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BMW Sauber and the Flexi Wing

The on-going saga of the flexi wing row continues – but now that Ferrari have fixed theirs, the spotlight remains firmly upon the BMW Sauber team. Photos taken at the Canadian GP seem to indicate that their rear wing is still flexing and some of the teams are annoyed that they are getting away with what appears to be a breach of F1 rules.

BMW Sauber

BMW Sauber and the wing…

So what is this flexi wing and why is it such a contentious issue? If we look closely at the rear wing of any F1 car, we will see that it is actually two or more wings held one above the other. The gap between the wings increases the amount of downforce available, for some arcane aerodynamic reason. Which is very nice in the corners but increases drag down the straights; F1 aerodynamics is always a trade off between downforce and drag and the fine tuning done before each race is mainly concerned with attaining the right balance between these two.

The flexi wing, however, is forced down by the air pressure at high speed so that it closes the gap between the wings down the straights. This reduces drag and allows the car to attain a higher speed than it would otherwise. But it can also be defined as “a movable aerodynamic device”, something that has been banned in F1 for more than thirty years.

In point of fact, it’s a grey area and this is why it has the potential for so much arguing between teams and rulemakers. In my humble opinion, Colin Chapman’s introduction of skirts in the late seventies should have been outlawed immediately, instead of after the several years that it actually took. They were aerodynamic devices in that their sole purpose was to prevent air getting beneath the car from the sides, thereby keeping the low pressure area that had been created by ground effect. And they moved to stay in contact with the ground regardless of the clearance of the car. If that isn’t a movable aerodynamic device, I don’t know what is.

The matter is further complicated by the fact that all wings used in F1 flex to a greater or lesser extent. Watch them closely during a race and you will see that they wobble around quite a bit, understandably so when one considers the enormous pressure being exerted upon them. Stick your hand out of the car window at speed and you will see what I mean.

So it becomes very difficult to legislate against wings that are designed to flex sufficiently to provide an aerodynamic advantage at high speed. Are the FIA to specify just how stiff a wing must be? Will they have to insist upon particular materials for the wing’s manufacture? Take a look at the F1 technical regulations and you will see how precise and specific they are already. That’s 59 pages of highly detailed specifications, folks!

We really don’t need any further complications in the technical rules. I believe that the FIA are trying to simplify them at present with a view to cutting costs in the future and I think this is the right way to go. The flexi wing controversy comes at an unfortunate time, therefore.

The FIA has yet to rule definitely on whether BMW Sauber are breaking the spirit of the rules with their wing. They were allowed to get away with it in Canada, probably because the car’s performance was not particularly wonderful, but there is mounting pressure for something to be done. And, if the FIA say it’s okay, you can bet that every team on the grid will soon have a similar wing.

Personally, I don’t see why they don’t just insist on a spacer being inserted between the wings at their mid-point. But maybe that’s too obvious a solution…

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