Why bending the wing rules is a hot F1 topic in Monaco


Mercedes and Red Bull are at loggerheads over the 'bendy wings' rules, and other teams have been affected – Adam Cooper looks at how the row is raging on where to draw the line

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 22: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda on track during final practice prior to the F1 Grand Prix of Monaco at Circuit de Monaco on May 22, 2021 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

A new technical directive has ordered Red Bull to change its 'bendy' wing – but the team claims legality

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Formula 1 is rarely short of controversy to distract us from the action on track, and the flexi-wing saga that has erupted over the past couple of weeks is a classic, pitting team boss against team boss and seemingly everyone against the FIA.

The story harks back to past eras, when cars were measured and checked and found to be fully legal when in the pitlane, but behaved differently when out on track. It’s not quite as blatant as the early ’80s, when trick suspension systems enabled cars to be clear of the ground in the pits only to sit down when running, but it’s a familiar story.

The debate over excessive wing movement returns to the headlines every couple of years. This time it came to light when video footage from rear-facing onboard cameras showed the Red Bull’s wing tilting back by a significant amount when running at speed on the straights, thus potentially offering a lap time advantage. And yet the wing passed the relevant FIA deflection tests in scrutineering.

The Mercedes camp was not happy, which was not a surprise given how close is the battle between the two rivals. Even Lewis Hamilton joined in, referencing a “bendy wing” in an interview with Sky TV in Spain.

The FIA subsequently issued a technical directive making it clear that it was aware that teams were pushing the limits of legality – and that wings were deflecting more than they should.

The directive announced more stringent checks, but deferred them until June 15 in an acknowledgement that teams would need some lead time in order to produce new parts. That allowed teams to use their current wings for Monaco, Azerbaijan and Turkish GPs, although shortly afterwards Istanbul was cancelled.

Nevertheless current wings will still be usable in Baku, the track with the longest straight on the calendar, and when there’s potentially a significant advantage to be gained.

In typical F1 style no one is happy with the ruling. The teams that have to make modifications – Red Bull are joined by Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Alpine – are frustrated that the goalposts have been moved, and regard the stricter checks as a mid-season rule change.

07 RAIKKONEN Kimi (fin), Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN C41, action during the 2021 Formula One World Championship, Grand Prix of Monaco from on May 20 to 23 in Monaco - Photo DPPI

Alfa Romeo are also heavily affected by the new ruling


They have to spend a lot of money producing modified wings that can pass the tests – which is not good either for teams pressing up against the budget cap, like Red Bull and Ferrari, or those who have to count every penny, like Alfa.

Meanwhile those whose current wings comply even with the stricter new tests are furious that the FIA allowed current wings can be used for two more races – especially as one of them is Baku, where as noted a flexi-wing could really pay dividends.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is particularly angry about the situation, threatening that his team could protest what could be deemed as illegal cars, which could eventually take the matter to the International Court of Appeal.

“We have seen in the past that complicated redesigns for teams had a delay,” said Wolff. “It’s clear that, if you have a back-to-back race, or maybe even two weeks, it’s too short for everybody to adjust – but we’re having four weeks to Baku and it is incomprehensible that, within four weeks you can’t stiffen-up a rear wing for the track that is probably the most affected by flexible rear wings.

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“It leaves the door open for protests. It’s not only us but it’s probably two other teams that are most affected. Maybe more. Obviously a protest could end up in the ICA. And that is a messy situation. It can take weeks before we have a result. And we should not have ended in this situation if we’re having four weeks to the race that is most relevant in the calendar.

“We have been left in a limbo since a long time. We have flagged the flexible rear wing situation last summer, without having received any feedback. And I understand some of the teams’ frustration when, making the concept of this year’s car, that this was an area that should have been tackled much earlier.”

Wolff is not alone in his frustration regarding the Baku “amnesty” that the FIA has in effect given the team concerned.

“I think if you see the pictures and footage from Barcelona, it is clear what’s happening there,” said McLaren boss Andreas Seidl. “Therefore we welcome what the technical directive of the FIA says, to put an additional or different test in place, which helps them to check the cars here in a pragmatic way at the race tracks. But at the same time, we strongly disagree with the timing of the introduction.

Horner Monaco 21

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner has pointed to the flexibility of the Mercedes front wing in Imola

Grand Prix Photo

“For us, there’s no reason why it should be late for the two races and if the guys that have designed the cars in order to have these flexi-wings two more races, to have the benefit from it because from our point of view, what these guys are using is clearly against the regulations because the test that is in place is not the only criteria you have to meet in terms of being compliant with the regulations.

