Wolff threatens to protest Red Bull’s flexible rear wing ahead of the Azerbaijan GP

The Austrian team said it can retaliate and launch a counter-protest directed at the rival’s front wing

By Olivia Kairu

F1’s two top teams have been accusing each other of racing with illegal parts (Photo: F1/Twitter)

The Mercedes and Red Bull rivalry has been heated outside the race track as well.

Both teams have engaged in a war of quotes and threats over the news in recent weeks, with Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff threatening to protest against Red Bull’s flexible rear wing if it’s used again during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix next weekend.

After a turbulent weekend in Monaco when the German team only scored seven points, Wolff complained about the new load tests that could or could not reveal Red Bull’s rear wing as illegal not being implemented sooner. The new set of tests have been announced by the FIA ahead of the French Grand Prix weekend on June 25-27.

“It is incomprehensible that in four weeks you can’t stiffen up a rear wing for the track that is most affected by a flexible rear wing,” Wolff said about the race in Baku, which features the longest straight in the F1 calendar.

“Delaying the introduction (of the new tests) for whatever reason leaves us in a legal vacuum and leaves the door open for protests. Not only us, but probably two other teams that are most affected, maybe more and a protest could end up in the ICA and that is a messy situation.”

In retaliation, Red Bull’s chief advisor Helmut Marko said the Milton Keynes-based team could launch a counter-protest directed at the rival’s front wing, calling it the ‘biggest wobble candidate’ on the grid.

“We expect that the tests for the front wing will now also be tightened, that’s just fair,” Marko said. “Because especially the front wing of Mercedes is the most wobbly candidate in this area. In any case, there is also potential for protest.”

“We’ve analyzed the front wings and they are bending exactly the same way (as) the Red Bull and the Mercedes wing so we could be protesting each other on the front wing also.”

Marko also said Red Bull is not the only team to be using the kind of rear wings Mercedes is protesting against.

“Mercedes would have to protest against eight cars. Because in addition to us, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Alpine are also affected. Do you really want to do that and cause a major scandal? I do not think so,” he said.

“In Formula 1, it is part of the game that the teams look carefully when the competition has something special about the car,” said Marko. “That’s what we did when Mercedes came up with DAS last year. The FIA declared the system illegal, but they were still allowed to use it until the last race. We accepted that. Why don’t Mercedes now accept the same thing with our rear wing?”

The clash between the two championship leaders could escalate to legal confrontation and the involvement of the FIA International Court of Appeal. With 18 races remaining in the season, the success of any protest and further ruling from the ICA could alter the current balance in the title fight between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. The Dutchman leads the drivers’ championship by four points.

Mercedes began its dispute over the Austrian team’s rear wing in Spain after Hamilton claimed it provided the RBR16B with enhanced aerodynamic performance on the straights. Azerbaijan is therefore Wolff’s last chance at leveraging a protest as Red Bull will be introducing a new rear wing design, which costs around half a million dollars, just in time for the new load tests in France.

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McLaren’s team principal Andreas Seidl spoke in agreement with Wolff suggesting his intent to join Mercedes in protest against Red Bull. 

“Where we strongly disagree is the timing of the implementation,” Seidl said. “We hope the FIA shows a very strong hand and it is simply not acceptable because it puts the teams who comply with the regulations at a big disadvantage.” 

Red Bull’s team principal Christian Horner commented on the inability to make large structural changes in short periods of time. 

“There has to be a lead time, you can’t expect parts to be magicked up overnight,” he said. Horner continued to defend the Federation’s decision stating that ample time was needed for the matter. “The car complies to the regulations that have been there for the last 18 months and then the test has been changed. There has to be a notice period for that.”

The prospects of a successful protest from Mercedes are slim to none, according to F1’s managing director Ross Brawn. He expects the protest to be dismissed and the FIA’s June 15 decision to stand. 

“I think the FIA have been pretty consistent with their approach. I’d be amazed if the stewards go against the opinion of the FIA,” Brawn said. “I think this is probably flexi rear wing version 27 (in Formula 1 history). In 40 years of motor racing, I’ve been through this many times.” 

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