adding last minute parts flown out from England, but because Bauer and Whiting have knocked them back on some new device. The modification to the slot on the blown diffuser, spotted by McLaren’s Paddy Lowe, is a case in point, but there are likely to have been others.

But even if he does go conservative, which is not in Newey’s nature, rival teams are kidding themselves if they believe that any new flexi wing test will bring the Red Bull within striking range.

Frank Dernie, the veteran aerodynamicist observed to me this week that “The difference in performance between the Ferrari and the McLaren, is probably mostly down to the front wing. But the difference between the Red Bull and the Ferrari is elsewhere.”

The Red Bull in Hungary was another full second faster than the Ferrari, which is therefore about far more than the front wing.

One of the secrets of the Red Bull car is the interaction of the front end aerodynamics of the car with the rear end and how they work together. No other car comes close to balancing out the front and rear so well and in generating overall downforce and it seems that the other teams are still scratching their heads about how it works.

Looking at – and even copying – something like the front wing in isolation isn’t going to give them the answer. To match the Red Bull they would have to replicate the way the aero devices work with each other and that will take a long time. By the time they’ve figured that out, next year most likely, Red Bull will be well on with the next thing.

They have built an advantage it will take far more than a flexi wing test to cut down.

But if Adrian Newey has a weakness, it is that he cannot resist the temptation to add extra little things to the car to boost performance – hence the “all-nighters” – and it is often these things which lead to reliability problems.

There will be factions within the team, race operations people most likely and hopefully Christian Horner too, who will now be arguing for Newey to play it more conservative in this respect in the final run-in to the championship and not take risks with too many trick new parts. They have a big advantage and no doubt some more major upgrades coming, so it is vital that they just harvest maximum points from now to the end of the season and this will bring them both the Constructors’ Championship for the team and the Drivers’ title to one of their drivers.

They have dropped quite a few points through some unreliability niggles, especially on Vettel’s car (although not necessarily ones which have stopped the car) and through driver politics. These remain the two areas where the team can still lose both championships.

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Brilliant article, fascinating stuff James. I wonder if they have some kind of trick suspension, look at the angle of the floor on that Red Bull car in that great photo above.Love the technical articles.They really get the imagination simmering with wonder, intrigue and suspense.


I believe the problem goes a lot deeper than a flexible wing and a few spring mountigs.

If you consider a box, two sides, a top and a bottom. The top can be loaded heavily as long as the sides remain straight. If the sides are deflected by aerodynamic pressure, the integrity of the structure diminishes and a whole new set of rules apply to the deflection under load.

Now consider not just a front wing and its mountings but the floor, the diffuser and the rear wing. If all of these are influenced in this fashion the gains are immense. Many of these areas cannot be seen.

Airflow and pressure can be ducted. Who knows what ducts or even just porous channels can be built into a chassis to influence one area by the behaviour of another. Heat could be used as trigger rather than pressure (blown rear diffuser).

This raises the question of not just a trick wing but a complete new area of development together with new chassis. It is not surprising that teams are asking for clarification before the lid is taken off this particular can of worms.


Why I’m so sure redbull is ‘cheating’ is the way horner keeps saying it over and over again.

He keeps saying their cars passed all fia test.

That has been his defence all the time, and that’s pretty clear to me 🙂


I,ve just had a look at Scarbs tech page,on here there is a picture of the RB6 on board footage which shows the distance(by pausing the film) of how much the front wing moves,what i also spotted was the radius arms connected to the front suspension also move significantly under braking making the front wing move downwards,possibly more to this than just a flexi front wing?


The RB wing flex wing / floor will likely never be tested as the bits will be pulled by RB prior to SPA scrutineering. It is very possible that the blownen diffuser advantage will turn to a disadvantage as the balance will be completely destroyed and the lower frontend downforce will result in huge understeer. Blowen diffuser can of course be adjusted by proper engine mapping (retardation) to offset decreased frontend downforce but finding a new balance will be very, very tricky indeed. If result at SPA is massive performance decrease from Red Bull it will confirm that they have been , in essence, cheating from the beginning of the season not from the introduction of the new wing.


Excellent comments on the front wing issue – on the Red Bull, it almost looks as if the outer end plates are rotating out from the car and flexing at the 2nd “kink” in the lower element, thereby effectively both lowering the wing and increasing the width. Would be interesting to see a “lateral” test between the two end plates and to see what force was required to deflect them

Chris Partridge

Maybe one answer is for the teams to only have a certain number of “banned” parts per year. For example, if Team A bought Device 1 to the track, and once it was scrutineered it was deemed to be illegal, then that team earns a black mark. If the team has more than three (or however many) black marks per year, they forfeit X number of points in the championships.