“That’s why we are having a dialogue with the FIA at the moment, because I think it’s a good opportunity for the FIA to show a strong hand here and not accept this anymore, from today onwards.”

Inevitably the man with the polar opposite view is Red Bull’s Christian Horner, who is adamant that his car meets the standards as set out in the 2021 rules.

“Well, the car is designed to comply with the regulations,” said Horner. “And of course there are tests that the FIA have for most of it and our car complies with all of those tests. Now, occasionally the FIA will change those tests, which they have the right to do.

“They’ve done that and that of course means that effectively it’s a change in regulations in many respects, so of course there have to be changes made to the product and that’s expensive and of course time consuming.”

In typical style Horner tried to deflect – no pun intended – our attention from the rear to bendy front wings, from which he says other teams are gaining an advantage.

“A lot of focus is on the rear of the car at the moment,” he said. “And I’m sure that in due time that’s also going to move round to other areas of the car that other teams will come under scrutiny, so of course it’s not just Ferrari and Red Bull that are affected.

“I think Sauber are quite badly affected by this as well, but that’s F1, that’s what happens when technical directives get issued that change things like the tests that rear wings are subjected to.

“When you’re effectively changing a rule, there has to be a lead time. You can’t just magic up components. I think if they changed the test on the front wings, for example, this weekend, and we’ve seen far more performance from front wing flexibility, shall we say, then that would affect every single team, some much greater than others. And I think that there has to be a lead time.

“You can’t expect parts just to be magicked up overnight” Christian Horner

“You can’t expect parts just to be magicked up overnight with the costs that are incurred with that. The car complies with the regulations that have been there for the last 18 months or so with these load tests and then the test or the regulation has been changed, or the test has been changed and there has to be a notice period for that.”

Despite being one of the teams that has to make a change to its wing components, Ferrari’s Mattia Binotto downplayed the significance.

“[We are] always trying to push the boundaries, and somehow the FIA tried to clarify the intentions and the principles of the regulations,” said the Italian. “Now, on the time, I’m pretty sure that the FIA checked deep what was right, what was wrong, I’m pretty sure that by deciding a certain date, they somehow analysed pretty well, the case and I trust them fully.

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“As Ferrari, we are happy there is now a clarification and eventually we need to adapt, or someone needs to adapt – whoever – to that new technical directive but on the time I think we should respect the FIA decision, because I’m pretty sure they did it be being fully aware.”

Pressed on whether Ferrari has been pursuing the limits of what is allowed Binotto added: “Yes, we are exploiting. I think as all the teams are exploiting somehow what’s possible and what we believe is right. The technical directive is clarifying furthermore.

“We will need to slightly adapt, but I don’t think it’s impacting Ferrari much – and certainly on the lap time from what we’ve seen, very, very little. But there are some redesigns just needed which need to be carried over somehow to comply fully to the technical directive. Again, I think that, as Ferrari, it’s not impacting us much but still, a redesign is required.”

It’s a fascinating case study of the way F1 works and how teams will push the technical limits. If Red Bull and the others now affected could make a wing that complies with the tests and yet still tilts enough to provide an advantage, can their engineers be blamed for taking that route? Where do you draw the line on the “spirit” of the rules?

“Obviously the cars are built to be optimised to the regulations,” said Horner. “It’s a competition, at the end of the day, and there are tests that are in place for the FIA to measure that which is what they do, and they vary those tests from time to time, but the whole car is under aerodynamic influence and a lot of noise is being made about the rear wing of the car.

Perez Monaco GP

Can Red Bull maintain its car performance amidst the technical changes?

Grand Prix Photo

“But just look at some footage from Imola at the front of our competitor’s car and it will show you very clearly flexible aerodynamics which, as we know, the front wing is a far more sensitive part of the car than the rear of the car.

“So you pick on one part of the car and inevitably that is just going to move around, and of course that’s very difficult for the FIA to police, which is why they are continually evolving these checks and processes, which each team then obviously has to comply with.

“But to think that everybody’s aerodynamic surface was completely rigid would be a fallacy. On every single car on the grid it’s just not the case. You can visibly see that.”

We’ve had stories like this before, and once cars have been modified, they are quickly forgotten.

However this time there is a different aspect to it, because as noted Red Bull is pushing against the budget cap. The money it is spending on making its wings comply with the stricter tests cannot now be deployed on new bits that would find performance. So in a way the team has paid a price for its philosophy.

“I think for a team like us that is obviously running up against the cap,” said Horner. “Then of course strategically you have to make choices. The impact of something like this is probably about half a million dollars, so that will prevent something else from happening, so that’s the juggling act that we’re now having to make with the budget cap and financial cap regs.