Red Bull team boss Christian Horner stated at Silverstone that Max Verstappen’s car does not need to be modified to comply with the FIA’s anti-bouncing rules. Yet in the background there is a battle going on between Red Bull and Ferrari on the one hand and Mercedes on the other. This is how the fight against porpoising stands now.
The French Grand Prix will be an important moment in the championship in two weeks. Then the rules are against the bouncing phenomenon porposing in effect, as imposed in a technical directive (TD039) of the motorsport federation.
With special measuring equipment in the cars, the FIA will enforce too much “vertical acceleration” from France. What is then too much is calculated using a formula that is determined per car.
If a car moves too wildly up and down at certain points on the track, it will be measured by both the team and the regulator. Should this be found more than three times, the team can expect a visit from the FIA and some adjustments to the set-up will have to be made.
The chance that interventions will immediately follow in France is small: the Circuit Paul Ricard is a kind of billiard cloth. There are few bumps around it porpoise and/or initiate bouncing. A week later in Hungary it’s a different story, but even in bumpy Baku a few races ago there was only one car that bounced too much. That was, of course, the Mercedes.
Only the Mercedes bounced too much in Baku according to the new rules.
Red Bull and Ferrari and their flexible floor
But the rules concern more things: Mercedes is engaged in a war of words with Ferrari and Red Bull about a second part of TD039, which is about flexible floors. These would be used by the two leaders in the championship, through a gray area in the regulations. Mercedes is obviously angry about that. Toto Wolff spoke in Silverstone of a “shocker“, when the FIA explained in a meeting that this is being used.
It has everything to do with the wooden plank under the car. It is there to measure how much a car wears. As soon as a car’s bottom touches the asphalt, the plank is the first to come into contact with the road surface.
According to the rules, this plank may not bend more than 2 millimeters at two points. The regulations imply that the entire plank may not move, but it is not really mentioned.
According to the FIA, two teams (Ferrari and Red Bull) are using this gray area to allow the floor to move marginally, especially further back. This would make the floor more effective, as a lower ride height can be handled without the wooden plank touching the asphalt too much.
The floor generates by far the most downward force of the car. A small advantage here pays off in higher cornering speeds.
The wooden plank (which is not actually made of wood) under the Ferrari.
Requests for clarification help the FIA enforce
It is an interpretation of the rules with which the FIA is obviously not happy. The teams that have not taken advantage of this gray area, Mercedes first, are happy to join.
Ferrari and Red Bull, of course, argue that nothing needs to be changed and that the introduction of the technical directive actively fighting. Horner reiterated at Silverstone that he is against interim rule changes. †don’t dick with ithe spoke in good English.
Technical directives are often the result of a team requesting clarification of the rules. The way in which they are written sometimes leaves something to be desired, which means that the FIA has to come up with clarifications. This is then formally “the opinion of the FIA as to what exactly the rules mean”. You can therefore use the gray area as a team, but there is a good chance that the car will be rejected during the inspection or a check.
An important example of this is Red Bull itself, which in 2019 asked the FIA about the electronic influencing of fuel sensors. Then came a technical directive and ran into Ferrari. The Italians turned out to do this indeed and were able to pump more fuel than allowed into the engine.
Teams are constantly trying to outdo each other. There is a self-monitoring element in it, which also helps the FIA to enforce.
The more flexible floor would especially benefit cornering.
From France, the plank is really no longer allowed to move
Taking away an advantage from competitors is of course also the goal of Mercedes, which, in its own words, drives itself with a rigid board under the car. So Ferrari and Red Bull are not doing this, which is more or less admitted by the FIA. From France, no plank may bend more than 2 millimeters over its entire length or width.
Whether this actually means that Ferrari and Red Bull are ahead of the curve remains to be seen. That answer may not be forthcoming in France, because the cars can already drive low on the smooth asphalt there.
In addition, there are several qualities that make the Ferrari and Red Bull fast cars, not just a slight bending of the floor. So the chance that Verstappen and Leclerc will suddenly be in midfield from France is very small. But it’s unlikely that Red Bull (and Ferrari) will have to do anything at all to fall within TD039’s new rules.