‘Bendy wings’ bending rules: FIA bans Red Bull’s flexible rear wing after Hamilton’s comments

The Briton claimed that the RBR16B rear wing provided Red Bull with enhanced aerodynamic performance on the straights

By Olivia Kairu
@KairuOlivia

Red Bull’s rear wing has been under fire recently for bending on the straights (Photo: Red Bull/Twitter)

F1 is set to introduce new rear wing load tests ahead of the French Grand Prix weekend on June 25-27, potentially putting a stop to the flexible system Red Bull has been accused of using in 2021.

The Austrian team’s current rear wing design falls under the category of ‘moveable aerodynamic devices’, which have long been banned by the FIA. Nonetheless, multiple teams are believed to have come up with rear wing designs capable of evading the current stagnant tests carried out during race weekends.

News of the tests was provided to all ten teams by the Federation’s Head of Single Seater Technical Matters, Nikolas Tombazis, who feared the use of flexible rear wings granted teams an unfair aerodynamic advantage. 

“We will be looking out for any anomalous behaviour of the deformation of the rear wing,” he said in a statement. “In particular, we will not tolerate any persistent out-of-plane deformation that may be contrived to circumvent the symmetrical loading applied in the load-deflection tests.”

“Should we observe any characteristics that indicate exploitation of this area, we will introduce further load deflection tests as necessary,” Tombazis said.

Article 3.9.9 of the FIA’s Technical Regulations detail their right to carry out “load-deflection tests on any part of the bodywork which appears to be (or is suspected of), moving whilst the car is in motion.”

Other than Red Bull, second in the constructors’ standings after four races, Alpine and Alfa Romeo are also believed to have been using rear wings that will no longer be accepted.

The measure won’t affect the next two races in Monaco and Azerbaijan, leaving teams with a month to design a replacement for the French Grand Prix weekend on June 25-27.

Aside from load testing, the governing body will use onboard cameras to monitor the wings in motion and require all teams to place 12 markings on the device to enable additional observation.

Pressure from the rival

Championship leaders Mercedes were quick to point out the augmented advantage the ‘bendy wing’ gave rivals Red Bull.

Related or not, FIA’s technical directive followed speculative comments by world champion Lewis Hamilton in Spain. The Briton claimed that the RBR16B rear wing provided Red Bull with enhanced aerodynamic performance on the straights. 

“The Red Bulls are really fast on the straights,” he said after the race in Barcelona. “They have this bendy wing on the back of their car which they put on today and they gained at least three-tenths from this wing.”

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner defended the car’s rear wing design ahead of the FIA announcement. “Of course the cars are scrutineered thoroughly and there’s pull back tests, and there’s all kinds of different tests it has to pass,” he said. “The FIA are completely happy with the car, that it has passed all of those tests that are pretty stringent.”

The governing body made sure to point out that no teams were breaking any rules, as did Red Bull’s advisor Helmut Marko.

“The wing has passed the load test,” said Marko. “ Now, there are new criteria that have different guidelines with regards to load. It’s often the case when new regulations come and teams discover grey areas. But it’s not just Red Bull being targeted, it affects other teams as well.”

The Austrian also suggested that Red Bull would not be alone in redesigning their wings when speaking to autosport.com. He stated that Alpine and Alfa Romeo were also running adjustable rear wings and that the tests are aimed at the French team, who are the “greatest masters” at bending rear wings.

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Battle of the Bosses

With aerodynamics having taken centre stage in the off-track rivalry between Red Bull and Mercedes this season, the teams’ bosses have also engaged in a battle of words. 

Marko believes that Hamilton’s comments made a false connection of straight-line speed being the result of high downforce from the rear wing spotted in Barcelona. “The reason for the smaller rear wing was that we were too slow on the straights,” he said.

“Hamilton then saw, when he was driving behind us, that we were relatively fast on the straights and put it down to the wing. That’s where two things came together.”

The change in rear wing design may cost Red Bull some lap time but not significantly according to the team’s advisor. “It is certainly not a disadvantage that is decisive for the world championship,” said Marko.

He also believes Hamilton’s comments were prompted by somebody else within the Brackley-based outfit. “It’s something that Toto has mentioned to me previously. I doubt it was Lewis’s opinion, it probably came from elsewhere.”