Christian Horner accuses Mercedes of “bending” the rules

Here we go again. A controversial new technical development on the Red Bull car that has been the focus of scrutiny in recent weeks, has resulted in the FIA introducing new rear wing flexibility tests.

Christian Horner is well known for not being afraid to stand his ground and defend his team’s technical and aero strategies. Of course, we have been here before; think back to the furore around the blown diffuser that the Red Bull team and Adrian Newey made so famous during the 2010 season. That was a  development of the double diffuser from the previous year which was so successful for the Brawn team - the year that resulted in Jenson Button securing the 2009 drivers championship - but the advantage was short lived and Newey was able to out manoeuver the other teams by secretly implementing the even stronger blown diffuser. The blown diffuser worked by directing the exhaust tailpipes to the floor, and Red Bull went so far as to add stickers to the body work to misdirect the other teams that were trying to figure out the new design on the car and lead them away from the new diffuser. 

And here we are again with a controversial new technical development on the Red Bull car that has been the focus of scrutiny in recent weeks, resulting in the FIA introducing new rear wing flexibility tests ahead of the French Grand Prix. This issue surfaced publicly during the Spanish race weekend with Lewis Hamilton commenting on the Red Bull's “bendy” wing. The suggestion was that the flexible nature of the wing increases the car's top speed as it flexes downwards, reducing drag, before flexing back to its normal position during slower portions of the track and helping the Red Bull with cornering speed. 

Article 3.9.9 of F1’s Technical Regulations states: “The FIA reserves the right to introduce further load/deflection tests on any part of the bodywork which appears to be (or is suspected of), moving whilst the car is in motion.” The FIA has now released a note that details a series of new tests which are being introduced to focus on the characteristics of any wing that rotates backwards at speed. The current regulations check on bodywork not deflecting either one degree horizontally, or 3mm vertically, when certain forces are attached to them - a rule which clearly and very cleverly has been exploited by the Red Bull team. 

For the new test, the FIA is focusing on the behaviour of wings as they rotate backwards, likely eliminating any advantage gained by Red Bull.


The plot thickens

During a tense interview with the Sky Sports F1 team of Simon Lazenby and Paul Di Resta, Christian Horner was quick to counter any questioning on the Red Bull rear wing with some serious accusations related to the front wing of the Mercedes car. Rather than answer any questions regarding Red Bull's rear wing, he instead inferred that the front wing of the Mercedes has similar properties of flex downwards during high speed sectors, reducing down force and increasing the top speed capabilities. He added that if the flexible rear wing is to be outlawed, then similar testing should occur on front wings.  We have to ask: is this just a counter strike to deflect attention away from the Red Bull, or is it deliberate mudslinging from team principals - or is it a way of getting the FIA bogged down in investigations into minor technicalities so they will ultimately miss other areas of regulation exploitation, or “rule bending”?

We don't know for sure, but what we do know is that these types of technical strategies can be pivotal in deciding who has the best car and ultimately who wins the championship. Red Bull will be looking for any advantage, big or small, and I am confident Horner will continue to passionately defend their cause, whenever possible. 

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