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A pass mark, or a passing fancy?

Australia marks the first race for the new-for-2011 adjustable rear wing – and F1 insiders and fans alike are curious to know whether or not it will increase overtaking.

By Matthew Clayton

While Pirelli’s first race as sole tyre supplier at Albert Park will generate plenty of discussion, Melbourne will also host the first race for cars equipped with the new-for-2011 adjustable rear wing.

How the wing is utilised, and when, will be heavily scrutinised this weekend. The adjustable rear wing is the latest initiative brought into the sport to increase overtaking. The driver-operated device works by increasing the space between the two horizontal planes of the rear wing from 10-15mm to 50mm, which reduces the drag of cars on the straights and provides a boost of straight-line speed to be used to overtake a rival. While drivers will activate the device from the cockpit, they can only do so within a strict set of parameters governed by Race Control at each venue.

To help spectators and TV viewers at Albert Park identify when a pursuing car is within one second of a rival in front, two lines will be painted across the circuit between Turns 14 and 15 that indicate a one-second distance. The start of the overtaking zone, which will be approximately 600m in length, will then be identified by another line on the Albert Park start-finish straight 867 metres from Turn 1.

Drivers will be told they can use the adjustable rear wing when a light appears on their steering-wheel, and can only do so when they’re less than one second behind the car in front at the start of the overtaking zone. The rear wing will return to its original position when the driver brakes or releases the button he uses to activate the system.

To help spectators and TV viewers at Albert Park identify when a pursuing car is within one second of a rival in front, two lines will be painted across the circuit between Turns 15 and 16 (the final two corners) that indicate a one-second distance.

The start of the overtaking zone, which will be approximately 600m in length, will then be identified by another line on the Albert Park start-finish straight.

The FIA, the governing body for the sport, has said it will adjust the length of the overtaking zone as it sees fit if overtaking becomes too easy or too difficult. The aim is to make sure the difference in speed between the car in front and the one behind is just enough to aid an overtaking manoeuvre.

The extra speed expected to be generated by the use of the adjustable rear wing is thought to be around 14km/h, while cars equipped with Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) have the potential to be even quicker.

It remains to be seen how the implementation of the adjustable rear wing will change the racing at Albert Park, with what happens in Melbourne likely to dictate the way the rules are tweaked for the remainder of the season. Drivers spent much of the February testing period getting accustomed to the new wing, and opinions were varied on whether it will achieve its aims.

Nico Rosberg of Mercedes is one driver who welcomes the change.

“There is a very good chance that it will improve racing,” he told reporters in Barcelona in early March.

“I think it is one of the best things that has been done for a very, very long time to improve the racing and make it more exciting, (but) it is important that it really does help. It needs to be judged. If it doesn’t improve the racing, is it worth keeping on? If it doesn’t, then we need to take it off.”

Williams veteran Rubens Barrichello, who has seen more than his fair share of regulatory changes in an F1 career that began in 1993, is more cautious as the use of the adjustable rear wing will only be governed during races but free during practice and qualifying.

“Hopefully we’re going to get a little bit more of an explanation of how the rear wing will work, because in the first place the rear wing should only work for straight lines to overtake," Barrichello said.

"Now … you're pressing it every corner and it's becoming a nightmare. People will be tempted to do flat corners with that down, and we’re going to see crashes going on. That's not the purpose. You're going to gamble … (and) I don’t want to wait for someone to run into another driver for something to be done.”

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