Well, it seems we are going to find out just how much difference to lap times the flexi-floors make. Autosport magazine has a very revealing article reporting on the FIA’s response to McLaren’s suggestion that they be allowed to fit the same system that Ferrari are using to enable the floor of their car to flex at high speed. Predictably, this has galvanized the FIA to action and they have replied that they will test for moving floors with such devices removed.
Bang goes Ferrari’s little tweak. Which is what McLaren wanted all along, of course. There will be those who say that the tweak should be allowed, that this is just the designers introducing new technological ideas and that McLaren are only looking for ways to handicap Ferrari. But that would ignore the fact that this particular tweak is deliberately designed to circumvent the rules. If the tightening of the test does interfere with the Ferrari’s competitiveness, then its speed to date has been thanks to an illegal modification and McLaren are quite right to protest.
The idea of moving the floor to increase or decrease aerodynamic efficiency is not new; clearly, the FIA test for this is to prevent it happening. So this is not a case of a brilliant technological innovation being killed by spoilsports. The engineers are aware of the effect of a moving floor but have not employed it before, knowing that it would be illegal. It is no great step of the imagination to design something that will resist the known force used in the FIA test but to move when higher forces are applied.
What amuses me most about the saga is the way in which McLaren “sought clarification” on the tweak. They did not protest the Ferrari but asked whether the FIA would allow a device intended to pass the test but function at higher forces. I can almost hear Charlie Whiting, the FIA’s head of the F1 technical department, spluttering as he wrote in his reply:
“Quite clearly, any such device would be designed to permit flexibility and is therefore strictly prohibited by Article 3.15 of the Technical Regulations.”
This from the same man who passed the Ferraris as perfectly legal at the Australian Grand Prix. It seems that McLaren know from experience that, to get a fair ruling from the FIA where Ferrari are concerned, you must suggest that you are going to do the same thing as the Italian team.
It may be that removal of the device will have no great effect on the Ferrari’s performance, in which case McLaren are going to have to work that much harder to get on terms with them. But, if the tweak has had something to do with the Ferrari’s superiority so far, its removal can only be good for the sport. We might still have the closely-fought season that we have all been hoping for in that case.