When designing their new front wings, the Ferrari and Mercedes engineers read the regulations very carefully. Both teams cleverly exploit loopholes in the legal text to direct the airflow outwards. We have the details.
It's the eternal battle between the FIA's technical experts, who write the regulations, and the F1 engineers, who meticulously search for gray areas between the lines. With the new aerodynamics regulations, which came into force in 2022, the permitted dimensions were defined using CAD programs for the first time. If you want to understand the dimensions of certain assemblies, you need a computer and the right software.
The measure helped to define the so-called legality boxes very precisely. This leaves little room for interpretation that the teams can use to their own advantage. However, a major disadvantage of the new version of the technical regulations is that fans and journalists can hardly understand the text of the law in the event of a dispute without the help of experts.
In the comeback season of the ground effect cars, however, there were hardly any such disputes. Only a few teams tried to trick the regulations. For example, Aston Martin brought a rear wing with end plates that were pulled far up. The radius rules for the surfaces were not formulated strictly enough in this area.
However, Aston Martin was not able to gain any major advantages. In the end, the trick was not even copied by the competition. The FIA also took the story lightly. The regulations have been tightened for 2023. That was the end of it.
The law enforcement officers reacted a little more irritably to tricks that violated the basic aero philosophy of the new generation of racing cars. The rules should definitely prevent the current from being diverted outwards around the car prematurely. This increases the turbulence behind the rear and makes overtaking more difficult.
Small footbridges for legality
Here Mercedes was repeatedly targeted by the inspectors. With one of the first front wing upgrades, the factory team featured a large recess in the rear of the endplate. The air was routed outwards around the front wheels through the hole. The inspectors had to grudgingly admit that the solution was legal. But it was not a match winner for Mercedes. The Silver Arrow had too many other construction sites.
Here, too, the FIA promised to take countermeasures during the winter break. The outer edges of the flaps must now also be connected to the end plate in the rear part. In this way, the rulers hoped to get rid of the problem. But even the first pictures of the new (black) Silver Arrow showed that Mercedes was able to outsmart the regulations again. The gap between the flaps and the endplate still exists.
A closer look at the area shows that Mercedes complies with the legal text by docking the flaps to the end plate via tiny carbon bars in the rear. These fasteners only have the task of complying with the rules. However, they do not prevent the air from flowing out through the gap around the front wheels.
Finns removed again
Mercedes even tried to reinforce this effect last year with a second measure. At the Austin race, the factory team showed up with a new front wing that sported five small fins on the upper flaps. The vertical flow straighteners should also direct the air outwards. Mercedes argued that these were legal connectors used to hold the flaps in place.
Allegedly, the solution was discussed with the FIA experts in advance. But on closer inspection on site, the inspectors suddenly reported concerns. Article 3.9.8 of the Technical Regulations states that the connections must primarily serve a mechanical or structural purpose. Mercedes tried to convince the FIA technicians that aerodynamic function was not the priority.
The use of the upgrade was not officially banned, but in the event of a protest the solution could have been classified as illegal. This would have led to disqualification and the deprivation of points. Mercedes apparently did not want to take this risk. A week later in Mexico, the small fins were immediately dismantled before they were even used on the track once.
Ferrari copies Mercedes
After the bankruptcy, it was actually assumed that the little Finns would no longer appear. But Ferrari showed an almost identical copy of the Mercedes idea at the presentation of the SF-23. How could that be? Only a look at the regulations brought the solution: The FIA had surprisingly removed the addition that the connections must primarily have a structural function.
Apparently, the rule-keepers feared that this fulfillment of this requirement could not be measured with objective standards. They didn't want to get into an argument about when a connection is primarily structural and when it's primarily aerodynamic. After all, every element on the surface of the car also has an impact on airflow. So the half-sentence was simply left out.
Ferrari noticed the change and took advantage of it right away. Here, too, five small fins were placed between the third and fourth front wing elements, following the Mercedes example. Because this is a relatively easy solution to build, it won't be long before we see more replicas of this trick on other cars.