Brawn – No legality concerns over “extreme” Mercedes sidepod design

2022 F1 season

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Ross Brawn says that he does not believe the Mercedes radical ‘sidepod-less’ design is in breach of the technical regulations.

Mercedes have caused a stir in the Bahrain paddock by introducing dramatically redesigned sidepods on their W13 compared to the opening pre-season test in Barcelona.

The ‘sidepod-less’ design of the Mercedes led to reports that Red Bull boss, Christian Horner, had questioned the legality of the W13’s design. However, these reports were denied by Red Bull, who dismissed the quotes attributed to Horner as “incorrect”.

Formula 1 motorsport director, Ross Brawn – who was the prime architect behind the radical overhaul to the technical regulations for this season – said that the Mercedes ‘sidepod-less’ design was an “extreme” concept.

“I think there’s no doubt that the Mercedes concept we didn’t anticipate,” said Brawn. “I think it’s a very extreme interpretation of the regulation and I think there’s inevitably going to be a lot of debate about their interpretation.

“That’s what happens with new regulations. However hard you try to close off all the options – and believe me we closed off hundreds of them – the innovation in Formula 1 is always extreme. So, from our perspective, it’s largely about does it affect the objectives of the regulations. From the teams’ perspective, they want to be sure that no one’s taking an interpretation that they don’t feel is correct. So I think there’s going to be a lot of debate in the next few days.”

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Ross Brawn, Bahrain International Circuit, 2022
F1 didn’t anticipate Mercedes’ radical design, said Brawn
Brawn says that he has not seen any designs from the teams that he believes breach the technical regulations or go against the intention of the revised rules package for 2022.

“I think it’s impossible to anticipate the creative scope of the teams. Once they get the regulations, you’ve got 1,000 engineers working on all the regulations and how they can use them,” Brawn explained. “So some of these solutions quite honestly were never anticipated.

“I think we will go back into investigating those solutions and make sure that they maintain the objectives of the new rules. I think they do – our initial impressions are that there’s nothing here that we would be overly concerned about in terms of those objectives of the regulations.

“So it’s just fascinating to see such a wide range of solutions. What I think has become a step change for the teams is a lot of new cooler innovations, a lot of new innovation in the heat exchanges and the radiators that have become available and it’s given them more scope to create the designs we’ve got.”

Horner dismissed claims he had suggested the Mercedes design did not confirm to the regulations. “I’m slightly surprised to be reading comments that I’m supposed to have been making,” he told Sky.

“To be honest with you I haven’t paid a great deal of attention to it. It was obviously a fairly different concept but that’s for the aero guys and the designers to get into.”

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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  • 58 comments on “Brawn – No legality concerns over “extreme” Mercedes sidepod design”

    1. The Mercedes sidepod looks like another case of a design that’s effectively illegal, but sits within the rules. Like the RB flexi-wing last year, and DAS the year before. Frustrating if you hate them, great if you love them. This innovation is what makes the sport so good.

      1. The question I ask you is, what size should the sidepods be?

        1. what size should the sidepods be?

          Oooh, an easy one:
          Big enough to enclose the cooling/heat exchange elements.

          SIPS is a different thing. That has specifications, and if those are met, then you can enclose the whole with a sculpted set of body work. Not read enough to know what level of sculpting is allowed.

          I think the real question is how can other teams do anything similar that deals with the enclosing of the 3D space occupied by their PU and cooling.

          1. Depends on the engine cooling requirements. Mercedes has apparently optimized their engine for cooling from the air box inlet over the driver’s head.

            1. They said the opposite, it’s not optimised from that at all.

        2. That’s easy
          3.7.1 Sidepod
          Bodywork declared as “Sidepod” must:
          a. Lie within RV-RBW-SPOD.
          b. Form no more than two curves on its external surface when intersected by any X or Y
          plane, each of which must be tangent continuous and open. Furthermore:
          i. On any X plane, any curve that is visible when viewed from the side of the car,
          must not contain a concave radius of curvature smaller than 200mm.
          ii. On any Y plane, whenever two curves are visible when viewed from the front
          of the car, neither curve may have a concave radius of curvature smaller than
          c. In any Z plane, any cross section of bodywork must form a single curve on its external
          surface which must be tangent continuous and open.

