A number of F1's most experienced drivers have expressed their concerns about the new, driver-operated moveable 'proximity' rear wings that are due to be introduced into the top flight in 2011 – with some fearful about the safety of the device and others opining that 'there is not a lot of entertainment in seeing cars overtake each other on a straight'.
The driver-adjustable bodywork initiative was proposed by the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA), and it has been ratified by governing body the FIA in an effort to spice up the spectacle and facilitate passing manoeuvres at the highest level. The rear wing will be operated via a button inside the cockpit that opens up a slot to boost straight-line speed, when it is electronically detected that a driver is within a second of the car in front at one of several pre-determined positions around the circuit.
“It has been agreed to ban the F-duct system, but in its place we will have a rear wing with a flap that is adjustable by the driver,” explained McLaren-Mercedes' engineering director Paddy Lowe in a special Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes Phone-In Session. “We will raise the flap so it produces low drag down the straights, and in qualifying, every driver will have the opportunity to set a better lap time through using it wherever he can.
“In the race, you won't be able to use it at all in the first two laps, and then after that if you are within a second of the car in front, you will be able to deploy it. That's a FOTA initiative to help improve the show, and it will be very interesting. I think it's very exciting.”
Others, however, are rather more circumspect about the new aerodynamic innovation, with Lotus Racing's Jarno Trulli warning that as teams desperately bid to out-develop each other with their own versions of the 'proximity' rear wing, somewhere along the line, something is likely to go wrong...
“We have to make sure that they are safe,” the Italian veteran of some 223 F1 starts is quoted as having said by Reuters in Valencia, where he is preparing for this weekend's European Grand Prix around the harbourside streets of the Spanish city. “I have lost the rear wing several times in my career, and it's not a nice feeling – it's one of the most dangerous things you can have [happen], actually. I was lucky every time, but if you're not it would be bad.
“When it happens, you are not in control of your car anymore, and when it fails, normally it happens at very high speed – because it's the forces that make it fail – and you are going to end up in the wall. I don't want to have to worry about rear wing failure. Front wing failure is slightly different, even though it's still a problem – but the rear wing is really bad.
“We are definitely all looking for a better show and more overtaking, that's clear, and if this can help then it's very welcome – but it's looking a bit too complicated with the conditions under which you can use it. I would personally suggest to the FIA that they should design and give the same rear wing to everyone. Otherwise, if we start making research and stuff into the rear wing, it will go lighter...and in the end, someone's will fail.”
Many of Trulli's colleagues agree with the Pescara native that more thought needs to be given to the idea before it goes ahead, with Renault star Robert Kubica confessing that he doesn't think 'there is a lot of entertainment in seeing cars overtake each other on a straight' and Rubens Barrichello – the most experienced driver in F1 history – revealing his scepticism regarding 'the idea that the one in front cannot use it and the one behind can'.
“To be honest, it's a bit like a PlayStation game when you have nitro or something,” echoed Force India ace Adrian Sutil. “It's very good for the show, [but] it's not so good from a driving point-of-view, because [even] if you defend your position well it doesn't really matter.”
“It is good for the PlayStation, I think,” concurred Red Bull Racing's erstwhile world championship leader Mark Webber, “but I don't know how well it is going to work in F1. Overtaking moves should be about pressurising, being skilful and tactical. Yes, we want to see more overtaking, of course we do, we know that, but we also need to keep the element of skill involved in overtaking and not just hitting buttons. In an IRL race where you pass each other four times per lap, everyone gets bored.”