It wouldn’t be the start of a Formula One season without some controversy over a clever bit of technology designed to make cars go faster.
This year it’s Mercedes GP in the spotlight with their tricky duct system that seems to work like an F-duct for the front wing.
F1 engineers are devilishly clever. Give them a set of clearly defined rules to work with and they’ll find an ingenious way to get around them in ways that the drafters of those rules would never have thought of.
In 2009 we had the Brawn-designed double diffuser. In 2010 we had McLaren’s F-duct and Red Bull’s refined blown diffuser. They were all quickly imitated, but not until they were the subject of rigorous protest from their competitors.
The FIA eventually banned all three innovations—but at their own glacial pace.
This year’s engineering wizardry on the Mercedes AMG W03 seems to involve a clever system for channelling air from the rear wing all the way to the nosecone on the car and dumping it over the front wings so as to stall the wing in exactly the same manner as the F-duct did for the rear wing.
The system is activated by the DRS, so when the rear wing is moved the air flows down the channel/duct/tube arrangement (the exact methodology is a closely guarded secret) to the front of the car.
When the DRS is deactivated, the airflow stops.
Will Mercedes get away with this new system?
Alternately, the system could just alter airflow over the rear wing to give an even bigger reduction in drag. No one really knows, but the front wing idea is more likely than the other argument.
Either way, where it all gets a bit murky is whether the system is driver activated or not.
Mercedes argue that the system is automatic and the driver does not control it therefore they consider it legal.
The contrary argument is that this is an illegal secondary system that is activated by the driver when he uses the DRS. In simple terms, the system cannot work unless the driver hits the DRS button therefore it is driver controlled.
Logic suggests that the contrary argument is correct, but logic has no place in Formula One and even less place in the legal system, which is undoubtedly where this argument will end up.
What is not up for argument is that the W03 is a staggeringly fast car is a straight line with the DRS engaged and that is at least in part due to this clever system.
And that can only mean one thing. If it’s not banned immediately, ever car on the grid will have a variant of it by midseason and the FIA will end up banning it at the end of the year.