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Mercedes pioneers new legal F-duct, rivals set to copy

ESPNF1 Staff
March 15, 2012 « Qualifying will be 'very important' - Vettel | Massa focused on own performance »
Mercedes rear wing has been the focus of the other teams' attention © Sutton Images

F-ducts are set to make a return to Formula One this year as teams look to copy a new passive, and legal, design being pioneered by Mercedes.

Driver-operated F-ducts first appeared in 2010 when McLaren debuted a system that stalled the rear wing and increased its car's top speed. The concept was quickly copied by most of the other teams on the grid before being ruled illegal for 2011.

Some teams assumed that ruling meant all forms of F-duct were banned, but the new Mercedes features a passive system on the rear wing working in conjunction with the Drag Reduction System to boost top speed. FIA technical delegate Charlie Whiting said he could see nothing wrong with the new system despite some queries from Mercedes' rivals.

"Some teams are questioning it [the Mercedes system] on the basis that they thought F-ducts were banned, but F-ducts are not banned," he said. "At the end of 2010 everyone was using driver-operated F-ducts and the regulations were changed specifically to ban the use of driver movement to induce aerodynamic performance in the car.

"That got rid of that generation of so-called F-ducts - I'm still not sure why they were ever called F-ducts, but let's call it a generic area of development. The thing with last year is engineers were unable to unlearn things and they wanted to try and get the same effect by different means and they talked about allowing opening and closing a duct by having interaction with the suspension and we said no you can't do that because it's not the primary purpose of a suspension system.

"There was a lengthily discussion in the TWG at the beginning of last year about that to make sure everyone was clear about it. It seems that a couple of people left that meeting with the impression that F-ducts were therefore banned in general, but not every F-duct is."

However, Whiting could not go into details on how the DRS-activated system works.

"What it appears some teams are doing is, when the DRS is operated, it will allow air to pass through a duct and do other things. That's all I can really say. It's completely passive, there are no moving parts in it, it doesn't interact with the suspension, no steering, nothing. Therefore, I can't see any rule that prohibits it. There is a school of thought that F-ducts are banned, but we simply cannot ban whatever an F-duct is."

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said rival teams would be forced to create their own systems if it proves to be a big performance differentiator at the first grand prix this weekend.

"The intent of the regulation was to eliminate the use of F-ducts," he said. "If a team has found a creative solution to circumnavigate that rule then that's ultimately down to the FIA. Inevitably if a team has found a route around then it's a route that other teams will have to follow and obviously there is cost involved in that. The question is probably better posed to the FIA than to us. We're not totally aware of what the other teams are doing at the moment."