Teams could still check with Charlie if a pert is permitted during development, but once it is attached to the car during race weekend they risk an infringement counting against them.

This would discourage speculative “bending of the rules just in case” and encourage teams to be more mindful of the rules and the spirit of the rules too.

Just a thought.


Great article. Thank you.


James – has the FIA or any other body thought of introducing a regulation to limit the amount of fuel allowed to be utilised in a race to say 20 litres or thereabouts?

This would encourage the design of highly fuel efficient engines, delivering certain environmental benefits and giving the sport major green credibility at the same time.

You could get some of the greatest engineering minds in the world (current F1 engineers) to focus on it, delivering the side benefit of the technology being able to be used on engines worldwide. Thoughts?


I have thought about this a great deal. I would love to see the FIA do something along these lines.

From my simple math, the cars need about 140 liters of fuel for a race (I converted 300 lbs of water to kilograms to liters, not perfect, but close enough I guess). So, I am thinking the FIA should allow the teams to re-fuel again, but limit their fuel tanks to 40 liters. That would require 3-4 stops for a race distance. The other key factor to this is to apply an enormous time penalty for refueling by limiting the flow of fuel. I would say something around 40 liters in 30 seconds.

So, mandate small fuel cells and allow refueling, but slowly. This would create enormous benefits for fuel efficiency. The teams that could get to 3 stops first would be at a huge advantage to the 4 stoppers. The first team to 2 refueling stop would be unbeatable!

Of course, that means engine development again (which I am all for). Let’s work on restricting aero development and start working on tech that will save us all from the evils of fossil fuel dependency.


There already is a strong incentive for fuel efficiency since weight carried at the start of a race has a big effect on performance.


James, a great article as you given me an insight into how the cars are scrutineered at Grand Prix weekends.

Jonathan De Andrade

Hi James,

I am from Brazil and firstly I would like to thanks and congrats you for such a great website. I discovered your website last year and since then I have not missed a single post. I really think Brazilian F1 fans miss a lot for not being able to read in English. This blog is very high level from the writer to the readers! Have you ever thought of having your posts translated into other languages? I’d say there is no such work in Portuguese so far as I am concerned.

My point in writing this comment is about fuel consumption and engine/fuel efficiency. Since this year when the car’s weight was let to secrecy, very little has being told about fuel consumption. You wrote on June about Istanbul race “What is interesting is that engineers tell me that the difference in fuel consumption between the Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault engines isn’t particularly significant, based on calculations of how the car performs in the race relative to its performance on low fuel in qualifying”.

I found this 2009 graph in a web search, would not know the accuracy of the data, but it can serve as an example to make my point http://f1numbers.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/2009fueluseenginekg1.jpg

Would there it be any relation between Renault’s engine/fuel efficiency to Red Bull performance? or even further, the surprise that Renault team’s performance was to everyone this year? Is there any new findings on Ferrari, Mercedes engines’ performance or fuel efficiency? Let us know your valuable thoughts on that.

ps. sorry for any English mistakes I may have committed.


Thanks. I’ve thought about translation. It’s an interesting idea.

As for fuel efficiency, I think Renault still leads the way which is helping Red Bull, for sure. But the differences aren’t very large, as far as I’m hearing

Edward Anderson

Fantastic Article, well written…. a pleasure to read something of content in a world of gossip and clutter.


beautiful read james love your feed into this one


Great article.

anyone whos a racing fan knows you cannot just put a front wing on and the car is just as fast as the Red Bulls.

Its all the aero’s on the entire car that work around the front wing too.

If you put Red Bulls Front wing on a Ferrari it will prob make them slower due to them not having the entire car set up with the aero’s.


Excellent Article James, extremely informative and also one which extends beyond the front wing controversy to the overall balance and aero-working the car.

I’ve always always been a big fan of Adrian Newey. He is always been a master class in bringing fresh design ideas and constantly pushing the barriers of conventionalities in engineering concepts. And No FIA or anyone can keep this genius down.. maybe a setback here and there through modification of the rules, no matter what you throw at Adrian, he will always hit back with something revolutionary.

He made every team he worked for a championship worthy team, may it be Williams, Mclaren or Red Bull. So Bring it on all the scrutinisations and revision of rules, he will hit you back with his sheer genius.

The only thing that went wrong for Mclaren is losing Adrian, since he was there, Mclarens were dominant force with Hakkinen and David.

Mclaren has a wonderful driver package, they should introspect and give these two a package worhty of taking the fight to Redbulls and Ferrari, coz’ there is no doubt both are extremely capable drivers to do so.

To sum this up, if Redbulls front wings are found to be illegal, trust me, it not the end of road for them, for they have Adrian Newey, he’ll come up something to kick everyone’s butt in a matter of couple of races.

