I’m fascinated by the whole ordeal surrounding the illegal floor on the Haas, primarily because it appears that the infringement is a slam dunk, yet the team still plan on appealing the decision.
For those of you that have been living under a rock here’s a timeline of the events and some backstory on those events.
Firstly, I think it’s important to note that teams routinely monitor the design features of other cars, including any developments that they may run, as whilst it can assist in finding pockets of performance for themselves it’s also important in terms of hobbling an adversary, such as the case that Haas have found themselves in.
This article can therefore be considered a case study for the way in which the teams conduct themselves and the processes that are involved both at and away from the track.
Haas introduced an update for the VF-18 in Canada that included, but was not limited to, a new floor and bargeboard setup. (Thanks to Albert Fabrega for the comparison images, for those that don’t know Albert he is a really fantastic guy that’s always helped me wherever possible. He’s an ex-mechanic (F1 and other series) and currently a reporter for Movistar+ and CanalF1 Latin America. Be sure to follow him on Twitter, as he’s there in the pitlane at every GP snapping technical pictures, often before many of the other outlets).
Post Canadian GP
Having seen the new floor, splitter and bargeboards presented by Haas in Canada, Renault sought clarification on the design. Afterall it’s an interpretation of a multi-layered set of regulations, perhaps their designers had missed something and if so they needed to know so they could exploit the same advantages.
The FIA responded, issuing a technical directive to all the teams (TD/033-18) detailing their interpretation of the regulations in this matter (Issued a week or so before the summer break). Unfortunately I have not been able to acquire a copy of the technical directive at this time but it will have most certainly upheld the intention of the regulations in this area (pared down for the sake of article flow):
3.7.1 Additionally, the surface formed by all parts lying on the reference plane must :
d) Have a 50mm radius (+/-2mm) on each front corner when viewed from directly beneath the car, this being applied after the surface has been defined.
For those not versed in regulation speak the following diagram should shed more light on the situation:
The front corners of the splitter, T-tray, bib or whatever else you know it as must have a 50mm radius that can be seen from directly beneath the car (red arrows). In terms of the Haas floor and bargeboard configuration this is not the case, as the elongation of the bargeboards footplate in the new specification meant it now extended to the same point, 430mm behind the front wheel centreline.
When viewed from directly beneath you lose perspective of the 50mm height difference between the reference place (upon which the front edge of the splitter resides) and the step plane (upon which the bargeboards footplate resides), meaning that you ‘see’ a wider splitter with no corner radius.
Haas, wanting to retain the design, likely due to the performance step that arose from it, disagreed with the FIA’s interpretation and sought further clarification, suggesting there was still ambiguity. Furthermore, the FIA had stated in the technical directive that a grace period to perform rectifications would be permissible, allowing time for modifications and/or new parts to be manufactured.
This grace period would lapse at the Italian GP, and although the design would still not be considered illegal as part of the scrutineering process, as the corner radius does exist and can be seen from other angles, the design could be the subject of a protest from another team.
In the time intervening Haas submitted further plans to the FIA detailing a revised configuration that they planned to manufacture, in order that they could ascertain it would fulfill the regulatory criteria but noted they couldn’t have it ready until Singapore. (Thus signaling their guilt IMO)
The FIA did not respond in regard to the issue of time constraints, as it had already stated that the Italian GP was the line in the sand.
Haas arrived in Italy with several options:
- Run the contentious design and hope that no-one protested the result after the race
- Return the car to a specification previously considered legal - ie the pre-Canada specification. This would seriously hinder aerodynamic performance and setup given that they’d raced the car for seven GP’s in this spec, with further modifications elsewhere on the car.
- Perform a ad-hoc modification to the part in question, the performance loss of which could have been calculated in advance.
Modifying the floor to come inline with the intent of the regulations seems relatively simplistic, to the point that it could have been performed with a dremmel in the matter of minutes. However, with all of these surfaces now seemingly interconnected it does beg the question if by doing so you’d reduce their structural integrity.
Creating a slot, even an almost imperceptible one has become a go-to tool in the designers armoury over the last few years, with the number of slots growing out the edge of the floor near the rear tyre growing exponentially in the years preceding the 2017 rule change. Therefore, a slot, such as the one in my diagram above (light blue) could have legalised the new bargeboard footplate extension. An aerodynamic performance loss would likely have ensued but may not have given the total loss that would occur if the shorter footplate was employed.
I think the thing that really irked Renault was that Haas already had a new floor in development during this back-and-forth, which was run by K-Mag initially in Spa and by both drivers in Italy. And whilst the new specification floor wasn't exploiting any further advantages from this contentious area at the front of the car it did indicate that parts were being manufactured.
The new floor featured the elongated floor gills that we've seen numerous teams utilise toward the latter part of 2017/beginning of 2018.
Shades of 2012
The whole affair reminds me of a situation that arose in 2012, when Red Bull somehow staved off a protest situation and at least in my mind remains the reason why Fernando Alonso has only two world championships and Sebastian Vettel has four.
In that situation Red Bull had been running what was later determined to be an illegal floor for only four rounds of the championship, with it all coming to a head in Monaco, when the threat of a protest swirled after the race. Webber had won the race in the principality, whilst Vettel came in fourth behind Alonso. The issue here was that Red Bull had been using what was considered a duct in the floor area ahead of the rear tyre, reducing the chaotic airflow that would tumble off the rear tyre and reduce the diffusers outright performance.
A protest was never lodged, although both Ferrari and McLaren had both considered doing so, instead Charlie Whiting issued a technical directive after the race declaring that no fully-enclosed holes could utilised in that region of the car.
The RB8 featured a flat floor in this region next time out in Canada but the saga set in motion the designs we saw in the following years, which as I suggested at the time could have been resolved by simply adding a slot to the periphery of the floor.
It’ll be interesting to see the new/modified design fielded by Haas in Singapore, but moreover I’m interested to see how their appeal plays out, as any kind of success will surely open up a Pandora’s box for the designers.
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