Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Circuit de Catalunya, 2021

‘Bendy’ Red Bull wing Hamilton spotted is legal, Horner insists

2021 Spanish Grand Prix

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Red Bull CEO Christian Horner insists the team’s rear wing design is fully compliant with Formula 1’s regulations, after it was seen deflecting at speed during today’s race.

Footage of the car’s rear wing at the Circuit de Catalunya indicated it was moving slightly at high speed. Lewis Hamilton commented on the “bendy” wing after qualifying.

Teams have used flexible wings in the past to improve their car’s straight-line performance. However cars are subjected to stringent FIA tests to ensure the stiffness of their bodywork. Horner said the sport’s governing body is completely satisfied it is compliant.

“Of course the car’s scrutineered thoroughly and there’s pull back tests, there’s all kinds of different tests it has to pass,” he said. “The FIA are completely happy with the car, it’s passed all of those tests that are pretty stringent.”

Horner said he was “surprised” by Hamilton’s comments on the rear wing, and suggested Mercedes team CEO Toto Wolff had drawn his attention to the wing.

“It’s something that Toto has mentioned to me previously. I doubt it was Lewis’s opinion, it probably came from elsewhere.”

Red Bull led much of the Spanish Grand Prix but lost victory to Mercedes for the third time in four races this year. Horner said they intend to keep up their development push in order to remain competitive in the title fight.

“Mercedes didn’t show their true potential at the [pre-season] test. From Bahrain, they’ve been right there, particularly on race pace.

“So of course, it is going to be about developing and developing efficiently, developing within the constraints of obviously designing a new car for next year as well, so that poses its own challenge.

“Of course, a 23-race calendar is a marathon season. We need to make sure that we’re there for the second half so that that’s been generally where we’ve been stronger.”

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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35 comments on “‘Bendy’ Red Bull wing Hamilton spotted is legal, Horner insists”

  1. Looks like they were running the curved rear wing angle. Although, this is not typically the track where teams run it right? They normally run it at SPA or Monza right?

    1. @krichelle you are right that it is more common to see that type of rear wing used for the lower downforce circuits – Spa is one of the more common circuits to see it, although we did see some teams using it at other venues too (e.g. in 2020, we saw some teams use that type of rear wing at Mugello). It is abnormal to see it at a venue that has relatively high downforce requirements such as Barcelona though.

      It is worth noting that this is not the first time that Red Bull have faced questions over how flexible their rear wings are – their 2020 car also had a rear wing that was visibly flexing quite significantly (you can find footage from people analysing how far it was flexing in the 2020 Styrian GP).

      Incidentally, the FIA have confirmed that they are looking at modifying the load testing procedures for the rear wing, so it does seem to be an area that they are actively investigating.

      1. And all investigation showed no abnormalities. So fase 2 of the mental games.
        Including a very nervous Toto calling Masi on the team radio about blue flags.

        1. None of the testing showed an abnormality on the front wing in the year it was discovered Adrian Newey had literally designed a hinged front wing either. I wonder why they spent so much effort hiding that illegal hinge?

          1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMS9_qoM_xk

            this is a video from last year… seems like a real flexing rear wing… you dont get sudden straight line speed without loosing cornering speeds. Redbull magically gained straight line speed while not much lost at corners… Ferrari were not cheating until they lost all that speed behind closed door discussions! Also redbul front wings were not flexing either until they did…

          2. @mysticus

            Interesting. Only today I knew that Red Bull last year had this type of rear wing at that race. I wonder if Mercedes will decide to raise this to the FIA considering that Hamilton did call it out. But for the race yesterday, I did find it weird that they were running the curved rear wing angle, cause I thought that it would not give them any benefit due to Barcelona being a downforce track. Although, I did notice Hamilton not gaining that much on Verstappen in a straightline compared to previous races. So maybe it did help…

  2. Of course it is “legal”, Mr.Horner. Just like the front wing some years ago.

    Just wait till the FIA issues some clarifications.

    1. The bendy front wing was legal at the time. Until the rules are changed, it’s legal.

      It’s the responsibility of the FIA to ensure the cars are compliant with the rules, if their tests aren’t sufficient that’s a problem for the FIA.