      2. Naughty Neutral
        10th March 2022, 10:17

        Who would it be illegal?

      3. That’s a comment on the BBC site. Not sure what ‘effectively illegal’ means.

      4. Is that typo because the general perception is that the new sidepod design is effectively legal by the interpretation of the rules. The RB flexi wings however were never legal under the interpretation of the rules, they simply were able to pass the tests that were designed to prove that they didn’t comply with the regulations. That’s a very different scenario. DAS is also something that was not illegal at any point but a genuine innovation that complied with the rules.

        I would clarify that the Mercedes front and rear wings were also clearly flexing at speed last year excessively so they were also probably illegal under the definition of the rules but the FIA never really were able to prove it with their static tests for some reason. This is an important distinction though that sometimes you can have extreme interpretation of rules which do comply with the regulations.

        The flip side is innovations which do not comply with the rules but are hard/impossible to measure with the current tests such as the Ferrari dubious engine power from a couple of years ago. In that case it was pretty clear Ferrari were breaking various rules but were doing so in such a way the FIA couldn’t find out how with the tools they had available.

        1. The RB flexi wings however were never legal under the interpretation of the rules, they simply were able to pass the tests that were designed to prove that they didn’t comply with the regulations. That’s a very different scenario.

          This is a point which many miss.

          If a new steroid is developed which is not detected by current tests, that doesn’t make it legal for sportspeople to take it. It just means they may get away with breaking the rules until the tests catch up.

          1. Exactly and the geometries are among the easy things to define and measure as they have a set of min/max dimensions to respect and as Brawn mention, there is every reason to believe Mercedes comply with those and have legal sidepods.

            I’m really interested in how they handle this case now that 8 teams only are required to make rule changes mid season. I really hope that they let the advantage long enough to encourage such innovations in the future. Given the budget cap and limitation on testing, that would be unfair to shut it down after a single race (if the innovation is compliant of course). I think issuing a directive applicable in a given amount of time (or races) would be most appropriate so that teams can organize their development paths, and for competitors do decide if some ways are worth looking into.

          2. @slowmo @drmouse I think I must have missed something. When were RB’s wings officially deemed illegal? What was their penalty for said alleged illegal wings? Same question for Mercedes’ wings. My understanding is that both teams’ wings were legal by virtue of passing FIA’s own tests. FIA always had full access to test their wings before and after races, as well as pre-season. I don’t recall hearing that any wings failed FIA’s tests and therefore were deemed illegal. So who is it that has stated their wings were illegal exactly? I’m not denying that RB and Merc wings were flexing a lot. But they also passed the very tests the teams had to build the wings around. To me if someone alleges the wings were illegal that is just an opinion, not a fact.

            I don’t think the steroid analogy works. In that scenario a person could easily secretly take a new steroid and nobody could possibly know. In the case of F1 wings, there is no secret. The wings are there for the world to see and for FIA to apply their own tests towards. They are either going to pass or fail FIA’s own tests. If video shows unusual flexing when the cars are at speed then that can prompt further testing or even a change to the test. A steroid could go undetected and nobody would even know to change the test. When FIA changed the test, my understanding is that the teams continued to comply with legal wings that also passed the new tests.

            1. @robbie I wasn’t, personally, saying that RBR’s wings were illegal, what I was pointing out was the difference between a change of regulations and an improved test to check compliance with existing regulations.

              The FIA didn’t change the regs around wings, the just added more tests to ensure compliance with existing regulations. If RBRs wings behaved as some people believe, they were illegal whether they passed the tests or not, similar to the example I gave about the steroids. However, if this is the case, there would be no proof of this because the tests were inadequate, so it cannot be inferred that they were breaking the rules without strong evidence from outside sources (e.g. if their performance took a nosedive after the new tests were brought in, it would be indicative that they had to change their design to meet the new tests, which would mean their previous design did not meet the regulations).

            2. The wings passing scrutineering is not proof that they were legal, simply proof that they couldn’t be proved to be illegal under the tests that they had at the time which prompted the change in the tests. It’s worth noting that the wings were altered by both Red Bull and Mercedes to ensure compliance.

