For the first time, Red Bull Racing has conceded that it might be penalised more than most by the FIA's impending clampdown on off-throttle blown-exhausts after all, with design guru Adrian Newey musing that Ferrari will be 'quite happy to see the back' of the innovation and that McLaren-Mercedes will relish the prospect of 'a wild card [being] thrown into the pack'.
Although – judging by Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber's front row lockout, the pair's third of the F1 2011 campaign to-date and preserving Red Bull's 100 per cent pole position record – the modification to the engine-mapping regulations between qualifying and the race ostensibly did little if any damage to the dominance of Newey's RB7 last time out in Valencia, the suspicion within the paddock is that this weekend's changes at Silverstone might be rather more costly to the runaway early-season pace-setters.
In the British Grand Prix, teams will no longer be able to gain aerodynamic performance by using the engine's electronic systems to send a full blast of exhaust gases into the diffuser when the driver is off the throttle in corners, thereby outlawing a practice that the FIA has deemed to be illegal and overly 'extreme' – and one that Red Bull's adversaries believe the defending double world champions have been exploiting to the maximum.
“It's been a very good start [to the season],” Newey told Crash.net
. “It's been a very happy surprise, but we're not halfway there yet so we've just got to keep pushing – we can't afford to be complacent at the moment, because there's a long way to go still and these things can change, as we all know. We've got various regulation changes for Silverstone, which is a bit of a concern, and it's difficult to know whether all the engines are being penalised by the same amount or not. That's the main question.”
RBR presently holds a commanding 89-point advantage over nearest rival McLaren in the constructors' standings, with Vettel 77 markers clear of his closest pursuer in the drivers' table approaching the midway stage of the campaign, and the team has dominated around Silverstone – scene of the forthcoming British Grand Prix – for the past two seasons, with the high-speed Northants circuit suiting the characteristics of Newey's creations right down to the ground and by extension, therefore, traditionally a happy hunting-ground indeed.
However, the Englishman has confessed that not only is he struggling to fully understand the FIA's mid-season intervention in the rules, but also that the exhaust changes have generated more work and expense at a time when many teams are beginning to divide their focus between their 2011 and 2012 cars and will be difficult for the governing body to effectively police – although he stopped short of contending that they have been targeted at reining in Red Bull's crushing superiority.
“It's easy to fall into the Machiavellian conspiracy theories,” the Milton Keynes-based squad's chief technical officer told Reuters
. “Whether that's true or not, I don't know and I can't comment. My read of it would be that, of our main competitors, which are clearly McLaren and Ferrari, then Ferrari probably haven't got their exhaust to work that well so they are quite happy to see the back of it.
“McLaren probably don't know whether they are going to lose more or less than us, but on the basis that they could do with a wild card thrown into the pack, they are probably relieved to have something that is different. It is quite a big change. We've got to re-optimise the car around a different set of parameters to what it was designed and developed to up to this date. We've got to look at whether we need to change the aerodynamics of the car itself, how we operate the car right down to things like does it affect tyre life?
“I think we will be quite heavily affected because our car was designed around the exhaust in as much as it was part of the design right from the outset. Probably with the exception of Renault and ourselves, everybody else has generally-speaking copied someone else's principal – mainly ours – and adapted to the car that they had pre-season. It might therefore be, because our car has been designed around it, that it's going to be more of a hit for us, but it's very difficult to forecast.