      1. It wasn’t really the rules that changed though – those are clear: no bending at all @justrhysism.

        What changed was that when it became clear that the testing methods they had were not able to prove / show / find this clear infringement, and therefore were not able to penalize for an infringement (since it could not be shown up), they adjusted the testing protocoll to be able to uncover this one.

        Those changes have been happening at times since ages, because Materials develop, manufacturing techniques develop etc. So once in a while the FIA has to adjust how they test to make sure teams cannot circumvent the rules.

        But the rules were, and are clear in this point.

        1. @bascb So yes, a problem for the FIA to ensure their tests are sufficient. The teams will always exploit the grey area.

          1. Off course they will @justrhysism. That does not mean that the things they come up to dodge those checks are LEGAL. Just that they cannot be proven to be illegal.
            I am fine with teams doing this, it makes it extra interesting. It is and has been part of the sport for ever.
            But I am baffled by people feeling they have to defend teams for doing things those teams know full well are infringing on the rules, but can slip through the gaps (for now).

    2. I’d be surprised to find a legal car on the grid. I’ve seen some footage and to be honest I can’t see it flex, it probably does but it is not visible. what is visible is the rear wing going down relative to the T-cam. As the car accelerates the rear of the car compresses, you can see the rear suspension angle changing as the rb builds speed and also how the rear of the car is being pushed down, sideshots show it better.

      1. We all know and understand why the FIA now took the step to start randomly checking cars thoroughly as a principle @peartree. As you mention, it is highly likely that ALL teams try and do things they think they can get away with, even if they know these things are probably not legal.

        With this Flex, I also think that part of what we are seeing in that video is indeed the suspension movement. Although it does look like the wing flexes somewhat, it is hard to tell whether that is RB overdoing it. All in all, it is a good reason for the FIA to step up checks in this area again. If RB is doing it, I am sure others are at least experimenting with this again as well.

        1. @bascb we see front wings compress as well. Another f1 “thing” that lingers.

          1. Yeah, this is a bit of an ongoing story.

  3. The thing is though, that the rules explicitly say that when deflecting bodywork is detected the tests can be changed to stop this practice. So the fact that the wings pass the current tests does not mean they are “legal” per se.

    1. @f1osaurus Yes it is. The way that they determine whether the wing is legal or not is through the deflection tests. If it passes the current test, then it is legal. If they change the way that it is tested then Redbull (and others) need to make sure that their design passes the new test. If it doesn’t, they need to modify it so that it passes the new test and remains legal under the new requirements.

      1. @keithedin Actually I think you’ll find that a car passing scrutineering doesn’t necessarily make it legal. The purpose of the tests is to identify wing deflection under load and ensure they’re not flexing excessively which would be considered a movable aerodynamic device. If the test can be passed but the wing still flexes excessively then the FIA could choose to change the test to eliminate the workaround Red Bull are using to “pass” the test.

        Time will tell but I’d suggest Red Bull have more to fear from protests from other teams rather than Mercedes. I think Hamilton was just making sure it was on all the teams radars, possibly under instruction from Toto.

        1. The fact is no structure is absolutely rigid and cannot be made so. The FIA acknowledge this in the regulations and test for rigidity within a range. Everyone’s wings flex, there is no way around that. The question is do they flex less than the rules require. If they do, they are legal.

          Reply moderated
        2. @slowmo sure they can change the tests, but if testing a part doesn’t make it “legal”, what *is* the test verify that a part is legal?

          If it’s passing the test it has to be legal, otherwise what mechanism is there to deem a part legal?

          1. @justrhysism the scrutineering checks are not a guarantee that the car is legal, just that they pass their tests. This is where the grey areas allow some teams to take advantage. The Honda in 2006 passed scrutineering checks but eventually when they revised the tests to ensure full compliance with the regulations it resulted in them getting a ban for using liquid as ballast. They had been doing that for possibly years.

