Motorsport's governing body has been fleshing out its idea of reintroducing active moveable aerodynamics to F1 from 2011, with the aim of improving racing and controlling costs. It has emphasised that it now sees the active aero proposals as the 'prime route' towards achieving the objectives and so the previous idea of a spec chassis seems dead and buried (to the undoubted relief of the teams).
Central to the proposals, however, is a spec floor. The idea is that the underside of the car will be specified and supplied by the FIA. It will be shaped in such a way as to generate significant under-body downforce, thereby placing less reliance on the upper body downforce-generating devices that so badly disturb the wake of the current cars and make passing so difficult.
At the same time as increasing under-floor performance, upper body downforce will be reduced, with restrictions on wing size and elements as well as the effective banning of the various winglets and boards currently adorning the cars.
The wings themselves might be specified devices or design freedom may be allowed within very tight dimensional requirements. The rear wing will contribute most of the upper body downforce, with the front used merely as an adjusting tab for aero balance. There will also be even tighter limitation on bodywork surface area dimensions than is currently the case.
The aerodynamics would be 'active' in two senses - from a regulation that demanded the car's ride height was automatically reduced when it found turbulent air from the car in front, and in which its rear wing flap would flatten out to further reduce drag.
This would make it intrinsically faster than the car ahead. Then there would be the freedom to incorporate any number of 'active' technologies currently banned - and here things get very technically interesting.
Plasma generation, MEMS strips, boundary layer suction/blowing and shape morphing are four of the techniques mentioned that might be used. Plasma generation would involve having strips in the bodywork with alternating electric fields that ionise the air passing over them.
Further downstream is an electrically charged surface that will pull the ionised air towards it. You thereby direct the air to where you need it.
MEMS strips is quite new technology in aviation and uses micro vibrations to disturb the boundary layer of air that 'sticks' to the surface and causes airflow separation and thereby drag.
The boundary layer could also be deliberately manipulated by use of jets of air through porous surfaces directing the main flow where you want it to go.
And - perhaps most sci-fi of all - shape morphing could change the shape of a body surface through a combination of an electric signal and crystals that react either to this or to thermal stimuli.
As I related in this column last week, the thinking represents an attempt at untangling the knot F1 has got itself into whereby the various requirements placed upon the sport often conflict with each other. But even though they will undoubtedly aid some of those requirements, it's doubtful indeed whether they will be enough to untangle the knot.
For example: the idea that a specified under-floor - together with a one year homologation for the bodywork - will contain costs by putting a cul-de-sac on one critical area of development. It won't. The same resource - or more, if they can get their hands on it - will be spent researching the effectiveness of the remaining areas of freedom.
It won't matter that the solutions cannot be applied at the next race, the research will still be ongoing 24/7 to give the biggest possible leap when the time comes to homologate the next bodywork package. It's true, however, that some of this will overlap with research into drag reducing technologies for road cars.
The FIA itself points out a possible downside of the homologation rule: if you begin with a package that proves uncompetitive, you stay uncompetitive. Thus the results become more predictable. There goes that knot-tightening problem again.
But the biggest drawback of all if you're a purist is the implication of all this on how demanding an F1 car will be to drive. Illustrating the knot-tightening phenomenon perfectly, the FIA acknowledges that allowing active aero to reduce drag on the straights will mean straightline speeds will get out of control.
With current power levels - what was originally envisaged for the proposed 2011 hybrid engines - we'd be seeing in excess of 250mph at places. Couple that with the aero instability of a wing-retracted car and safety begins to get a bit marginal - even for spectators.
The FIA have acknowledged this and, informed by engine consultant Ricardo, now say it would be necessary for engines to be limited to around 400bhp (!) to keep straightline speeds in check and maintain current lap times. The current feeling is for a 1.3-litre, rev- and energy-limited four cylinder turbo with hybrid assistance.
There are two big problems with this: the reduction in engine torque this would bring would work against overtaking, the very thing they are trying to improve. But even more seriously, it means we are talking of a very high downforce car with around half the horsepower of a current machine. By any standards, this will be a very easy car to drive quickly.
Loads of grip/not much power is a format of car that always, always masks differences in driving ability. Make something easier and more people can do it to a certain standard. You or I could probably have been very competitive playing 'noughts and crosses' with Einstein; doesn't mean we could have gone bat-to-bat with him on the nature of the universe.
So, going in this direction the knot simply tightens in a different way, with a different compromise. The racing would probably get closer - but would mean less. Is that what we want? It comes down to whether we want it to be purely a marketing exercise, or to compromise the marketing value in order to have something of worth?
Is the sport prepared to surrender income to have something less artificial? These are the real nubs of the knot. The FIA even acknowledges this question in the proposals with the following line: "One could go as far to make it have a technology facade but manipulate the competition to be wholly an entertainment exercise."
Is that what we really want?
I still say: lose the money, lose therefore the pressure to appease those only casually interested in it. Encompass the environmental movement by doing away with wind tunnels, floodlit races and races in faraway countries with no ground-level fan base - invariably countries that have no democracy and therefore no pressure not to pay millions to host an F1 race when they have more pressing problems.