The rivalry between Mercedes and Red Bull is nothing new. Last year Max Verstappen's team were the ones that knocked on the door of race management to have the controversial DAS system banned. As early as February 2020 the team stated that the system was not legal.
The team then threatened to lodge a protest after Mercedes completed their first laps in an official session. This was expected to happen in March 2020, however the Australian Grand Prix was cancelled. Fast forward four months later when the 2020 season actually got underway, and Red Bull put their money where their mouth is and lodged a protest. The stewards rejected it, which was to be expected, and the DAS system wasn't banned.
Mercedes were also under close scrutiny because Racing Point had copied the W10, Mercedes' 2019 car. The rest of the grid looked into getting the car banned, with Renault eventually finding a reason to push through with the protests: the brake ducts on the Racing Point were identical to those of Mercedes.
In 2020 teams were to manufacture their own brake ducts. Racing Point's defence was that the brake ducts were created within the boundaries of what the FIA regulations allow, but it wasn't enough. The team were deducted 15 points and fined €400,000. They were allowed to continue using those same brake ducts for the rest of the year, while Mercedes were not penalised.
2021: Mercedes and Red Bull continue to squabble
This season the battle between Mercedes and Red Bull isn't just on track, where Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are battling it out, but off-track as well. Even before the season started, Mercedes and Red Bull (with Honda) were diametrically opposed when it came to introducing an engine development freeze.
Red Bull would only be able to maintain Honda engines after this season with this engine freeze, and in the end, teams, engine suppliers and the FIA reached an agreement. As a result Red Bull launched a new company: Red Bull Powertrains.
Since then Red Bull have gone all out to get (or buy?) staff from Mercedes' engine division. It isn't all that surprising since the Germans have had by far the best F1 engine since 2014. Red Bull would love to get that knowledge to make its engine better as it looks to develop its own Red Bull engine in the run-up to 2025, when the new generation of engines will be introduced.
Mercedes strike back: flex wings
Mercedes have in turn hit back by claiming that Red Bull are using flexi-wings. Red Bull's rear wing flexes down to reduce drag while at high speed. This should give the team the advantage of a higher top speed on the straights without having to drive with less downforce.
Toto Wolff touched on the subject a few weeks ago, but it was Hamilton who set things off during the Spanish Grand Prix weekend. He questioned the legality of Red Bull's rear wing and claimed Verstappen had an advantage of three-tenths per lap. In Monaco, he echoed those sentiments, stating the wing would be worth at least six-tenths on the long straight in Baku. Nonsense, pure nonsense.
RacingNews365.com has learned that the time gained would be at most one tenth per lap. Moreover, Red Bull aren't the only team that has a rear wing that flexes. Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and possibly Alpine are also using them.
What Wolff and Mercedes have managed to do is get the FIA to introduce new tests from the French Grand Prix onwards. These are stricter than the current 'flex-tests' of the FIA. Several team bosses are furious as they don't like the rules being changed during the season. Alfa Romeo team boss Frederic Vasseur was furious because changing the rear wing 'will cost a fortune'.
Flexible' parts are not completely forbidden in F1. Parts are not allowed to move but a certain amount of flexibility is allowed. Racing at 350 kilometres per hour causes vibrations and pressure. This makes it necessary to have tolerant limits so that parts can 'flex'. Otherwise, a wing (element) would break or fly off while driving.
While Mercedes are free to point out the potential issue, there must now be some evidence that there is something illegal about the RB16B of Verstappen and Perez. For the time being the car has passed inspection at every Grand Prix weekend without any problems.
If Mercedes want to start a case, they have to build a file with a serious burden of proof. This means a whole legal document, consisting of which rules were violated, photos, videos, technical documentation etc.To build such a case takes weeks, if not months. In addition, it will cost tens of thousands of euros in legal fees. The chance of success? That seems to be nil.
Should Mercedes lodge a protest, the stewards will not be able to deal with it during the GP weekend. This is because the Red Bull RB16B has already passed all inspections. This means that the case will be dealt with after the Grand Prix.
Last year the complex Racing Point case showed that this can take weeks. From the French GP weekend, which is on the calendar from June 18 to 20, stricter tests for the wings will already be applied. How much chance of success does Mercedes have at this point?
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has already responded, stating the front wing of the Mercedes should be looked at as well. Surely the whole world could have seen that during the race at Imola? The signal to Mercedes was clear: if you want war, you will get war.
Although Mercedes have been vocal about the flexi-wing debate, nobody expects the team to actually lodge a protest. In Wolff's case, it is a question of mind games. It is politics to try and put pressure on a rival in hopes that they are punished.