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Why the F1 movable rear wing will work



31 MAR - 03 APR 2016

With thanks to our Clerk of the Course, CAMS Director - Racing Operations Tim Schenken.

Ever since plans were confirmed last summer to introduce a moveable rear wing (MRW) to aid overtaking, almost every sector of the sport has remained sceptical and worried. From the fans and the media, to team personnel and drivers, there have been few positive comments to suggest it will work as expected and improve the spectacle by increasing overtaking opportunities.

In essence the MRW is a replacement to the F-duct, in that it reduces the drag being produced by the rear wing at the press of a button to increase straightline speed and allow a faster car overtake a slower one with much greater ease. Its use will be unrestricted during practice and qualifying, but during the race will only be allowed to be used at certain parts of the track when a driver is one second or less behind another.

I spoke to a number of team personnel last summer when details about it were announced and I think they've tackled the problem very well. In 2009 an adjustable front wing was introduced to help overtaking but failed miserably and has now been ditched. They learned their lesson and instead of tackling the problem with a tweezers, they've come in with a JCB.

This is what Williams technical director Sam Michael told me in June: “One of the things that we're really sensitive about is almost everything that we've done as the technical working group we've underdone it. The overtaking working group has massively failed in meeting its objectives of 50% less downforce . The cars have pretty much no less downforce. That's been put down to the double diffuser, but the double diffuser is 5% at most. We've massively undershot on our targets.”

Any damage caused can be easily fixed, and quickly. If the Formula One circus arrives in Bahrain and sees a plethora of overtaking manoeuvres taking place every lap thanks to the MRW, the teams and the FIA have promised to change how the system works. A change in the time proximity can be implemented at short notice while another solution would be to limit the amount by which the wing can move.

In its current state, the MRW should increase top-speed by 15 km/h which, even with both competing cars having KERS, should be more than enough to power ahead. Nevertheless, a balance will have to be struck between making overtaking a slower car possible, but ensuring cars of equal pace still have to battle extremely hard to make a pass stick. From what I've been told, I'm confident that changes will be made to make this happen if its initial configuration falls short on any of its objectives.

This is why I don't believe suggestions made by other pundits that races will be decided on the final lap of the race. Such theories suggest that the optimum position in which to be on the final lap is second place, shadowing the leader and ready to pounce when he has no way to defend or mount a fightback within sight of the line (as the leader won't be able to use the MRW).

If this does happen, all the FIA has to do for the following race is to reduce the time proximity to, say, half a second. This will mean that only drivers in the dirty air region (who by their very presence are at least on the pace of their rival) will have the MRW at their disposal. The MRW isn't going to make a slow car win races, nor is it going to make a quick car lose races. To ensure the MRW only allows quicker cars to overtake, all the FIA has to do is reduce the time proximity to fractionally below the dirty air zone. In the extreme case, it could be adjusted to suit each track.

At the other end of the scale, if the MRW doesn't help to improve overtaking, the FIA will need to increase the time proximity to allow drivers lose the drag when they are further behind, which should allow them to pull alongside their rival by the braking zone. Having seen the efficiency of the F-duct in 2010 however, this scenario seems unlikely.

For those worried about driver safety, this won't be any issue either. The MRW has been designed to ensure the wing returns to its default position, generating maximum downforce, should the mechanism for pivoting the wing fail. Drivers therefore shouldn't face the horrifying prospect of arriving at a braking zone at 300 km/h with a half-failed rear wing. The chances of a throttle sticking open are arguably higher and that hasn't happened in recent memory.

Many of Formula One's so-called 'purists' have slammed the MRW as not being 'true to racing'. The alternative to this is a 90-minute procession, the likes of which we saw in Abu Dhabi when Fernando Alonso, with a clearly quicker car, was unable to get by Vitaly Petrov. 40 laps with one attempted overtaking manoeuvre isn't riveting Sunday afternoon viewing. Countless other examples could be included.

Perhaps the new chassis rules of 2013 will improve things, but the MRW is the perfect short-term solution to the current problem.

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