Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2022

Wolff doesn’t fear legality dispute over new Mercedes sidepod design

2022 F1 season

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Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff is confident they will avoid a legality dispute over the radical sidepod design introduced on their car today.

The sidepods, which appeared on the team’s W13 today, are a significant departure from those they ran at the previous test in Spain. The significantly smaller design includes much narrower air intakes at the top which flare out beneath. The team has achieved this by enclosing the mandatory side impact structures separately from the sidepod.

Following the car’s appearance, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was reported to have raised doubts over its legality. However the team quickly moved to deny he had spoken to media about the design.

Mercedes insisted the FIA was aware of the design it was pursuing, according to Wolff. “The process is very clear when you go in a specific development direction with your team, having the FIA as part of scrutinising it, you’re exchanging CAD data and making them part of the process,” he said.

Nonetheless he wasn’t surprised to hear queries from rivals over their novel design. “It’s clear that sometimes when you come up with an innovation it creates the kind of debate that we’re having,” said Wolff. “That was expected.”

Following the revised governance structure introduced last year, Mercedes’ rivals could force them to change their sidepods if enough of them vote to outlaw the design, which Wolff acknowledged.

“We have the new governance with the super majority that’s needed,” he said. “My opinion is that I would have preferred to stay with the old system, and if a team comes up with an innovation, possibly you can’t take it off the car if it’s compliant with the regulations.

“So I think the FIA and Formula 1 will for sure handle that with diligence, in the spirit of the sport. We were keen in not running alone with that, but being in touch with the FIA also and that’s why I think it will be okay.”

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Keith Collantine
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31 comments on “Wolff doesn’t fear legality dispute over new Mercedes sidepod design”

  1. DAS flashbacks, anyone?

    It might stay legal this year and most certainly will get outlawed for next year if it indeed means significant performance gains.

    1. @rockgod Possibly, we’ll see.

    2. Honestly I think it would be fair to leave the advantage for some time being 6 months for CFD runs allocation or a season for new rules (or rules amendment). Innovation should still be rewarded but by doing as above, it is also a deterrent for other team to develop similar systems, hence a shorter advantage than multi seasons, but stronger one as nobody will copy it.

      The way FIA deals with this will definitely set a very important precedent.

      1. Just to make things clear, forgot to mention that I am not sure this needs to be closed or prevented in the first place*

    3. Only problem I see is the wing mirror.though most teams are pushing it. The rest I don’t have cad eyes to see whether the aero on any of these cars is going against the rules intent.
      The sidepods look just like the Williams except the inlet is not linked to the crash structure.

  2. Rivals teams can vote to decide if your car is allowed to be designed the way it is, when the governing body has already decided it’s legal?

    Every time I think the governing body can’t get more toothless and inept, it proves me wrong.

    1. That’s not the way I read the reports of the changes before they happened, but it does seem to be that if enough vote against you then you have to go a different way – even if the car is legal. Quite how this fits with the F1 philosophy is beyond me.

      1. As far as I understand, the new procedure still requires FIA to initiate the change of rules which then require the super majority vote to change mid year, so teams still can’t force through a change without FIA support

    2. It’s just a way to enforce the rules in spirit as well as in letter. Brawn’s reason for being where he is, is to plug all the regulatory holes that he spent his whole career diving through without even touching the sides, fairly often.

      If anything this relatively small caveat gives the FIA a whole second mouthful of teeth to use in pursuit of whatever it is they want F1 to be, but that is quite another story.

      1. Where exactly is “the spirit of the rules” defined?

        1. @scbriml It isn’t. Which is exactly why they made that change.

    3. that’s nonsense. it’s legal or not. envy from rivals!!

    4. It’s a little harder than that. It needs the governing body AND 80% of teams to outlaw things.

      It’s simply a way to avoid someone running off with the championship early by gaining a huge advantage or from loopholes.

  3. I doubt the sidepods are a surprise to the FIA. They had to crash test these sidepods and before the sunk a lot of time into them I would bet they sat down with FIA to make sure there wasn’t an issue.

    My guess is they will be allowed to stay and other teams are allowed to copy as they see fit and can implement this year of next.

    1. They had to crash test these sidepods

      @blueruck They don’t do side impact test’s anymore because for a dozen years now the side impact crash structure has been a standard component designed & produced by Red Bull Technologies.

      The only crash test’s the FIA do now are front/rear as well as I think some sort of stress test on the roll structure.

      They will however be aware of the design as teams now have to send the FIA all of there CAD drawings.

  4. It is such a comfort to see the cars without all those Barge-Boards, fins, doo-hickeys and other add-ons that cluttered up the body work and spoilt the lines of the cars.
    The rules to get rid of all the aero trickery were touted as a way to save the teams time, effort and of course, money.
    The expectation now is that there will be teams of lawyers engaged to prevent the new design ideas from being deemed against the rules.
    Let the games begin.

  5. That part of the car looks now not much different from a pile of cow poo.
    I hope FIA takes care of this and imposes regulation that would clean that up just like they did with the noses, which now look the best they looked in the last 20 years.

