Teams hopeful moveable rear wing will boost overtaking 14 Jan 2011
A great overtaking move is one of the most thrilling sights during a Grand Prix, but critics have argued for some time that passing has become too difficult for even the worlds best drivers. Recent attempts by the FIA and engineers to develop technology to help drivers pass rivals have enjoyed variable success, but teams are hopeful this season's moveable rear wings could achieve much more.
In 2011 drivers will be able to adjust their cars rear wing from the cockpit, thereby boosting their top speed and increasing their chances of overtaking the car ahead. McLarens director of engineering, Paddy Lowe, is amongst those who believe this new concept will enjoy more success than 2010's moveable front wing, which has been dropped for this season.
It has a lot more leverage, Lowe explained during a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes 'Phone-In' session. The adjustable front wing was introduced along with the OWG (Overtaking Work Group) regulations in 2009 and it was really only intended as a mild adjustment for a driver to trim the balance of the car when in the wake and while attempting to overtake another car.
I was a member of the OWG and we actually put it in there as an insurance policy as we were all a bit worried that if we had got it wrong the car would be very unbalanced in the wake and possibly have oversteer. As it turned out nobody used the front wing for that purpose at all, we only really used it to make mild adjustments during the race for balance. So we all agreed last year that we would get rid of it in the interests of simplicity and cost saving because it would be the same for everybody.
Although some have voiced concerns the new rear wings may make passing too easy, there are restrictions on its use, which should present a real challenge to teams and drivers. The systems availability will be electronically governed and during the race can only be activated when a driver is less than one second behind another car at pre-determined points on the track.
These deployment points will be specified by the FIA on a race-by-race basis. And while Lowe believes the season may be a couple of races old before the stewards are happy they are implementing the new technology in optimum fashion, he doesnt doubt the objectives of the changes will be realized.
We are going to have to see and explore (its effects) throughout the season, he explained. I think it will be quite exciting. The one control that the FIA have is for each circuit they can set the points in the deployment straights at which you are allowed to press the button. So, for instance, you might be allowed to press it for the last 300m of the main straight until the braking point.
I think the FIA have it within their power to manage the situation so that the authority of the system makes sense and that may take one or two races to settle down. But they can lengthen or shorten that amount of straight on a race-by-race basis so that will give some ability to make it work in the way we intended it to.
In 2011, a drivers overtaking arsenal will also include Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS), which return after a mutually-agreed suspension in 2010. KERS turns the waste energy generated under braking into additional power, which is then made available to the driver via a steering wheel-mounted boost button.
When used in combination with an adjustable rear wing, it should enable a driver to pass a rival who may have track advantage but doesnt necessarily have a speed advantage. Over at McLaren rivals Ferrari, driver Fernando Alonso is certainly excited by the prospect, even if he has concerns about the complexity of carrying out so many car adjustments at once.
For years changes to the regulations have been brought in with this objective [more overtaking] but they havent always worked, said Alonso. Were crossing our fingers but I think that between KERS and the adjustable rear wing there will be enough difference in speed to be able to overtake a car youre fighting.
"These changes have been brought in after meticulous work on the part of the Technical Working Group and I believe they will work. They will be more complex to handle on the part of the driver because we will have more operations to carry out. You will need to find the way to adapt and find the right mechanisms for the buttons to avoid losing the correct concentration for driving.
The Spaniard - and some of his rivals - will get their first taste of using the rear wing and KERS in tandem when he samples the new Ferrari at the forthcoming Valencia test, which begins in Spain on February 1.
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