How will the flexi floor rules trouble Red Bull and Ferrari teams?

After another thrilling weekend in Austria, we are on board for French Grand Prix. But gaining attention are some off-track controversies. Formula One governing body FIA has issued a new technical directive that will be in effect from the Belgian GP. Like any other season, this season can’t be completed with some allegations and controversies around the aerodynamics and design of a car. FIA has intervened in the wake of driver complaints about the safety implications of the excessive car bouncing.

What’s the new technical directive about?

FIA believes that some teams on the grid have made ‘aggressive’ interpretations of the regulations imposed by the two articles. 

Article 3.5.9e: “The thickness of the plank assembly measured normal to the lower surface must be 10mm ± 0.2mm and must be uniform when new. A minimum thickness of 9mm will be accepted due to wear, and conformity to this provision will be checked at the peripheries of the designated holes.”

Article 3.15.8a: “Bodywork within RV-PLANK may deflect no more than 2mm at the two holes in the plank at XF=1080 and no more than 2mm at the rearmost hole, when the car, without driver, is supported at these positions. The car will be supported on 70mm diameter pads, centred on the holes, and only in contact with the underside of the plank assembly. The displacement will be measured at the supports, relative to the reference plane at the centre of each hole.”

FIA suspects that some teams have made the planks illegally soft to control the bouncing of the car. FIA suspects that some teams are flexing the floor more than the allowed limit. To understand more about flexing and how it helps the teams to control bouncing, let’s know a few things first.

How does floor flexing work in F1?

F1 cars have been using skid blocks underneath the car since 1994. These skid blocks are used to limit how low an F1 car can run on the track. They were introduced to stop teams from running their cars extremely close to the ground. After the race, the skid block is measured, and if wear is found to be more than 1mm, the car is disqualified. 

Totto Wolf from Mercedes has suspected that some teams have introduced a mechanism to make the skid block retract when it hits the ground, allowing the car to drop lower down. 

Skid block underneath the F1 car.

It also appears that some teams have split up the skid block itself. The holes which protect the skid block are considered to take measurements after the race. There is a main skid block that runs around the majority of that hole, but there is a separated rear section. This rear section is suspected to be moving independently. It is believed to be fully protected and enclosed when the car hits the ground. By moving up, this section doesn’t wear down as the rest of the floor hits the ground. Thus, it stays at its original thickness throughout the race and also complies with FIA thickness measurement after the race. 

F1 car skid block

From the Belgian Grand Prix, when the new floor checks come in, the FIA’s thickness measurements will be changed. The teams won’t be allowed to use movable parts and holes in the skid block underneath the car. Also, the measurement would now be taken as a whole plank rather than the main hole.

What rules will be changed?

FIA plans to introduce Aerodynamic Oscillation Metric (AOM) from the Belgian Grand Prix that teams will not be allowed to exceed. The FIA has affirmed that it will approach the issue in two parts or sets of changes.

The AOM will become mandatory in the Belgian GP, but teams can use it to comply with the rules of the French GP itself. FIA will mandate a stiffening of skid blocks in the planks of the car. There will also be changes to the way the planks are measured too, to ensure that teams don’t use the disappearing skid blocks to pass post-race checks, having worn down other areas of the floor.

The FIA has also outlined, following input from the teams, changes to the technical regulations for 2023.

These are a 25mm raising of the floor edges, a raising of the underfloor diffuser throat, the introduction of more stringent lateral floor deflection tests and the use of a more accurate sensor to quantify aerodynamic oscillation.

Which teams will be affected the most?

Coming to the FIA clampdown on Flexi floors and planks. Some teams have welcomed the FIA’s intervention, while others are exasperated at its actions. They believe that the governing body should have no right to dictate how they set up their cars.

Moreover, questions have been raised about whether the FIA needs to take any actions on porpoisng. Given the problem hasn’t been a factor in recent races, it seems a must.

Christian Horner has assured that red bull won’t be affected by the rule changes.

Ferrari has come out in the open and accepted that rules changes in Belgian means that their floor will require some changes. Mercedes and Totto Wolf say they welcome the change and are assured that it will not be affected by the rule changes at all. Red Bull and Max Verstappen, however, have alleged Mercedes of using Flexi Floor components more than any other team. Red bull has not given any statement on whether the rule change will affect them or not. Christian Horner has assured us that RB18 had no flaws and will comply with the rule changes.

No team other than Ferrari has openly accepted that it is affected by the rule changes in the Belgium GP.

This clampdown on teams could mean more even playing field with teams coming closer on performance. Totto Wolf has already said the rule changes could even out and help Mercedes come closer to its rivals. 

All things considered, the rule change is set to come. It will be interesting to see how the teams will be affected on the grid following the changes. Stay Tuned with The Sportsway for more updates!

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