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Mercedes wing dominates build-up to practice in China 13 Apr 2012

Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W03.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 23 March 2012 Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W03.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 23 March 2012 Red Bull Racing RB8 in the garage/
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Chinese Grand Prix Preparations, Shanghai, China, Thursday, 12 April 2012 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren talks with the media.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Chinese Grand Prix Preparations, Shanghai, China, Thursday, 12 April 2012 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari signs autographs for the fans.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Chinese Grand Prix Preparations, Shanghai, China, Thursday, 12 April 2012

One thing is for certain as free practice gets underway morning in China on Friday: the race stewards have confirmed the FIA’s view that Mercedes’ innovative wing system is legal.

The ruling followed Lotus’s protest which was lodged on Thursday afternoon on the grounds that it contravenes the part of the technical regulations which says that ‘with the exception of the parts necessary for the adjustment described in Article 3.15, any car system, device or procedure which uses driver movement as a means of altering the aerodynamic characteristics of the car is prohibited.’

When the driver activates the DRS (drag-reducing system) it stalls the rear wing and boosts maximum speed on the straight, but that activation also opens up channels which feed air forward through the monocoque chassis to the underside of the front wing. There it exits to achieve a similar stalling effect and thus further cuts drag and enhances straight-line velocity.

The system is more of an advantage in qualifying as teams can use the DRS anywhere they like, whereas in the race it may only be activated in FIA-mandated zones.

The stewards unanimously rejected the Lotus protest late last night and cleared it to race further. That followed weeks of grumbling, particularly from Lotus and Red Bull, over the system’s legality since it appeared for the season opener in Melbourne in mid-March. There FIA technical delegate Charlie Whiting insisted that it was legal after examining it and having its workings explained in detail by the team. Now the way is open for anyone else who can incorporate it to do so without fear that it might subsequently be deemed illegal.

What is less certain is how Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull will go on Friday in comparison to team mate Mark Webber’s, as they team have opted for two different exhaust set-ups. "We’ll be conducting some evaluation work between the two cars," said team principal Christian Horner. "With testing not allowed during the season, Friday is the best opportunity to do some track testing and we are using the opportunity to look at an earlier iteration of exhaust and a further iteration of what we ran in Malaysia. Obviously we’ll then look at the data and then draw our conclusions from there."

And though it won’t come into effect until Sunday, Lewis Hamilton’s five-place grid penalty for the gearbox change his McLaren will need on Saturday will naturally be in the back of the team’s mind as the 2008 world champion and team mate Jenson Button work through a raft of technical updates today. The infringement means that the 2008 and 2011 Chinese Grand Prix winner will at best start from sixth place - if his recent form of setting the fastest qualifying lap continues.

“We can still have a good weekend,” Hamilton insisted, especially as light rain is expected today and again on Sunday. “I started from third last year here and won, and in the last race winner Fernando Alonso started quite far back, so anything is possible. I don't like starting at the back and not going anywhere, but if you have a quick car, which we do, then we still have a fighting chance from wherever I have to start. I'll try to minimise the damage by trying to qualify as high as possible.”

Alonso sounded resigned on Thursday, when he admitted that, notwithstanding his opportunist victory in Malaysia, Ferrari are still a long way off the pace.

“Nothing has changed,” the down-to-earth Spaniard insisted. “I think it’s going to be a tough weekend for us again. I don’t expect any big surprises as we've been saying, the team and myself, all week. The car has some small improvements, nothing big for this race and I think it’s the same, more or less, for all the other teams around us in the paddock.

"So I expect more or less the positions to maintain, or to keep the same as the first two races, which means a difficult to weekend for us. Struggling to be in Q3, I guess, in qualifying and then in the race to score as many points as possible as we did in the first races - trying to do a good strategy, a good management of the tyres and a little bit of luck. It’s always a factor that we always seem to forget is there.”

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