Go Adrian 🙂


A couple of races? He probably has new bits in his suitcase! The man is a genius!


indeed 🙂


Would it be possible James for you to explain to everybody what advantages can be gained by having a front wing that raises itself on slow corners, as well as the advantages of having it run low on the fast ones.




Re flexi or sprung wings, if the teams are required to run a plank under the floor to stop them lowering the cars , all that is required then is a skid device fitted permanently to the end plates of say 75mm deep which will then prevent any contravention of the rules.



Is the load test applied to just one side of the front wing at a time? If so, perhaps Red Bull have got something that limits the deflection under this condition, but not when both sides of the wing are loaded at the same time, as it would generally be when on the track.


Hi everyone,

I suggest everyone takes a look at the BBC Hockenheim footage as the cars pull up onto their grid slots following the parade lap. A camera is ideally positioned down at Vettel’s front left wheel and as he pulls up in his box the front of the car seems to reset and visibly rises up. It’s very clear and could have been missed by the scrutineers.


Can you give us a clue where abouts to look? Just checked the start of race on iplayer and vettels car isn’t in view when he pulls up?


Comparison of the Red Bull wing to the McLaren shows that on track under load the whole of the front wing, not just the outer part is significantly lower than McLaren wing which gives some credance to what has been said so it’s likely that the whole nose dips under load. I suspect that is achieved by sprung fasteners with adjustable stops which effectively allows the nose to hinge down. Added to that the outer part which flexes a little further would give a wing capable of delivering a huge downforce advantage. The Ferrari wing is a sort of halfway house with an advantage over McLaren but not low enough to catch Red Bull. In my view the front wing is the bigger part of Red Bull adavantage. – Study the images to conclude!


I don’t think that the flexi wing is the holy grail for Reb Bulls.

If you have a look at the footage from the races and the footage from the onboard cameras of all the cars we need to consider 2 different aspects.

Reb Bull and recently Ferrari looks to be setting a little softer, McLaren look very stiff in comparison.

With a softer suspension, the car will respond more to the aero load and therefore it will run lower where possible.

Nobody has measured so far how much more downforce RB is creating.

If the rumours in the paddock are true it could be more than 30 points compare to the rest of the field, please James let us know.

Moroever rumours in the paddock are rife about the possibility of a flexi floor, this will create much more downforce than a flexi wing.

Now the question is, how do RB achieve all this ?

I am not an expert on composite materials but I believe that if they can manufacture a clever layout of fibres, the wing and the floor will flex when needed.

To be more specific.

Immagine this:

You built a structure of carbon fibre laying layers of carbon from left to right.

In the direction the structure will be very strong but at the same time if you apply a force to it in a 90 degrees angle from the way the carbon has been paid, it will be very weak and it might snap very easily.

I wonder if RB have found a way how to produce carbon fibre this way, applying this technology to the wings and the floor of their cars.

Remember that all teams knew the parameter of the test before building the car itself !!!!!

Any comment James ?


It is to do with the layering apparently, yes


And what about the flexi floor ?

Any comments on that James ?


This is part of what I love about F1. I see the designer’s role as being “here’s the car restrictions for the year – work around them as well as you can”.

F-ducts, double diffusers, blown diffusers, Ferrari’s wheels, Red Bull’s qualifying exhaust pressure system – all fantastic stuff. People blah blah about “the spirit of the rules” as if that actually means something, but the only thing that matters is the letter of the law. Make those rule writers earn their pay and tear out their hair in frustration as you legally circumvent their carefully constructed rulebook – awesome.

Where I draw the line though is breaking the rules in a way that is illegal but isn’t picked up in testing. There is enough scope for outrageous creativity elsewhere – so do it where it’s legal please.

Mike from Medellin, Colombia

Well, now they’ll be the argument that since flexible wings are impossible to police then everyone should be able to run them…


Great piece James, thanks.


Red Bull is not cheating just because the wing flexes even of the rules state they “must remain immobile in relation to the sprung part of the car”. There is no such thing as immobile. Even a nose/wing assembly made of solid steel is technically not immobile. That is why tolerances and standards of measurement are written into the rules, to define just how much movement is allowed. It is the job of the designers to press tolerances to the limit in any area where a performance benefit can be realized.

Some peoples understanding of the validity of the wing test is flawed. The weight being placed near the end of the wing gives said weight a fairly large amount of leverage against the center of the wing which is where the majority of the flex would occur. On the track the downforce would be more evenly spread across the wing, so it is possible that a lesser weight placed at the ends of the wing could replicate the bending loads the wing sees on track without having to be equal to the total downforce the wing actually sees on track.

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