Mercedes front wing, Bahrain International Circuit, 2024 pre-season test

Mercedes’ “outwash” front wing design may be against spirit of rules – Symonds

Formula 1

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Mercedes’ innovative front wing design appears to go against the intention of Formula 1’s technical rules, says one of the key men behind the regulations.

The W15’s upper front wing flap is very thin at the point where it meets the car’s nose. This allows the design to fulfil the rule requiring the surface to be continuous.

How Formula 1’s chief technical officer Pat Symonds believes Mercedes have done this to recreate the ‘outwashing’ effect for aerodynamic gain. F1 tried to reduce this phenomenon with the rules it introduced in 2022 in order to aid overtaking.

Symonds said that while the wing may be considered legal at the moment, the FIA could take steps to clamp down on such designs.

“In article three [of the technical regulations], which really dictates how the aerodynamic shapes are produced, it’s very clear in the opening statement that the aim of the rules is to ensure we get this close following,” he told the official F1 channel.

“So really, when you start to get things that are perhaps producing some outwash, and here I think what we’re seeing is really trying to reinstate quite a strong vortex to push that very turbulent air that’s coming from the front wheels aside, one question then is that really within the spirit of the rules?

“It’s within the regulations, it’s within the letter of the law – there’s absolutely no doubt about it. Is it the sort of thing we want? Well, I don’t know. That’s perhaps a bit more debatable. But I think we need to know really how strong is the effect.

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Mercedes W15 front wing design with thin fourth flap highlighted
Mercedes W15 front wing design with thin fourth flap

“The FIA now have a very good aerodynamic group, the group that used to work for me, that are capable of looking at these things and saying ‘actually there’s nothing wrong with that’ or ‘no, hang on, this is starting a trend we don’t really want to see’. They will have seen that.”

The current front wing regulations were written with the goal of reducing aerodynamic ‘outwash’, which makes it difficult for cars to follow each other closely. This was a key aim of the rules introduced two years ago, and also led to the addition of new bodywork on the inside of the front wheels.

Symonds, who was previously an engineer for Benetton and Williams, believes Mercedes’ design runs the risk of undermining efforts to improve the quality of racing.

“It’s more a question of what’s good for the sport rather than what’s good for Mercedes [or] what’s good for Red Bull,” he said. “Of course I’ve jumped the fence a few years ago so now I’m trying to look at what’s good for the sport.

“Without a doubt, what’s good for the sport is good, close racing. So anything that promotes good racing is good, anything that detracts from that ability to race close is poor in my mind.”

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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...

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42 comments on “Mercedes’ “outwash” front wing design may be against spirit of rules – Symonds”

  1. Well it’s obviously against the spirit of the rules. They’ve been trying to simplify front wings since before ’22 because downforce generated there (or byproducts from vortices generated there) is most affected by following other cars. These kind of incredibly wavy curvy elements were clearly intended not to exist with the current regulations, just as they don’t on every other car.

    What good could it possibly bring to have pencil-thin elements anywhere on the car. I hope half the wing falls off at the first touch in a dogfight just to teach them a lesson.

    1. Right, because the Mercedes engineers are a bunch of morons who don’t understand mechanical loading.

      Keep wishing.

    2. In contrast, I hope Max gets stuck behind this supposed outwash and shows how hard it makes it to overtake

      1. erm, no, from my understanding is the argument is this would affect Merc (or all cars if this became norm) when they get close to another car, more than any car following them.

        1. You’ve got it the wrong way round. The new regulations were brought in to enable the car behind to get closer because the car in front wasn’t causing so much outwash & turbulence, therefore allowing the following car to retain downforce from the front wing. Merc’s new wing reverses this, reintroducing the outwash, therefore reducing the front wing downforce for the following car and not allowing it to follow as closely.

        2. Why would Mercedes design something that they weren’t going to benefit from? Makes no sense.

          1. I’m not saying they’re not trying to go faster with it… That would indeed make no sense.

    3. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Mercedes put this on the car exactly for the purpose of getting it banned in the wording of the rules too. The FIA have clearly stated earlier that they will react to things that are obviously trying to dodge what the rules were meant to establish, they will act.

    4. ” at the first touch in a dogfight ”

      What?! This is F1, not a touring car championship, there are no dog fights.

    5. Well it’s obviously against the spirit of the rules. They’ve been trying to simplify front wings since before ’22

      I would have thought leaving out a bit of the front wing simplified it even more. No fancy ripples, curves just a simple hole.

      On the subject of the hole and the “legality wire” – is it me or is the picture above showing two elements with a legality wire/strap connecting to the nose? Whereas some pictures from the launch and the shake-down at Silverstone showed no elements with the legality wire, and one element with the legality wire.
      Are Mercedes pulling someone’s wire?

