As if after five races in the 2021 world championship, the burgeoning title fight between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen wasn’t enough: another battle is set to boil over to this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix in the form of a protest.
Flexi-wings have dominated Formula One headlines since the Spanish Grand Prix last month and with the FIA having announced that they won’t be enforcing a clampdown on this exploit until the French Grand Prix following Baku, teams such as Mercedes and McLaren are set to escalate matters.
Chiefly, Red Bull have been the team that were found to have been exploiting the flexi-wing at the rear of its RB16B, which at high speed in Barcelona was found to be flexing backwards. This reduces drag further down a straight and increases the top speed, thus giving them an advantage.
Ferrari also openly admitted following the Spanish Grand Prix that they were also using a flexi rear wing, as are their customer outfit in Alfa Romeo. Coincidentally, Ferrari were quickest throughout the Monaco race weekend and even claimed pole position, despite the flexi-wings not really having much of an impact at the low-speed street circuit.
(Photo by Hasan Bratic/picture alliance via Getty Images)
Though with almost 2.5 kilometres in just straights at the Baku City course, the effect of having a flexi-wing will be felt a lot more this coming weekend – more than at any race so far this season. Hence the prospect of non-flexi-wing-using teams such as Mercedes and McLaren, who also are locked into championship battles with Red Bull and Ferrari respectively, protesting the matter.
Why flexi-wings are such a sensitive matter in Formula One is because they are supposed to be outlawed under safety grounds. In the past, there have been instances such as the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix where Red Bull had both their cars disqualified for flexing front wings during qualifying.
Up until this latest case, the FIA scrutineering around the rear wing’s rigidity has not been rigorous enough to emulate the loads that see a Red Bull or Ferrari rear-wing flex. This is where the sport’s governing body has announced more stringent testing is to come at Les Castellet, which McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl labels unacceptable.
“We strongly disagree with the timing of the implementation because, from our point of view, there is no reason for many teams having still the advantage of doing things which, in our point of view, are clearly against the regulations,” Seidl said.
(Photo by Darren Heath/Getty Images)
Regardless of when the revised testing comes into force, the door has been left open for a protest, which is not something that is foreign either in Formula One. Only think to last year and Red Bull’s protest against Mercedes’ ingenious dual-axis steering system, which only amounted to DAS being outlawed for 2021 and more controversially the multi-team protest against the former Racing Point squad for their illegal brake ducts.
Will Red Bull, Ferrari and less likely Alfa Romeo be subject to any penalties if the legal action pursued by their rivals end up successful? And also if the flexi-wing is retained by the teams using it, will it muddy the waters of the prospective championship results?
These are all questions that will likely have more answers in Baku. Though it is difficult not to sit and appreciate the hilarity of this entertaining situation, as this is Formula One and never will there be a team or a driver that will not push the boundaries of what is acceptable or not.
They would simply not be as successful as they are if they didn’t explore the absolute limits and that is what we also love about the technological marvel that is Formula One.
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