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Martin Whitmarsh Backs Away from Movable Rear Wings for 2011

Martin Whitmarsh

FOTA chairman and McLaren honcho Martin Whitmarsh has begun to equivocate over the proposed technical reg update regarding movable rear wings.  The proposed rule would allow drivers to control their wings to reduce downforce on straightaways.  The rules would restrict their use to overtaking maneuvers, however, and only in pre-determined passing zones when a trailing car has a gap behind a leading car by less than one second. The device would be enabled by a car’s electronics, and would be deactivated as soon as the driver applied his brakes.  Moreover, the leading car would not be able to activate his own movable wing.

In other words, the aim of the device is to enable overtaking.  Or rather, the aim of the device is to making leading cars sitting ducks for cars trying to make a lunge.

The actual FIA statement announcing the rule change reads thus: “From 2011, adjustable bodywork may be activated by the driver at any time prior to the start of the race and, for the sole purpose of improving overtaking opportunities during the race, after the driver has completed two laps. The driver may only activate the adjustable bodywork in the race when he has been notified via the control electronics that it is enabled. It will only be enabled if the driver is less than one second behind another at any of the pre-determined positions around each circuit. The system will be disabled the first time the driver uses the brakes after the system has been activated. The FIA may, after consulting all the competitors, adjust the time proximity in order to ensure the purpose of the adjustable bodywork is met.”

In conjunction with this, both F-ducts and double diffusers would be bannned for 2011.  Typically for the FIA, it seems like a convoluted solution for a simple problem.  Everyone agrees that there is a single remedy for the lack of overtaking in the sport: increase mechanical grip in relation to aero-grip, or downforce.  The rule changes for 2009 (larger front wings, smaller rear wings) were an attempt at that.  But the FIA has been ignoring an inexpensive technique that has been available for 35 years, but has been in mothballs for nearly as long: ground effects.  Ground effects were banned in 1983, for safety reasons.  But the f1 technology of 1983 is a world away from that of 2010.  Surely now the technique could be updated safely in a way that would make F1 cars less dependent on wings — and on the various contrived efforts of the FIA to simulate on track competitiveness of the cars.

Meanwhile, Martin Whitmarsh, apparently responding to an outcry from the drivers, has backed away from the movable rear wings idea somewhat.  “We will see whether people are convinced by it or not,” said Whitmarsh. “I think we have got to do a little bit more work on deployment and the sporting regulations that accompany it, and if we get that right we’ll give it a go.  If detracts or isn’t right, it’s easy to take it off. But let’s have a look at it; it’s a bit of an experiment.”

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