Banned: Why F1 moved to outlaw crazy X-wings

Matt Somerfield

In 1997, looking to add more downforce, Tyrrell introduced a new concept, known as X-Wings, which would trigger an intense but short development war before the FIA intervened.

This all began when the team had found a loophole in the regulations it could exploit, allowing it to place winglets high and wide of the car’s main body in order to capture airflow in the freestream.

1998 chassis width changes

1998 chassis width changes Giorgio Piola

Giorgio Piola

Tyrrell only deployed its X-Wing solution at a handful of races in ‘97, serving as a way of generating the extra downforce necessary for those circuits that demanded it. 

However, the new ‘narrow track’ regulations and grooved tyres introduced in ‘98 played directly into Tyrrell’s hands, as the X-Wings would allow it to claw back some of the associated losses.

Tyrrell 026 1998 X-wings

Tyrrell 026 1998 X-wings Giorgio Piola

Giorgio Piola

The 026 was designed with them in mind, rather than them being a component that was bolted onto the car when needed.

As such, it was believed they actually contributed up to five percent of the car’s overall downforce. This gain was likely a factor in why four more teams quickly followed suit, with Ferrari, Prost, Jordan and Sauber all sporting their own versions. 

At this point the FIA decided that things risked getting out of control: so it intervened and outlawed them.

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. Ercole Colombo

Ercole Colombo

Mika Salo at the wheel of the Tyrrell 025 at Monaco, the red paint on the X-Wings could be used as a way of identifying Salo

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. Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

Jos Verstappen at the wheel of the Tyrrell 028 denoted by the yellow paint on the X-Wings

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. Ercole Colombo

Ercole Colombo

Jos Verstappen clambers over the kerbs at Monaco

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. Ercole Colombo

Ercole Colombo

Mika Salo on the streets of Monaco in his Tyrrell 025 equipped with X-Wings

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. Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Damon Hill at the wheel of the Jordan 198 which was equipped with X-Wings in 1998 before the FIA banned them

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. Motorsport Images

Motorsport Images

Jordan’s version of the X-Wing solution pioneered by Tyrrell

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. Motorsport Images

Motorsport Images

Ferrari was another team to adopt the X-Wing design on its F300

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. Sutton Images

Sutton Images

A rearward view of the Ferrari F300 shows how high and wide the X-Wings were placed

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. Ercole Colombo

Ercole Colombo

The placement of the X-Wing made refuelling tricky for the mechanics, making them a safety concern and one of the reasons that the FIA cited for their eventual ban

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. Sutton Images

Sutton Images

Sauber also installed X-Wings on the C17, as it looked to take advantage of the performance on offer

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. Sutton Images

Sutton Images

Sauber’s design certainly seemed much flimsier than some of the other solutions seen on the grid

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. Motorsport Images

Motorsport Images

Prost also tried out the solution, but its X-Wings only had one beam to support the winglets.