FIA to clamp down on flexing rear wings

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Spain, Circuit de Catalunyaes

Observing ever increasing flexibility in rear wings of some Formula One cars, the FIA has decided to try to reduce this flexibility by introducing new deflection tests.

It appears that on Tuesday, FIA technical lead Nikolas Tombazis informed teams that the FIA will introduce a new deflection test from 15 June.

"We have become aware of some cases whereby rear designs which comply with the requirements of articles 3.9.3 and 3.9.4 nonetheless exhibit excessive deflections while the cars are in motion," he wrote.

"We believe that such deformations can have a significant influence on a car's aerodynamic performance and hence could be deemed to contravene the provisions of article 3.8.

"We will be looking out for any anomalous behaviour of the deformation of the rear wing," he added. "In particular we will not tolerate any persistent out of plane deformation that may be contrived to circumvent the symmetrical loading applied in the load deflection tests.

"Should we observe any characteristics that indicate exploitation of this area, we will introduce further load deflection tests as necessary."

The message came as a response to Lewis Hamilton's claims that Red Bull is using a "bendy wing" that supposedly gained Red Bull three tenths of a second per lap around Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Christian Horner however also noted that he and Mercedes's Toto Wolff have had a conversation about it before.

To avoid further costly research and developments in this area, the FIA, therefore, uses article 3.9.9 of the technical regulations that permits it to introduce further load/deflection tests on any part of the car it deems fit.


Bending wings has been a thing for as long as wings have been used on Formula One cars. In fact, it's natural for parts to bend, as some flexibility actually increases strength. Trying to avoid any flex will result in brittle parts.

The trick is of course to design wings that are as flexible as possible but also strong enough to withstand aerodynamic forces, dynamic movements in the car and static testing done by the FIA.

While tricky and complicated to get right, the advantages speak for themselves. On the front wing, teams have always been trying to get their wings to bend down, bringing them closer to the ground for increased ground effect.

With rear wings, ground-effect is irrelevant, but drag is the deciding factor. A bigger rear wing obviously gives more downforce, enabling better traction and rear stability, but at the cost of top speeds. Having the rear wing bend backwards at high speeds gives the advantage of high downforce at medium speeds with a lower drag penalty at top speeds.

The existence of article 3.9.9 however indicates that no matter what are the restrictions, teams will always be trying to exploit the maximum possible flexibility. And while not a big security issue at present, failing rear wings have previously caused big crashes.

Impact of extra test

One wonders who will be most affected by the extra test. It seems clear this won't be Mercedes, given they have started pointing the finger. If they were confident they were strongest in this area, surely another team would be first to alert the FIA.

Red Bull are notorious for chasing the flexibility route with obvious front wing and nose cone flexing in their dominant years from 2010-2013. The rear wing flexibility is less noticeable at first, but here too, Red Bull seem to be leading the march here. During the Austrian Grand Prix of 2020, at a circuit where such flexibility is highly beneficial, footage already showed high flexing. Surely, in the meantime, engineers have been able to exploit a bigger advantage.

Footage from this year's Spanish Grand Prix shows that the Red Bull wing is indeed bending a lot more than what's visible on the Mercedes W12. It is also understood that Alpine's rear wing may show similar flexibility.

The announced test is surely going to cause a few headaches at some teams as they may not be willing to just give up on whatever advantage they currently get out of rear wing flexibility.

The 15 June deadline gives teams time until the French Grand Prix weekend from 25 to 27 June to make whatever change they should need to ensure they can pass the new tests.

Details of the new test are yet to be revealed.