Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has expressed surprise that rival Formula 1 teams have apparently designed the floors of their cars to flex more than regulations intended to allow.
The FIA has issued new instructions to F1 teams in a bid to improve two key negative characteristics of the 2022 ground effect cars, namely porpoise and the harsh ride quality that comes with stiffer, lower cars.
A revised technical directive was issued this week and the main focus has been on creating a complicated metric by which the FIA will measure and monitor acceptable levels of vertical oscillations, to combat the aerodynamic phenomenon of porpoise and aggressive bottoming.
But the second part of this technical directive has generally been overlooked, as the FIA focuses on board wear and flex, which it deems to be “inherently related to the same issues and go hand in hand with the metrics”.
Wolff said this is the “interesting part” of the FIA’s intervention, as “some teams have stretched themselves too far”.
The FIA’s approach in this area raises suspicions that some teams have interpreted the rules allowing 2mm of bodywork flex within the area defined as the plank in a way that the FIA never intended to allow.
The rules only specify no more than 2mm of deflection at two specific positions, at the front edge of the board and a bit further back.
No measurements are taken at the rear, around where the rider sits, so it’s believed that some teams designed the board and skid block mount in a way that provides a degree of damping.
The skates are believed to flex more than 2mm and therefore can be used more aggressively without wearing out.
“Nobody had an idea until the FIA brought it up in the last Technical Advisory Committee,” Wolff said when asked by The Race if there was any suspicion of this interpretation before the technical directive.
“Which was a big surprise for all the teams because what is in the regulations, and what the intention of the regulations was, is quite clear.
“There is no argument why that would divert more than what is in the rules. A bit of a surprise to say the least, more shocking.”
From France this interpretation will not be accepted and any vehicle that has this solution will have to make changes so that it is not considered to violate these two regulations.
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner has said he believes his cars “completely conform” to everything outlined in the new technical directive.
But Red Bull and Ferrari have been linked as two teams that designed the bodywork within the plank area to flex according to the interpretation the FIA has disagreed with.
Mercedes track engineering boss Andrew Shovlin said: “When it came to light, we realized there were opportunities that perhaps we hadn’t been pursuing or exploiting.
“So it won’t affect us in the way we drive our car. It may well be that it affects our competitors and by virtue of that we get a little closer.”
Since the FIA’s planned intervention ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix was initially revealed, Red Bull has been one of the most vocal critics.
This was in response to the way the FIA scrapped the first version of its technical directive on teams on the eve of a race, and the fact that Red Bull has not suffered to the same degree as Mercedes.
Red Bull has insisted that it would be unfair to impose changes on all teams if some cars complied with the rules and did not roll or bounce to a dangerous degree.
This weekend, Horner has been critical of what he perceives as giving the FIA more control of the teams’ set-up, which he called “a dangerous path to follow”.
“Certainly it’s not a precedent we want to set, otherwise FIA directives will dictate the setup,” said Horner.
However, it can be clearly inferred from the FIA’s revised technical directive that its analysis of the issue of porpoising and bottoming has uncovered interpretations of the rules that it does not consider acceptable.
And that suggests that clamping down on potential underfloor abuse is a matter of ensuring rule compliance rather than forcing teams to converge on designs for misleading reasons.
Asked by The Race if he’s surprised that teams do things they’re not supposed to do in terms of bending planks has become a focus of attention when the porpoise issue was the initial priority, Horner said: “Well, it’s obviously a key performance factor so you can understand why they’re looking at you.
“But if a car swerves at Copse, I’m sure the driver’s rear is getting quite hot with the amount of wood he’s leaving on the aggressive curb there.
“So it is something that, as regulators, they are watching closely, that there is no abuse.
“But it has to be subjective.”