  2. The efforts to improve racing have largely been mediocre at best, because every single team out there is trying to undermine them– because that’s how you make the cars faster.

  3. It was funny hearing Ted Kravitz on Sky trying to defend Mercedes when Pat said that. “Oh but surely it’s closer racing if Mercedes can challenge Red Bull so it should be allowed!?

    Well yeah Ted… Except if it’s legal, the other teams will develop their own versions and then they won’t be able to follow each other as easily.

    1. The cars were already getting harder to follow by the end of the 2022 season compared to the start of it

    2. The other teams are already doing that given following became a lot harder in 2023 vs 2022 based on the downforce loss data

  4. F1 will need to decide what is their top priority. Are they a series that maximizes off-track competition, where engineers come up with new and innovative solutions to produce the fastest cars possible within a defined set of rules, or are they a series that maximizes on-track competition with close battles between drivers? The Venn Diagram of the overlap between the two is shrinking year after year as the engineering solutions that make the cars go quickest nearly exclusively cause a detrimental effect on wheel-to-wheel competition. If F1 wants close on-track competition, they need to move to a more restrictive specification-type series. If they want an engineering competition, they need to be more accepting of novel designs that go against the spirit of the rules.

    1. they need to be more accepting of novel designs that go against the spirit of the rules.

      No they don’t, why? The current rules are fine, teams are free to make solutions and get the advantage from them, as long as they abide by the rules. Then they will be judged to see if they’ll overall be a benefit or drawback to the series if everyone had to copied them and the rules changed from there for the next season if necessary…

      There’s nothing at all wrong with that and it’s still the philosophy in the regs for ’26 onwards. This outcome of Merc being allowed to run this, but it likely being outlawed for next year should not be controversial or a surprise to anyone.

      If F1 wants close on-track competition, they need to move to a more restrictive specification-type series. If they want an engineering competition, they need to be more accepting of novel designs that go against the spirit of the rules.

      This is exactly the trade-off and exactly why F1 is trying to find a sweet spot with listed parts, restricted parts, shared parts, etc… It’s a perfectly fine balance and that there is the competition that there is in F1 (bar one team which has a number of factors working in its favour) shows that it can work.

      1. Leroy is correct, there is no sweet spot in the middle.

        “there is the competition that there is in F1 (bar one team which has a number of factors working in its favour) shows that it can work.”

        ^you do realise that is true for the majority of the last 2 and half decades in F1? Lol

        Again Leroy is correct, they can be an engineering competition and *try* to make it a competition on track. If they really want an on track competition though they need to move away from the current on track exhibition of said engineering by moving much further towards spec.

        I mean tbh they’re already doing this, just very slowly. At the current rate F1 will be more of a spec series in around 10-15 years. A long time to wait lol.

        I don’t think a spec series is a bad thing. Eg indycar where teams still make several parts of their own but share the main part, the chassis.

        Infact the only difference currently in indycar is that it’s much closer a competition than F1. Otherwise it’s the same thing. In indycar the same few teams are the serial championship winners. The cream still rises to the top, much like it would continue to do so if F1 moved much further towards a spec series.

        Why do people complain about the raving not being close if they want to see an engineering competition? They don’t. On track matters most.

        Again, an equal lap time achieving competitior to F1 is what F1 needs most if it truly wants to see closer racing. Many hurdles indeed, but a series with comparable laptimes, lighter smaller cars, and better soundings engines and close competition sounds much better to me than the perpetual hope fest that is f1. F1 to its fans is basically like a nurse treating dehydration with a drip feed of tap water.

      2. It’s not possible for an engineering competition to be a legitimate consistent on track competition. (Especially not with 27 races) Even within the confines of regulations. You only have to look at f1s entire history for an example. Great case study.

      3. When there’s enough space 1 team will always get it right and be ahead of the rest. It’s the same in business/entrepreneurship. Eg apple with Samsung close by. They’re always ahead of the competition.

        Also since I’m at it, I’ll add in that meaningful convergence is a complete fable. A joke. A dangling carrot. When has convergence ever worked in F1??? 2021 was not convergence 2012 was not convergence neither was 2005. Etc etc etc.

  5. It’s the wing at the back with the hole in that’s the problem.
    Why don’t we see how they race first.

    1. Coventry Climax
      21st February 2024, 15:32

      Actually, the hole is not the problem, it’s the guys that don’t drive the car, yet determine when and where the hole can be opened, who are the problem.
      If the FiA wants to control the remote controls of the cars going round the track, then why are there still passengers inside these cars?

