Vettel: Wings were the problem years ago so why make them wider?

Are the new aerodynamics rules a flop? That’s the question posed by our learned colleagues at Auto Motor und Sport, Michael Schmidt asking if the new tweaks have had the desired impact of making following easier in Formula 1 but, by all accounts, the changes are set to fail.

The authoritative German automotive website reports that drivers claim say little has changed. Driving behind a car and overtaking is pretty much as before, with engineers even fearing the air-flow caused by cars may be worse now, thus suggesting the rules are set to flop. We will know how effective the changes have been, if at all, at the season opener in Melbourne.

For now, the feedback is not positive.

The first quoted is Red Bull’s Helmut Marko who has for some time questioned the changes, “It did not bring anything at all, just cost a lot of money. Our drivers report that they still feel the same turbulence in the slipstream.”

The wider less complex wings were supposed to reduce the air turbulence generated by these cars and thus make it easier for chasing cars to get up close to rivals and thus facilitate overtaking. All good in theory.

However smart F1 engineers have found a way to deflect the airflow around the front wheels which, even for the non-technical minded, widens the arc of air that the car generates and perhaps making it even tougher to follow another car at high speeds.

‘Outwash’ and ‘vortex’ are the latest buzz words to make a comeback in F1 tech circles.

The report cites the example of Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton who proved on the third day of testing that nothing appears to have changed. Vettel followed the McLaren of Carlos Sainz for numerous laps.

The Ferrari driver had previously caught up with Sainz at two seconds per lap, but was stuck with no way to pass when the red car caught up with the orange one on track, after which Vettel said, “No chance to pass him. I just never got close enough to him.”

Also on the same day, Hamilton spent what appeared to be an eternity behind the Alfa Romeo of Kimi Raikkonen without an apparent way to get past despite being on a substantially quicker run until the maroon and white car put an end to that.

At Renault, two of the most experienced drivers, Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg, were sure it felt no different from the old wings, prompting the German to quip, “It’s Copy & Paste.”

Red Bull tech guru Adrian Newey fears that it could get even more difficult for cars to follow in a slipstream, “You lose as much downforce as before. But now it is unstable because we don’t have the vertical vanes on the front wing to control the airflow.”

Throwing another bucket of ‘reality’ into the mix was Racing Point technical chief Andy Green’s telling comment, “We are not building cars to make it easier for the guy following. We first have to make sure our car is as fast as possible and for that to happen [this year] the air must flow around the wheels. For as long as this is the case we will continue to maximise this option.”

As mentioned testing can be somewhat deceiving and the reality will be when the lights go out on Sunday, 17 March for the start of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Meanwhile a closing thought from four-time F1 World Champion Vettel, who asks the most obvious question, “Why did they make the front wings wider again, if we knew years ago that these wide wings are the problem?”