This is why every season there is some toing and froing between the competitors and the FIA in this endless battle for performance.
The 2023 season has already shown two clear examples of ways teams have aggressively pursued ideas that some of their rivals may have presumed were banned.
Mercedes and Ferrari both revealed some intriguing aspects to their front wings on their launch specification cars. These featured concepts that were thought to have been sidelined in the FIA’s quest to minimise outwash.
However, designers never unlearn what they already know and that is why they chase ways to push the wording of the rules to the limits – and pounce on the smallest of regulation changes.
Mercedes clever endplate
To set the context, Mercedes introduced a new front wing design at the Miami Grand Prix last season with an endplate and flap design that went against the grain, in terms of what F1 had envisaged when it framed the regulations.
Mercedes W13 Front Wing Endplate
Photo by: Giorgio Piola
The focus of this design was to use the outboard section of the wing as a flow conditioning device, much like it had been under the previous regulations.
The idea was that the airflow would be pushed laterally across the tyre face and out around the wheel assembly, in order that it had an impact on the wake created by the tyre and wheel assembly.
In order to achieve this, Mercedes had slung back the wing elements to open up the lower section of the endplate, creating a means for the airflow to move in a way that isn’t achieved when following the intent laid out in the regulations.
The FIA made changes to the regulations for 2023 in an effort to prevent this sort of design being achievable.
However, a close look at the W14 from the launch showed that Mercedes have once again found a way to use the design concept, albeit with changes having been made to comply with the regulations.
Mercedes W14 front wing detail
Photo by: Mercedes AMG
Those changes include detaching the flaps from the endplate, but twisting their edges in a similar manner. This has been done in a way to help invoke vortices that will combine into a much larger aerodynamic flow structure.
The flaps are then tied into the endplate with much smaller brackets, which make the design legal, along with another winglet that sits above them, and will also provide aerodynamic support.
Ferrari copies Mercedes idea…
A design that Mercedes had hoped to introduce at the Mexican Grand Prix in 2022, before dropping it amid legality doubts, has appeared again on the Ferrari SF-23 at its launch.
The row of five slot gap separator brackets on the front wing elements have clearly been added to help create outwash across the face of the tyre.
However, there had been arguments before the Mexican GP among the teams and governing body as to whether such aero influence should be allowed for something that should primarily have only been structural.
Ferrari SF23 front wing comparison
Photo by: Giorgio Piola
At the time, Mercedes opted to avoid trouble by replacing the brackets with its conventional horseshoe-style alternative. While it believed it was within the bounds of acceptability, it suggested that the real performance upgrade of the wing lay elsewhere so there was little point wasting time on a legal fight.
With questions over the rules regarding this matter having been prompted by the Mercedes wing affair, the regulations were reframed for 2023 to help prevent the possibility of there being further trouble over the matter.
Numerous changes were made to article 3.9.8, which covers the auxiliary components of the front wing, including the slot gap separator brackets. But the most important of these tweaks was a deletion:
The following components will be permitted in addition to the Front Wing Assembly: for primarily mechanical, structural or measurement reasons:
This was supplanted in the slot gap separator section as follows:
Up to eight slot gap separator brackets, per side of the car, which connect provide a structural connection between consecutive FW Profiles. These Each brackets must:
You’ll note that there’s no mention of a primary function in the new section (in bold), as it’s very difficult for the FIA to argue how much influence a component has, given every single part on the car has to have some level of influence over air passing around it.
This means that the slot gap brackets first run by Mercedes and seen on the Ferrari are now compliant.
Although Mercedes didn’t have any on the W14 at the launch, it probably won’t be long before we see them again, just as others might also have plans to mount a version of their own in the coming weeks.
Ferrari SF-23, detail front wing highlighted
Photo by: Ferrari