  6. Coventry Climax
    21st February 2024, 15:26

    Oh, here we go again, and the season hasn’t even started yet.

    I’ve had to review so many technical papers where I asked the autor(s) “What do you mean with this passage?”.
    Invariably both their and my anwer would then be:
    “We meant to say [explanation].”
    “Then why didn’t you say so and write that down in the first place?”

    I find it beyond comprehension that the FiA is incapable of wording their rules clearly and not open for interpretation. Especially if it is so important to them that they go to the lengths of meddling with things during the season.
    Unless they have a fetish for controversy, that is.

    1. The FIA already made the rules quite strict for this rules set. The aero engineers are just that good, thus the power to clarify directives.

      1. Coventry Climax
        21st February 2024, 18:27

        Clarify the directives? Clarify the rules, you probably mean.
        Which inherently menas the rules weren’t clear to start with – your mistake FiA, not the teams, and do a better job next year, if you must.

  7. As long as it doesn’t produce some crazy vortex it should stay. If others copy let them copy. If it makes already poor racing (thanks to Merc, and floor regs) even worse, then it should be outlawed immediately.

    These regulations have been great at seeing multiple cars closely following in high speed corners.

    1. it should be outlawed immediately

      I agree up til there, nothing should be outlawed immediately, if there’s a hole in the regulations, it should be fair game until the next regulations are written except for safety. It’s not cool to say something is legal and sign off on it, then change the rules after the fact.

      1. I’m fine for leaving loopholes in for a season, kinda like DAS. Reward engineers for innovation based on existing rules but clarify and close the loopholes for new season. Banning stuff immediately feels unfair to those that are trying to maximize their performance based on existing rules.

      2. That’s also fair. The only downside to an already presumably boring season is that I would totally expect others to copy it if it gives good benefits and see cars reach pre 2022 levels in their inability to follow.

  8. The spirit of the rules are irrelevant as long as it meets the actual regulations that make it legal.

    And to be honest going against the spirit of the regulations is what teams are supposed to do as that tends to be where you find the big gains in performance which is what the pinnacle of the SPORT is supposed to be about.

    As long as it meets the actual regulations and passes the scrutineering based off the actual regulations then it’s fine.

    Sport before show!!!

  9. There was closer racing but what did it actually do? Cars following the Williams and unable to overtake it.

    DRS trains and cars unable to overtake until an ORBR came round that was able to with its superior drag reduction.

    1. Closer was not altogether better, IMO.

  10. In case he has forgotten, the spirit of the rules died under the night lights at Abu Dhabi in 2021.

  11. If it works and is legal then well done Mercedes.

  12. it’s a bit obvious, now it’s happened. They wanted to get rid of the Y250 vortex by requiring a continuous full-width wing, but didn’t say anything about the depth of it on the X axis. So all teams had to do was have an edge at Y=250 on the “full width” wing, by switching it suddenly from 150mm or whatever to 5!

    I can’t believe only Mercedes thought of it

    1. Coventry Climax
      21st February 2024, 20:50

      Might also be all teams thought of it, but all except Mercedes chose to go for another concept/design?

      1. yes perhaps. But the idea is the vortex pulls in the chaotic air behind the front tyre and drags it outwards so that the edge of the floor gets a cleaner flow over it. And when we look at the edges of the floors they’re all super developed with little slots and all that, so you have to think a nice clean flow is a good thing. Of course other things might matter more, like the tunnels.

        But as it is, that wing looks like it must make a truly gorgeous vortex :) I wish they made them drive through smoke with a camera there

    2. Mark in Florida
      21st February 2024, 20:54

      (@zann) That’s my understanding as well. They wanted to control the y250 outwash. From a cfd simulator I saw,having a gap between the nose and the wing elements created beneficial airflow across the floor resulting in higher down force. At least they are using a thin wing element to attach it to the nose. I saw one version that just had a heavy gauge wire. I don’t feel that its a grey area at all. They obeyed the rules to the letter as far as I’m concerned. Merc just found a better way to implement it. Everything is so regulated now its almost Indy Car plus.

    3. X and Y as in from the top with the rear to the right and from the centreline? That’s the only way I can make sense of that description.

      Now can you do whatever is going on with Red Bulls sidepods please? Haha

  13. By the way, I love how it’s not someone else but Pat Symonds himself talking about “spirit of rules”(!). The Pinnacle of Circus never disappoints.

    1. I too enjoy the irony of Pat preaching about rules.

  14. A lot of your want to watch a spec series and it shows. Feel free to tune in for the F1 support races then.

    1. Here are some news articles of interest for the group.

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