              Specifically in the regulations I believe the key factor is this statement:
              With the exception of the driver adjustable bodywork described in Article 3.6.8 (in addition to minimal parts solely associated with its actuation) and the parts described in Articles 11.4, 11.5 and 11.6, any specific part of the car influencing its aerodynamic performance must remain immobile in relation to the sprung part of the car.

              Now there is a section in the technical regulations that then goes onto to define the key bodywork flexibility tests that must be passed. What that does not do though is prove necessarily that all bodywork is behaving in accordance with remaining immobile in relation to the sprung part of the car as clearly last year that was not the case on the videos we saw. You may recall the FIA did start marking the rear wings to allow them to check the movement in relation to the rear camera which was fixed to the sprung part of the car so any change in height in relation to the camera would prove they were contravening the rules.

              So while no wings for Mercedes or Red Bull may have been declared illegal last year, it’s almost certainly true that they were pushing the boundaries close to, if not actually exceeding what should have been allowed up until the FIA changed the tests.

              Ultimately the FIA don’t like retrospective penalties, they have always preferred to issue cease and desist orders, then change tests and move on quickly.

            3. @drmouse But where I have a problem here is exactly who deemed the wings officially illegal? Simply, if the wings passed the test they were legal. If they changed the test and made it more stringent and the teams still passed the test, the wings are still legal, whether changes were needed to be made to the wings to pass the new test or not. The teams only have the FIA tests to go by in terms of complying to the regs. If the tests were ‘inadequate’ that’s not on the teams. I don’t envision any teams saying to themselves ‘you know what lets make the wings flex ever so slightly just in case by some off chance they make the (we’ll assume inadequate) test more stringent.’

              “If RBRs wings behaved as some people believe, they were illegal whether they passed the tests or not…” Who are the ‘some people’ such that they are giving a legality bottom line vs an opinion? To me, for the wings to have been illegal at any point in time that would have had to have come from officials (scrutineers) who oversee the rules and regulations. Again, at no point were anyone’s wings deemed officially illegal by anyone officially in charge, or there would have been repercussions. To say ‘there would be no proof of this because the tests were inadequate’ is to me to say the teams had nothing to prove because the official tests they had to go by showed compliance.

            4. @robbie

              The teams only have the FIA tests to go by in terms of complying to the regs.

              That’s the same as saying athletes only have the drug tests to go by in terms of complying with the regs. The regulations are separate from the tests. Taking a steroid is against the rules even if it cannot be detected by the tests, and making a wing which too flexible is against the rules even if it passes the tests.

              To me, for the wings to have been illegal at any point in time that would have had to have come from officials (scrutineers) who oversee the rules and regulations.

              If I drive at 100mph on a road with a 70mph limit, I have broken the law whether a cop pulls me over for it or not. If I throw a rock through someone’s window, I have broken the law even if there is nobody there to see me and the police find no evidence. If I murder someone and get away with it, I still broke the law.

              The same goes here: If a team has done something which is against the regulations, it is illegal whether or not an official notices or says anything about, and regardless of whether the tests pick it up.

              Again, I am not saying that RBRs wings were definitely illegal. However, if the rumours about their behaviour are true, then they were illegal no matter how many tests they passed and whether or not any official said anything about it.

            5. The wings are not supposed to flex. Period. That would be a “moveable aerodynamic device”.

              But the reality is, you cannot build an inflexible wing. So the FIA limits how much a wing should flex, by applying static loads in scrutineering, to simulate the load of the wing on the track. Much like VW coding around emissions tests, Red Bull had built their wings to pass the static test, but still flex considerably on the track.

              And they’ve been doing it as far as 2012, if I recall.

            6. The problem with redbull rear wing, was that after the new tests introduced, their wings started to fail more ofthen than not. And had to be replaced after fps or qualis before the races with special permissions. When merc wing failed a test, it was not a flex issue, it was a fixture/installation issue where 0.0x mm inaccuricy prevent part to not fit through. Merc never failed any flex tests. Redbull however started having major issues with their wings freq failing… Sounds like something has been redesigned and didn’t work right… That’s says something at least…

      5. @Stephen H
        Side inlet for the cooling was defined it the rules. Mercedes inlet is not inside the defined space.