            Ultimately if a part is legal or not is down to the technical regulations and the stewards interpretation of those. If the stewards decide that the wings on a car flex more than they believe should be allowed then they may decide that the test they use to determine the wing flexibility is not robust enough. The reason they may for example change the tests is that all other teams will have to implement a similar version of their wings to Red Bull meaning unnecessary costs as everyone spends chasing a marginally improvement.

            My bet is nothing comes of it and the FIA will change the tests next year to be more stringent and allow Red Bull their trick wing for a year.

          2. @slowmo yes, but that’s my point. The grey area is there to be exploited, and always has been. Maybe not explicitly, but we’ve been through this before. The flexing front wing was a grey area; legal as in it passed the tests, but only because the tests weren’t sufficient.

            Sure the FIA changed the test, and *then* the part didn’t/wouldn’t comply; but until the new test is applied, it *has* to be legal.

          3. @justrhysism I think we are arguing semantics but my point stands that the part is only legal if it obeys the technical regulations. The tests help to enforce them but you can still pass a scrutineering test but ultimately be running a illegal car ala the 2019 Ferrari PU debacle although nobody can prove anything thanks to the shady deal with the FIA. We’ve seen historically in the sport that parts that were considered legal be outlawed and on the odd occasion retrospective penalties applied.

            This is probably a storm in a teacup but its a Good way for Mercedes to get other teams looking at Red Bull while they do their own thing.

      2. @keithedin That’s pretty much what I wrote yes.

      1. Wow that’s so obviously against the rules. It’s staggering what nonsense Red Bull gets away with.

    2. Exactly @f1osaurus. Tests were changed when development of materials and manufacturing allowed for ways to make wings bend, flex, shift etc in the past when needed.

      That this can not be proven to be against the rules, does not make the parts legal. It just makes it so that a team is able to get away with it (for now). Much like Ferrari got away with running an illegal engine for a while until the FIA came up with new stuff to prove it in the futre.

      1. @bascb Indeed. Especially on stuff like this, when the rules so clearly allow changing of the tests to ban out any designed movement of the bodywork.

        Seeing that Youtube clip that @mysticus posted above, it’s bizarre how nothing is done about this flexing again though. That the whole rear wing flexes back that much is clearly purposefully designed to happen.

      2. @f1osaurus
        The irony is the rear wing is also wing logo :)

        Jokes aside, this rear wing almost acting like Dr’s flatting the angle thus reducing drug increasing straight line speed which is very much in line with how redbull is faster on straight line… I don’t really buy into Honda making a huge leap in power alone gave redbull straight line speed. Also I believe redbull hasn’t perfected this flex just yet but it is very significant that in straight line they are almost as fast as Mercedes.

  4. Boing 2….Return of the Flexi Wing

  5. Horner is basically saying HAM doesn’t know what he’s talking about. A bit harsh for someone who had a full face of that RB16B rear for over 50 laps of the Catalunya circuit ;-)

  6. Jockey Ewing
    10th May 2021, 23:05

    This is amazing (based on the video). Rules should be more permissive, only strict on the safety, and financial, fairness and behavioral side. The more contrived and detailed the rules are, the more contrived the circumventings will be. Especially if the rules and details are not contrived in a good way. Good things are often very simple. I have no problem with such stuff, especially if the costs are sane, almost all teams are bending the rules as much as they can. Just because some kind of development is outruled by F1, it can be still: cheap, effective, and safe or futureproof, and very useful in the “outside world” as well.

    1. For context, flexible wings can be extremely dangerous. They flex because they’re weak under full load which can lead to catastrophic failure at High speed removing all downforce and spearing cars off the track without warning. The tests are designed to ensure the wings are strong enough to ensure they do not fail. The rules are there for safety in this instance and to stop teams pushing extremes.

      1. Jockey Ewing
        12th May 2021, 10:38

        Yes, on safety side, you are right, one of the worst things I can imagine is a rear wing breaking, or tearing off at higher speeds, that could cause something very unpredictable.

  7. It’s the responsibility of the FIA to ensure the cars are compliant with the rules, if their tests aren’t sufficient that’s a problem for the FIA.

    Reply moderated

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