The Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner, has acknowledged that the potentially gamechanging design of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes is within the Formula One regulations. Horner had been reported on Thursday saying he believed the design was illegal, but 24 hours later he insisted he made no such comment and that the Mercedes does indeed comply with the new rules introduced for the coming season.
With the second and final test of the season under way in Bahrain before the opening race there on 20 March, Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport quoted Horner saying Mercedes had gone too far. “That doesn’t correspond to the spirit of the regulations. For us, these wings are illegal,” he supposedly said. Red Bull denied he made the remarks and Horner clarified his position.
“To answer the question, whether we think it’s legal or not? Yes, absolutely. It looks like it ticks all the boxes,” said Horner. “Comments have been quoted that certainly weren’t made. The car is obviously innovative. It is an interesting solution, as far as we are concerned. The Mercedes car looks like it complies with the regulations. It’s just a different interpretation, a different solution.”
The controversy, which may yet roll on into the opening part of the season, centers on Mercedes’ radical design of its sidepods. They have exposed the side impact structure – a strengthened fin and, in so doing, drastically reduce the size of the sidepods beneath it – potentially improving airflow, downforce and top speed. Mercedes are the only team to have taken this approach and, if it proves successful, they may enjoy a definitive advantage over the rest of the field from the off.
Horner also conceded that the suggestion the approach went against the spirit of the regulations was not a valid objection. “There’s not really anything that defines the spirit of the regulation; it either complies or it doesn’t,” he said. “That’s not really for us to judge. The FIA have access to all of the drawings. A design like that would have surely been submitted in advance. It’s an interesting concept, it’s a radical concept. So, is it quick or not? Only time will tell, but in terms of its compliance, that’s very much an FIA matter.” Toto Wolff, Mercedes’ team principal, has been clear that the design was cleared by the FIA but admitted he expected there to be questions over its legality. The regulations are an attempt to change the aerodynamic profile of cars to enable more overtaking by reducing the turbulent air in their wake. A protest against the Mercedes concept could still be launched by other teams and it could yet be banned if eight of the 10 teams believe it is against the spirit of the new regulations.
The FIA may be called on to take another look at the design, which has still to prove it confers a real advantage. Mercedes have not pushed the car anywhere close to a low-fuel qualifying run in the second test and may not do so until qualifying for the race in Bahrain next week.
While Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, the reigning world champion, still declines to take part in the F1 documentary Drive To Survive, citing his belief that the footage is exaggerated to give the impression of friction and discord where there is often none, Horner also reacted to the controversy generated from the release of the new season of the Netflix series.
In the show, he is featured making pointed comments towards Wolff, Mercedes and Hamilton. While Hamilton is celebrating his seventh title at the close of the 2020 season, Horner is shown saying: “I wish he’d shut the fuck up. How many times do we have to watch this shit?”. Horner argued that the series had chosen to focus on the antagonism for dramatic effect. “Last year was hugely intense and Drive To Survive at the end of the day is a television show,” he said. “So they are taking snippets from a season-long battle and using that in a television programme. The effect has been a dramatic uptake in the following of F1, but one has to remember it is designed ultimately to entertain. Elements are taken from it sometimes that are not even from the race in question.”
On the penultimate day of testing, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz headed the timesheets in front of Verstappen. Hamilton was in fourth, with his Mercedes teammate George Russell in 13th.
Late on Friday, McLaren announced their driver Daniel Ricciardo had tested positive for Covid 19. Ricciardo had been feeling unwell since Wednesday but had not returned positive results. He will take no further part in testing, having entered isolation but the team are optimistic he will be cleared to take part in the first race of the season next weekend. His teammate Lando Norris will conclude the final day of testing in Bahrain.