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600 metre zone for rear wing overtaking – FIA

At the Valencia test this week, F1’s governing body gave teams more details about the operation of the mandatory moveable rear wings in 2011.

Drivers have been experimenting with the overtaking aid this week, with observers able to visibly see the rear wing open up on the straight to stall the downforce before it is clicked back into place at the braking zone.

It has been feared that if chasing drivers are allowed to press the rear wing button too often, overtaking will become commonplace and uninteresting.

So the FIA has told teams that if the chasing car is within a certain time of his rival – say, one second – he will be allowed to activate the wing only within a 600-metre zone at the end of a straight.

These zones will reportedly be marked out with white lines, and Guardian correspondent Richard Williams reported that the one second gap will be calculated at the corner before the designated straight.

“Further information, going into detail and the various scenarios still has to be clarified,” said Ferrari’s technical director Aldo Costa, adding that the wings for now will not be operated in the wet.

“Then it will be a case of seeing how things go in the race to understand how to proceed,” he added, suggesting that the rules may be tweaked depending on the outcome of the initial races.

The early feedback from the drivers is that, combined with preparing and triggering KERS and watching for the rear wing green light, their cockpit workload is increasingly unreasonable.

“It’s just not enjoyable — pressing buttons, changing gear, pressing and holding,” said Rubens Barrichello.

Of the newer generation, however, Fernando Alonso said he was beginning to get his head around the new functions after a few days in the car.

The old guard is unconvinced.

“It’s not motor racing.  It’s calculation,” slammed Swiss ex-driver and German-language commentator Marc Surer.

Team Lotus’ technical boss Mike Gascoyne thinks the FIA is right to flag possible changes to the rear wing rules this year.

“I don’t think we’re going to get it right straight away,” he predicted, admitting his own concerns about the loss of racing’s purity.

“Some of the greatest drives were by people like Gilles Villeneuve, holding off the rest of the field.  Are you going to say ‘Well, that’s never going to happen any more’?”

Another fear is that chasing drivers will call off a genuine overtaking attempt on another part of the circuit in order to simply press the button in the designated 600-metre zone.

But F1’s most successful driver, Michael Schumacher, backs the concept.

“It’s a good innovation,” he told Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport.

“We know that in F1 we have a problem with cars following other ones.  If there is no dramatic change in the ratio between aerodynamic and mechanical grip, you need something else.  This might help,” added the German.

And Schumacher said he doubts pressing the button will make overtaking easy.

“There is no button for just driving past someone.  It could be that we just close the gap and get in the slipstream to start a fight.  Or it could be that it’s not quite enough.”

Ferrari’s Costa agrees: “Our calculations say that it (600m) is on the edge.”