New Mercedes front wing, Circuit of the Americas, 2022

Why Mercedes say it’s “not worth having” a legality row over new front wing

2022 United States Grand Prix

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Mercedes may revise their new front wing design before it is raced for the first time at the Mexico City Grand Prix in order to avoid a legality row with the FIA.

The team brought the new wing as part of a package of upgrades for its W13 at last weekend’s United States Grand Prix. However technical director Mike Elliott said the first example was only brought to that race for logistical reasons and they “never intended to race” it at the Circuit of the Americas.

“We brought the front wing here actually just freight-wise,” he said. “It wasn’t meant to run this weekend, we only bought one of them so we’ve not got enough.”

The team intends to run it at this weekend’s Mexico City race, providing they have enough parts. “We always try to make sure not only have we got enough for each driver, but enough that if we have an off that we’ve got a replacement,” said Elliott.

The wing attracted attention due to the addition of several slot gap separators at the top. The regulations state these are permitted “for primarily mechanical, structural or measurement reasons”.

However Elliott admitted questions had arisen over whether they offered an aerodynamic benefit beyond what was envisaged when the rules were written.

“I think there’s a fuss about it because in the regulations it talks about the primary use being for ‘mechanical’ or ‘measurement’ purposes and clearly there is a secondary benefit of an aerodynamic design that’s in there as well,” he said. “We’ll decide whether we want to argue that one or not.”

The FIA first raised concerns over Mercedes’ design when they submitted images of the wing before bringing a finished example to the circuit.

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“We go through a CAD [computed aided design] review process with the FIA before we come to the circuit, that happens all the time,” said Elliott. “So it was something that was seen there and then they came back and said, ‘we’re not so sure about this’. So that process I think works okay.

“If you look at the regulations, there’s about 40-odd incidences in the regulations of ‘sole purpose’. In this case, it doesn’t say ‘sole purpose’, it says ‘primary purpose’. So I think there’s an argument to be had. Whether we want to have it is another question – it’s probably not worthwhile.”

He said the slot gap separators only produce a minor gain to the wing’s performance. “It’s actually not worth a huge amount. That detail looks interesting but it’s not the big thing on the front wing.”

Elliott refused to be drawn on whether Mercedes will simply remove some of the separators to remove any doubt over the wing’s compliance with the rules.

“We’ve not decided what we’ll do. The gain for those bits is so small, is it worth the risk of falling foul of the stewards?

“We always go through and make those decisions. But because we weren’t going to run it this weekend, we’ve not spent a lot of time thinking about it, we’ll do that in the calmness between the races.”

Asked whether rival teams had raised concerns over the design, Elliott said: “Not to us, but I’m sure they’ve said something to the FIA because that’s the way the game works. In some ways it’s quite nice that they’re talking about us.”

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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...
RJ O'Connell
Motorsport has been a lifelong interest for RJ, both virtual and ‘in the carbon’, since childhood. RJ picked up motorsports writing as a hobby...

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14 comments on “Why Mercedes say it’s “not worth having” a legality row over new front wing”

  1. That definitely reads to me as them having brought it at least in part in hope of it being ‘cleared up’ that this wing won’t be allowed next season, perhaps after having run it once.

    1. It might also be testing the philosophy to be used elsewhere on next years car too. They might be testing the waters on the front wing here with a view to using the loop hole elsewhere too without tipping anyone off.

    2. I think this is the most likely scenario. Even if they didn’t intend to run it, they brought it out of the shipping containers and displayed it in full view of the entire paddock for everyone to see and comment on. If the FIA had already told them they weren’t sure about it’s legality this seems like an exercise in clearing up the legality once and for all in a very public way.

    3. Im not sure about that. I think they had the opportunity to clarify it with the FIA before they manufactured it. But to spend valuable resources on this doesnt make sense. Mercedes have had lots of game changing designs, but they never showed their hand like this.

  2. You’re probably on the right track @boysber

    “If you look at the regulations, there’s about 40-odd incidences in the regulations of ‘sole purpose’. In this case, it doesn’t say ‘sole purpose’, it says ‘primary purpose’. So I think there’s an argument to be had. Whether we want to have it is another question – it’s probably not worthwhile.”

    Poke the FIA for clarity and a “no you can’t do that, we need to change the words to ‘sole purpose'” will mean no one can do it.
    Alternately, “provided the aero-aspect is secondary” will mean all are free to develop the shape of the stays and the ones who thought of it first might have a head start – unless of course you’ve heard rumours that someone else has something and this is a good opportunity to do a RBR and pull the rug out from under (RBR having put in several ‘clarification’ requests regarding what they thought Ferrari were doing with the engine/fuel in 2019 and screwed them for a year or so, we know the effect).

  3. Yeah.. nice try, Elliot. The separators might not produce a significant effect on the wing itself, but that is obviously not the goal, is it? It is to condition the airflow downstream. They are vortex generators.

    1. That sounds about right, André. Aero is a game of tradeoffs: they might get a little bit more downforce (“It’s actually not worth a huge amount.” as he puts it) with the tradeoff being more drag. The wing has a bit more drag but the floor works much better as a result of the vortices the wing generates. Overall a net gain.

  4. This is another example of FIA poor rules writing. As the article says they don’t mean “primary” but “only”. At the moment that rule leaves open the option of a “secondary” use which could be aerodynamic.

    1. “for primarily mechanical, structural or measurement reasons”.
      Nope primarily mechanical (to allow adjustment of the wing), then structural (to stop it flexing or breaking), then measurement (for data gathering via sensors and cameras).
      No mention of aerodynamic ever being an option for wing stays. Ever. Anywhere.

      What this is typical of is Mercedes manipulation of rules again. Like trying to call moving suspension parts “steering” parts.

      1. What this is typical of is Mercedes manipulation of rules again.

        Welcome to Formula 1: where the primary purpose is to score points, the secondary purpose is to do so by any means and clever interpretation of rules. See “double diffuser” or “f-duct”

      2. Ah, see they missed the old oxford comma which is important for stopping deceptive, opportunistic, or dastardly conduct.

      3. Dale, but where does it say that the device cannot have a secondary function that so happens to be aerodynamic? Every single team on the grid is exploiting exactly those sorts of interpretations to have components on their car that have secondary aerodynamic effects, and yet you are not accusing other teams of “manipulating” the rules.

        Whilst The Dolphins notes some historic examples that were cited as strokes of genius, to give some contemporary examples, Ferrari and Red Bull have both relied on similar reinterpretations of the regulations to make the skates on the floor of their cars legal.

        In that case, both teams have relied on the fact that the FIA’s regulations allowed an aerodynamic strake to be placed on the upper bodywork of the cars. However, because the rules did not explicitly state that the strake had to be above the reference plane, both teams realised that, provided they met the dimensional constraints, they could use it below the reference plane instead as a floor strake.

  5. FIA! RsClowns on a good day!
    ‘we’re not so sure about this’.
    Like Ferrari gate & the fuel flow sensor caper.
    Like RBR gate & the flappy front wing stunt.

  6. If you dont know that teams will exploit every technical opportunity to gain an advantage then you dont know f1. Its upto the FIA to determine whether teams interpretation of the rules is correct or not. Mercedes like redbull like ferrari and all the other teams apply the same philosophy. Push the boundaries to find the limits. Its not cheatings and neither is it manipulation.

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