        1. @Stephen There’s a bodywork ‘legality box’ in the rules but not a specified location within it for a cooling intake. Cooling exits, however, are specified within the rules.

        2. @denis1304 Please quote the regulations that specifies where the “inlet” has to be located.

      6. As long as the side impact structures meet the regulations, and the sidepods do not exceed the limits of the legality boxes, they’re legal.

        The issue everyone’s overlooking is that Mercedes has substantially rebuilt their engine for the 2022 season– Apparently, it’s the biggest overhaul of the ICE since 2014, and based on the Williams and Mercedes sidepod solutions, this engine has no cooling issues– In the “morning” session, they were even running with the louvers covered.

    2. Wait, did I miss something. Wasn’t F1 supposed to be turning into a spec series this year ?!?

      1. @aussierod Yeah, I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised.

      2. yes you would think so probalem is that memo didn’t get the teams somehow. They look al different.

      3. Coventry Climax
        10th March 2022, 12:56

        I’m sure you’re trying to be cynical but:

        Brawn: “That’s what happens with new regulations. However hard you try to close off all the options – and believe me we closed off hundreds of them – the innovation in Formula 1 is always extreme.

        So unfortunately, it IS turning into a spec series, they’re just without the engineering means/power to close everything off right from the start. Brawn on his own can’t compete with engineering teams of hundreds of people. But it’s an ongoing, evolving process.

        1. I don’t think the point is to make it a spec series, but to close of options which would defeat or go against the purpose of the new regulations. An innovation which doesn’t make it more difficult for cars to follow one another should be allowed, one which does will probably be banned.

      4. @aussierod It had the potential to go that way. The new regs and comments from Brawn last year certainly gave that impression. Any designs that gave a team an advantage or were deemed to be not in the spirit of the regs could be and would be banned on a race to race basis.
        But there was a statement earlier in this year saying more scope to diverge from the strict interpretation of the rules would be allowed.
        Yes, that’s a good thing.

    3. Naughty Neutral
      10th March 2022, 10:18

      Sorry, why, not who (oops)

    4. To be honest with you I haven’t paid a great deal of attention to it.

      Ok but to AMuS he did say he thinks the wing (not the sidepod itself) holding the mirror is illegal as it creates an outwash, so… He might have looked at it wrong and he may not have consulted members of his team beforehand, but he did make those comments.

      1. A bit Russia today style here.
        Put some words in someone’s mouth and connect them with a different subject.
        Tr Olli g guarantee

        1. I rarely agree with you but until Horner officially goes on the record I agree we should not read too much into anything yet.

        2. Put some words in someone’s mouth and connect them with a different subject.

          Hmm, the wing comments aren’t directly connected with this article, but Horner did make them, then denied making them.
          RBR later stated that it wasn’t an “official” comment and that they wouldn’t be making one.

          So, was it CH letting his lips flap before the brain was engaged, or was it a bit of muck stirring?

          The mirror support is a bit close to the wire, but still OK with the FIA it seems.

    5. If the Mercedes design works well and they destroy the competition – it will be boring.

      But, it’s also a just reward for innovative and incredibly clever engineering. I just hope new rules aren’t introduced to clip the wings of those who do well, instead it’s up to the other teams to innovate.

      On the other hand, it might result in a car which handles like a cow. We’ll find out soon whether it’s genius or flop.

      1. This mirrors my thoughts. If one team has a design which works better and is legal, it’s up to the rest match them.
        F1s very basis is on this principle.

    6. The major performance gain this year is said to be under the car. These kind of genius design ideas may have an affect on the overall performance for sure but perhaps it may not be as much as it was in the recent years. Obviously a championship contending team like mercedes will be happy to take any 0.1s off a lap time but maybe the effects might not be as big as rival destroying as people are already scared of.

      Remember DAS, it certainly gave an edge to Mercedes in certain situatuions but the overall package was so strong to begin with. It is refreshing to see a genius design solution like this but let’s see how it will effect the overall performance through out the season. Everyone thought RedBull already won the championship with their sidepod design in the last test. Things change quickly in F1.

