Mercedes team boss and CEO Toto Wolff has admitted that the change in aerodynamic regulations Formula 1 is introducing for 2019 could open up loopholes for teams to exploit, and could give any team on the grid the opportunity to come up with a device giving it a race-winning advantage over its rivals.
His comments come ten years after the Brawn Formula 1 Team used a similar shake up in aero regulations to exploit an opportunity to build the ‘double diffuser’ – a device which used a two tier structure at the rear of the car, the uppermost of which had a hole that fed air down to the lower plane, meaning the airflow through the diffuser expanded more upon exiting creating greater downforce.
Williams and Toyota also spotted this loophole, but despite William’s Nico Rosberg finishing in the top six on eight occasions in his Williams FW31 during 2009, they just weren’t able to maximise their new-fangled gadgetry in the way that Brawn were.
Ross Brawn bought the Honda team following the Japanese manufacturer’s complete withdrawal from F1 at the end of a disastrous 2008 season.
Brawn, previously Technical Director of Honda F1, knew they car they’d built was a good one, and that the double diffuser would make them super competitive, and so with an eleventh-hour engine deal with Mercedes, a serious reduction in payroll at Brawn HQ and zero pre-season testing of any note, Brawn GP arrived in Australia for the season opener.
Nobody outside Brawn expected the team to achieve anything but survival, but they knew better. When Brawn’s Jenson Button took pole position and the win, there was serious consternation in F1 garages up and down the grid.
Brawn used this device to win six of the first seven Grands Prix of 2009 before its rivals were able to copy and build their own version, allowing them to close the gap.
But by then the championship was all but won, and the double World Championship winning team was bought by Mercedes.
The rest, as they say, is history.
So it’s with this experience foremost in his mind that Wolff says that ‘even’ Williams are a threat.
“We are taking everybody serious: whether it is Ferrari finishing second this year or Williams finishing 10th. All of them could come with a car that can outperform us.”
So this Williams fan is hoping that on some worktop somewhere in Williams’ Grove HQ, there lies a small carbon fibre device that is going to shake up Formula 1, and that the potential loophole that everyone is talking about is one that is only spotted by Williams Racing.