Formula One’s Movable Rear Wing Designed to Create Overtaking

January 26, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015

NEW WING COMING: F1 champion Sebastian Vettel drives the Red Bull RB6; its front and rear wings are clearly visible. (Stuart Franklin/Bongarts/Getty Images)
NEW WING COMING: F1 champion Sebastian Vettel drives the Red Bull RB6; its front and rear wings are clearly visible. (Stuart Franklin/Bongarts/Getty Images)
One of the most controversial changes coming to Formula One racing in 2011 will be the movable rear wing.

Alternately praised and reviled by drivers, engineers, and team owners, the new movable rear wing was proposed as a way to increase overtaking, something that has been increasingly rare in these days of wide, high-downforce cars with carbon brakes and large aero wakes.

Modern F1 cars generate so much acceleration in every direction, that on many tracks, designed many years ago for narrower, slower cars, it is almost impossible for one driver to pass another. What’s more, the large wings, which press the cars to the pavement also create huge zones of turbulence, which unsettle cars coming up from behind.

Taken together, all this leads to races like parades; after the first few laps, everyone follows in order, and no one can overtake. To address this, Formula One introduced the new movable rear wing.

The new rear wing will be adjustable only under specific conditions—when one car is within one second of another car at certain parts of the track, mainly straightaways. The idea is that the pursuing car could flatten its wing, lowering drag and thus increasing top speed, to allow it to pass the car ahead.

Critics have said that the movable wing will cheapen the sport by creating fake overtaking opportunities. Supporters feel it can be used judiciously to improve racing.

Red Bull Principal Christian Horner and designer Adrian Newey, and Ferrari F1 Director Stefano Domenicali are among those that feel the wing will make racing artificial—instead of overtaking through skill, drivers would merely push a button.

"I wonder, will this system make the duels more spectacular or too predictable? At the moment I'm a bit skeptical, but I hope to be wrong," Domenicali told ESPN.

"The difficulty of overtaking is overstated,” Newey told the Autosport Auto Show in England. “What difficult overtaking does mean is that when somebody does it, it is truly memorable. If it is so easy that you want to be second going into the last lap, then that becomes overly manufactured.”

Red Bull driver Mark Webber told ESPN, “We want to see more overtaking, but we also need to keep the element of skill involved in overtaking and not just hitting buttons, like KERS, like adjustable rear wings.”

Renault’s Robert Kubica told ESPN, "If the wings move a lot we will see the cars overtake in a straight line and I don't think there is a lot of excitement to see that.”

The wing has some heavyweight supporters, including McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh and McLaren engineering director Paddy Lowe.

“I think it will be quite exciting,” Lowe told Formula1.com. “We are going to have to see and explore [its effects] throughout the season.”

Too Many Buttons

Along with the wing, F1 will see the reintroduction of Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS), which uses the energy of braking to provide brief bursts of extra accelerations.

Ferrari drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa said that with so many buttons to push—the rear wing, KERS—on top of driving at maximum speed, drivers might be a bit overwhelmed.