The F-Duct: Feat or Failure?

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Just last week the FIA and FOTA agreed to ban any kind of F-Duct for the 2011 Formula 1 season. A brand new F1 innovation, one that had been introduced by McLaren for the season opener and by Ferrari in Spain (May 9th, 2010), is to enjoy its fifteen minutes of fame and fade away into that large box of toys the FIA disapprove of.

One can argue that Formula 1 is about being at the pinnacle of motorsport and seeing such innovations come to life. Another can argue along the lines of Force India driver, Vitantonio Liuzzi:

“I think the F-duct is a really revolutionary technology in the world of Formula One, the only problem is that if we keep allowing things like that then maybe some of the ideas will get out of hand. Already the steering wheel is a very complex thing; so to handle it, the F-duct and X amount of other things could lead to a driver being distracted from what is going on around him on the track. I always say that Formula One should be the pinnacle of motorsport but it’s important to control the evolution of technology to keep things safe.”

Button in Spain, 2010 © The Cahier Archive

The McLaren F-Duct is ‘turned on’ when the driver places the side of his left leg against the hole on the side of the car. That closes the passage and the air continuously flows past the cockpit, behind and above the engine cover, and out onto the rear wing. That method is not half bad if you take a look at the Ferrari F-Duct. Ferrari drivers Alonso and Massa require the use of their left hand in order to block the air passage. Whenever needed, they would cover the hole using the outside of their hand, sometimes driving with fingertips or even one handed for that short amount of time.

“It is a clever piece of engineering and hats off to the guys who invented it, but some of the solutions this weekend look a bit marginal when you see drivers driving with finger tips and no hands,” Christian Horner, Redbull Team Manager, explained. “So I think there is a safety issue and a cost issue to take into account.”

Mercedes GP CEO, Nick Fry, said that he leaned towards banning the F-Duct mainly because it does not have any relevance to the outside world. Never will you see a father in a sports sedan, on a Sunday with the wife and kids, trying to achieve his highest top speed on the way to the beach house. The F-Duct is for the race track and nowhere else. One of the reasons why F1 is looked at so highly is due to its relevance to road cars and the advancement of that technology.

I understand why F-Ducts are being banned and I would agree to it being so. It improves top speed but also makes slipstreaming quite difficult. As Liuzzi said, if the FIA did not monitor all these new technologies, a driver would be constantly focusing on the buttons and levers inside the car while paying little attention to the driving.

Technologies come and go in F1 and the best we can do is appreciate it for that time, short or long.

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