Tech Talk: Will F1 be safe with new wings?
The new moveable wings are almost certain to change the way the sport uses its strategy - but while the system will almost certainly create overtaking it could also create some problems.
If it works, the system will significantly impact the teams' strategy models because of the increased ease in getting through traffic.
The teams use computer simulations to predict how their race will pan out given numerous variables, one of which is a factor that considers the time delay from being unable to overtake backmarkers. The teams' pit strategies are based on avoiding ending up in traffic, but the fundamental aim of the new wing is to make midfield cars easier to pass so this should be less of an issue.
In theory, this should reduce the possibility of a faster car getting stuck behind a slower one (like Fernando Alonso did behind Vitaly Petrov in Abu Dhabi) and in making teams more confident about passing backmarkers it should open up more strategy options.
If the balance is not correct, however, and the system makes it too easy to overtake similarly paced cars, it could lead to ‘gimmicky' racing, and if the leaders were close enough on the last lap it would give the second-placed driver the advantage as he would be able to operate the system and the leader wouldn't be able to fight back - meaning a driver who has earned his position at the front could be undone by a gadget.
Another major issue could be with backmarkers - not in overtaking them but in using them to defend. The way the system is designed to work could allow leading cars to use slower ones to allow them trigger the system. If they are under pressure from behind, for instance, they could carefully manage their lap to ensure a backmarker is in front of them at the point where the system can be used so that they can also use the system to defend the attack from behind.
All these issues will have to be ironed out if the system is going to benefit F1 as a sport.
In terms of safety, meanwhile, there are two main dangers facing teams - system failure or incorrect use by a driver.
To limit cases of the former, the flap will be designed to sit at its highest angle (the angle that produces most downforce) when the system is not in use and the system will be designed to return the wing to this position in the case of failure. However, the natural tendency for the wing would be to try to do the opposite and flatten off - so it will be interesting to see how the systems achieve this (particularly given the issues some of the lower budget teams had in reliability at the start of last year).
For drivers, there will be quite a steep learning curve to cope with and one major aspect of this could be in braking as although the system is designed to shut off before the drivers get within the braking zone, whenever the wing returns to standard angle the increase in downforce-related drag will effectively act as an additional brake. If the driver does not predict this correctly, the car he has just been overtaken could go straight into the rear of the car that just moved ahead.
Overall, the jury is out on the new system. In fact, the jury has not even convened yet - so it is almost certain that the way teams are allowed to use the movable wing will not be refined before the first race, unless work is done in pre-season testing.
Given that it is a voluntary system, some teams may not even try to use it because of the development costs (although it is understood that all leading teams will have it in place) and if the FIA decided to scrap it, those that tried to make it work would have spent valuable resource in doing so and could make a claim that as it was not their fault they should have extra resource back to make up for the issue.
That may or may not be an issue, but if the system does not work as planned immediately, the first few races could certainly be spoiled and that could have a significant effect on the championship.
There is no denying that the f-duct solution last year was effective in racing, and it was notably useful when a car that did have the system was up against one that didn't. In theory, the new system should create that situation every time, so it is hard to argue that if they get it right it will be an effective solution.
But as much as F1 fans crave overtaking, the grounding of the sport is in the genuine nature of its racing, the way engineering talent creates the pace differential between cars and the skills that the drivers have in racing to their limits.
The system has been designed to have very restrictive use, but it is still possible that it will become too easy to overtake and that the timing of its use becomes more relevant than the pure pace of car and driver. If it does, the sooner it is scrapped the better.