  6. I’m interested by the design, my understanding was that 75% of the downforce is now generated by the underfloor of the car with the aid of the diffuser. I get that with the side pod not there that clears up the air to the back of the car but how does that interact with the air coming out of the diffuser and sealing the floor of the car, in conjunction with the much beefed up rear beam wing? I kinda want to say if the majority of the aero is produced under the car then this (while looking radically different) may not be that big a game changer. Time will tell i suppose.

  7. That is incredibly strange looking. It’s just looks… melted.

    1. Good description

  8. petebaldwin (@)
    10th March 2022, 17:43

    I’m interested to see how it goes. I think like with any design choice, there are positives and negatives. When all it well, they’ll be quick but if the negatives are that they run hot and can’t push as hard as others, it’ll balance everything out.

    As to whether it’s legal or not – I’ve not heard anything that would suggest it’s not legal. It’s not like the DAS argument where you could easily interpret the rules to say that shouldn’t have been allowed.

  9. It’s certainly an interesting concept. My guess is that the side pods and separate crash structures will be allowed as Wolff has already confirmed that the regulators were consulted during the design phase.
    I’m not so certain on the legality of the winglets next to the mirror supports. That feels like it might be a step too far.
    I’m also pretty certain that Wolff can squeak at least 2 out of 3 votes from Williams, McLaren, and Aston Martin to make sure that the design isn’t banned by the new 80% of votes regulations. It looks like these regulations have been designed to deliver yet more pointless politics in F1 (like any more was needed!)

  10. Prediction of future events (assuming the design proves to be advantageous):

    Protest of the sidepodless design at the first race by at least one team.
    FIA will determine it is legal before 3rd race
    Teams will scramble to determine if their aero philosophy can benefit from such a design
    Teams that can’t benefit from the design will vote to outlaw it
    When the next big regulation change occurs, all teams will have been strongly influenced by the sidepodless design and will incorporate some aspect of it in their designs

    1. @g-funk Thing is that it’s not going to be easy for other teams to adopt as to be able to do what Mercedes have done requires a complete repackaging of the power unit as well as a redesign of some of the elements which is something nobody will be able to do after next weekend as the power units will be homologated & frozen until the next formula is introduced in 2025.

      The other Mercedes powered teams will likely be able to benefit from it as they will have the same power units & cooling requirements, But the teams running other manufacturer’s power units will almost certainly not be able to react as easily.

      If it is a concept that works & If the engine freeze does mean others won’t be able to follow it I can unfortunately see it just been banned because we can’t have anybody finding an advantage any more.

      1. @roger-ayles I never said it was going to be easy but if it provides as much of an advantage as some rumors suggest, I think the other teams will be working overtime to make it happen if they can benefit from it without redesigning the entire philosophy of their car.

        Ferarri will probably not pursue a sidepodless design because their aero philosophy surrounding that area appears quite different and they do not have a split-turbo design, which I imagine is pretty helpful in the tight packaging needed for all this. So we probably won’t see a Ferarri PU update that can accommodate this type of design. So all the Ferarri-powered teams would probably vote to outlaw. As noted in the analysis of Red Bull’s sidepods, their radiators must be very compact and highly angled, so they could conceivably repackage their PU if their aero philosophy is in alignment with this design. Alpine, like Honda and Merc, have a split turbo design and so appear to be thinking along the lines of re-packaging for compactness. They have significantly reduced the size of their cooling this year compared to last, but I would guess they are not able to be as aggressive as Merc have been in radiator performance. But I could see them work on that under the “reliability” exemption for PU development. So they are a 100% maybe.

  11. If it does come time to teams voting on the change I imagine Williams will side with them because a) their interpretation with small sidepods is not far off, and b) they are a Mercedes power unit customer (as are Aston Martin and McLaren however I’m not sure of the integrity of those relationships, it’s difficult to gauge if either or both will side with Mercedes)

  12. There is no reason for the FIA to treat this in the same manner as DAS and only allow it for one season. The justification for banning DAS was that they didn’t want teams spending a ton on trying to copy it. Well there’s now a well established budget cap and teams are free to spend it whatever they think will make them faster. Not to mention everyone now has to participate in regular show and tells where they lift their proverbial skirts. Let everyone copy the Mercs for next year and F1 will be better for it.

  13. If a team with a perfectly legal car is made to change their design due to the rules changing due to a super-majority vote, I wonder if they will be given discretionary deviation from the cost cap. It seems unfair to tell a team that they have to change their (previously signed-off and fully approved by the FIA) race car AND it must consume their allocated cost cap.

    What if a team has no cost-cap left, or not enough to fully redesign the aero-philosophy of the car? If the goal posts are changed then that doesn’t seem very “in the spirit” of sport either.

  14. We have no evidence this design is any better than what the other teams have arrived with, let’s wait until the first race before talk of banning things.

    1. +1 but I guess that’s what you get in a time period where there’s no actual racing to report about.

    2. @emu55 Oh great. So if it’s nothing special or a hindrance, no problems. If it works, then ban it?
      That’s craven and devoid of any semblance of integrity. So I guess it could well happen.

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