If you are found to have committed a technical infringement in Formula 1, even if it’s down to a fault or other mitigating factors, you are usually in trouble.
So it was no surprise to see Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes excluded from Brazilian Grand Prix qualifying.
But it does raise some questions about the regulations that were used to penalise this rear-wing infringement and whether they need some slight modifications.
The regulations require that the slot gap when the DRS is closed must be between 10mm and 15mm. This is to allow for varying rear wing designs between teams. Mercedes had no problem with that, as the FIA said from the start.
But the regulations state that when the slot gap is opened by the DRS being engaged it must be between 10mm and 85mm. To measure this, a maximum force of 10N is used to attempt to push the test piece through the gap.
If the gap is smaller than 85mm, that’s fine because your lowest level is 10mm so it doesn’t matter, but if you are on the edge and it deflects slightly from 85mm with the test piece able therefore to pass it, then you are in trouble.
If the regulations instead stated that to comply with the slot gap rule, an 85mm diameter test piece will be pushed through the slot gap with a minimum of 10N applied rather than that being the maximum, that means that if the flap or the actuator is flexible enough to allow it to open up, it will be difficult to be able to generate that 10N force as the gap will just open.
And if you are suspicious that there is a potential problem, you can build in a proviso in the regulations that you can double that force if required. This means that there will be no room to design in any deliberate deflection and ensure that any future cases can produce a quick and decisive verdict.
For the closed slot gap of 10-15mm, it should be the opposite with a maximum of a 10N force using a 10mm diameter test piece. If you can’t get it through there then the slot gap is too small.
But the regulations are what they are and the penalty is justified. The regulations state that the car must comply with the regulations at all times during the event. While it could be measured better, this was still the case.
If you wanted to build in an advantage, it would be the areas at the ends of the rear wing flap that you would focus on as this area generates the most drag. In this case, the slot gap was found to be legal in the middle of the wing at the actuator but it was at the extremities that there was a problem.
I’m not saying that Mercedes did this by design because it does appear there was a fault, I’m just stating that if there is an advantage, that is how you would get the most out of it. That also explains why Hamilton had such an advantage of speed under the DRS on the main straight, where he gained significant time over Max Verstappen.
There would normally be a fixed stop built into the slot in the rear wing endplates. Perhaps this hadn’t been set up correctly, or it might just have failed.
We need to remember that the cars were late arriving in Brazil, so the mechanics had to burn the midnight oil to get everything ready.
I think both Mercedes and Hamilton have to take this on the chin and they were right to decide against appealing. Something went wrong and the focus must be on not letting it happen again. Valtteri Bottas winning the sprint means Hamilton only lost two points to Max Verstappen today and he really did the best job possible by getting from last to fifth. It’s tomorrow that really counts.
So while the decision might upset Hamilton and Mercedes fans, and the team can feel a little unlucky to be thrown to the back for something that was a fault rather than anything deliberate, it was probably a reasonable outcome.