Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has expressed surprise that rival Formula 1 teams have apparently designed the floors of their cars to bend more than the regulations allow.
The FIA has issued new instructions to F1 teams in an effort to improve two key negative characteristics of the 2022 ground effect cars – namely harbor porpoises and the harsh ride quality that comes with stiffer, lower-end cars.
A revised technical guideline was issued this week and its main focus has been to create a complicated benchmark by which the FIA will measure and monitor acceptable levels of vertical oscillations to combat the aerodynamic phenomenon of harbor porpoises and aggressive bottoming.
But the second part of this technical guideline has been generally overlooked, with the FIA focusing on shelf wear and flexibility as it believes these are “inherently linked to the same issues and go hand in hand with the metric”.
Wolff said this is the “interesting part” of the FIA’s intervention, as “some teams may have stretched that too much”.
The FIA’s focus on this area suggests suspicions that some teams may have interpreted rules that allow 2mm of flexibility in the bodywork within the area defined as the shelf in a way the FIA never intended.
The rules only specify no deflection of more than 2mm at two specific positions, at the front of the board and slightly further back.
No measurements were taken at the rear, around where the rider sits, so it is believed that some teams designed the assembly of the plank and skid block in a way that gives some degree of cushioning.
It is believed that the skids flex more than 2mm and therefore can be used more aggressively without wearing away.
“Nobody had any idea until the FIA brought it up in the last technical advisory committee,” Wolff said when asked by The Race if there were any suspicions of this interpretation ahead of the technical guidance.
“That was a big surprise to all the teams, because what’s in the regulations, and what the intent of the regulations was, is pretty clear.
“There’s no argument why that could be more distracting than what’s in the regs. A bit of a surprise to say the least, more of a shock.”
From France, this interpretation will not be accepted and all cars with this solution will have to make changes so as not to be considered contrary to these two regulations.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has said he believes his cars “fully comply” with everything set out in the new technical guideline.
But Red Bull and Ferrari are linked as two teams that have designed the bodywork within the shelf area to bend according to the interpretation the FIA is talking about.
Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes’ head of track engineering, said: “Once it came to light, we realized there are opportunities that we may not have taken or exploited.
“So it doesn’t affect how we drive our car. It may well affect our competitors and that brings us a little closer.”
Since the FIA’s planned intervention was initially unveiled ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix, Red Bull has been one of its most outspoken critics.
This was in response to the way the FIA dropped the first draft of its technical guideline on teams on the eve of a race, and the fact that Red Bull has not suffered from harbor porpoises to the same extent as Mercedes.
Red Bull has emphasized that it would be unfair to impose changes on all teams if some cars abide by the rules and do not porpoise or bounce to a dangerous extent.
This weekend, Horner was critical of what he believes gives the FIA greater control over team lineups, which he called “a dangerous road down”.
“It is certainly not a precedent that we want to go down, otherwise the settings will be dictated by FIA guidelines,” Horner said.
However, it can be clearly inferred from the FIA’s revised technical guidance that its analysis of the porpoise and bottoming issue has uncovered interpretations of the rules that it deems unacceptable.
And that suggests countering potential misuse of the underside of floors is a matter of compliance rather than forcing teams to come together with designs for porpoise reasons.
Asked by The Race if he’s surprised that teams doing things they shouldn’t in terms of bending planks have become a focus when porpoises were the number one priority, Horner said: “Well, obviously it’s an important one. performance factor so you can understand why they are looking at it.
“But if a car goes wide at Copse, I’m sure the rear of the driver will get quite warm due to the amount of wood he leaves on the aggressive curbs there.
“So it’s something that they as regulators look closely at, that it’s not being abused.
“But it has to be subjective.”