    7. Sky’s attempts to put words in Horner’s mouth caused more of a stir.

    8. I have no idea if they are legal or not because I haven’t read the detailed regulations, only observation I have is an under car vent to cool the engine might result in less usable downforce, but no sidepods would have less drag on a straight. But I really have no idea – engineers are smart people.

    9. Sure Ross,

      If it turns out that the Mercedes car design is 2 seconds a lap faster than everyone else you’ll ban it faster than you can say reverse grid.

      1. If it’s the case, don’t expect Mercedes to show it too quickly but rather keep the advantage in hand until competition is catching up. Better for them to open a 10 sec gap and manage it than lap the whole field. They’ve been there before and know how to handle that.

        1. Right up until Russell and Hamilton end up in a fight like Bahrain 2014 where even with the time lost fighting each other they were still pulling away from the rest of the grid like they were F2 cars

      2. @dbradock … And that is what they said they would do before cars were presented: If someone runs away with a crazy design, they will peg them back.

        “As the cars start to appear, we can analyse how they’re achieving their performance and we can evolve it,” said Brawn. “We can start to tune the regulations to keep it going in the right direction.”

        1. Exactly. So whilst he might say its legal it doesn’t meant that they won’t act to outlaw it.

        2. Interesting part is in Spain fia could now wait to scrutinize the Redbull and now they could not wait to state the Mercedes is not illegal.
          Double standards already?

          1. If you weren’t just trying to stir up trouble, you would know that the answer to that is because the FIA also confirmed Mercedes had already submitted the design of the sidepods to the FIA as part of the pre-season homologation policies that are in place.

            The FIA is thus able to say that the design is legal because they had already received this design for formal approval and homologation, whereas Red Bull’s late completion meant they were running behind schedule in their homologation application.

          2. Only “double standards” if you don’t understand why Red Bull were scrutinised in Spain. And it seems you don’t.

          3. ZzzzzzzzzZzzzzzzzzzzZzzzzzzzz, why post, no one pays any attention to your drivel 😂

    10. Bravo to Merc, they pulled out the surprise of the year, now lets see what happens in Q3 and where the real gap is at.

    11. I’d prefer they didn’t win the championship as I’m not a fan of theirs but if they have to win it at least give them a fight for it – that’s all I’m asking. If this car turns up at the first race and grabs pole by a silly margin and wins by an even sillier one and the rest of the year is just watching the same one team win literally everything because nobody else’s machines are close enough then… nah that’s awful. If they’ve done a better job, fair play – but just please, please let it still be a challenge.

    12. Not the sidepod, but what about that wing under the rearview mirrors?

      1. Thats the crash structure, with a wing around it.

        1. craash structure protection to be clear which is a must have item for the regulations.

    13. Not only have they eliminated the drag of the side pod they have used the entire upper crash structure as a wing to direct air to the diffuser. And they can probably change that wing track to track. It’s brilliant, in principle. They have three sets of wings now. Question is how they are keeping air off the rear tires if they care about that now.

    14. “I’m slightly surprised to be reading comments that I’m supposed to have been making,” he told Sky.

      You say that, but then again, the boy who cried wolf has spouted so much rubbish over the years that I would easily believe that Horner did say this!

    15. Innovative and I begrudgingly like it! Lol.

      My only concern is the possibility of those side impact structures entering the halo in an accident. They look like they’d fit.

      1. The side impact structures structure on the Merc is no different to any other teams, its just that other teams are covered by carbon fibre sidepods, which just breaks apart on impact anyway.

    16. To quote Ross B. … re Mercedes side-pods.
      ““I think we will go back into investigating those solutions and make sure that they maintain the objectives of the new rules. ”
      So it seems that the Technical Regulations have been supplanted by the “Objectives of the new rules”.
      Rules are supposed to be Rules. Objectives are wants, not rules. One can wonder how much flex there is in the “Objectives”, or will they change the loads there too.?

      1. Well, the tests for wing-flex have already been increased in load and changed multiple times (different rig, margins, angles) in order to test more in line with the ‘objective’ of the rule that deems flexing wings to be illegal. This kind of rule-change in order to fit the objective has been done often before.

        Now with the regs focussed on cleaner airflow to aid following, the rule objectives are even more important (with the teams having agreed to this).

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