After the first two Grands Prix the teams have had a couple of weeks to prepare for the next pair of races in China this weekend and then Bahrain the following week.
In terms of development, new parts will be coming to many of the cars for these races, but one innovation which many will be working to perfect is the FRIC suspension system, which has helped Lotus and Mercedes for far.
FRIC stands for “Front and Rear-Interconnected” system, which links the front and rear suspension using hydraulics with the aim of improving ride stability. This helps to give the driver confidence in the car and, the real boost for 2013, it helps make the tyres work better.
The engineers are trying to maintain a static ride height as the car pitches and rolls through corners.
There are various theories as to how Lotus and Mercedes plumb in their systems, but unlike an F Duct wing or a Coanda exhaust, the FRIC system is hard to see as it is internal.
However, thanks to input from JA on F1 Technical Adviser Mark Gillan, we can explain the background to the idea and how it helps the car and driver to perform.
When a car goes through a corner it goes through a number of movements; it pitches under braking, it rolls on turn-in to the corner and on corner exit. There are a lot of changes in terms of stability and ride height and a significant amount of downforce is lost as a result.
If you could make the car more stable through those changing dynamics and fix the ride height through those manoeuvres, you would make life a lot more easy. So a lot of innovations like this one are designed to produce a stable ride height through a manoeuvre, optimise aerodynamics and maintain downforce.
This has been the focus of aerodynamic development in F1 since the late 2000s, as wind tunnels have got more sophisticated. The challenge for the aerodynamicist is to assess the trade-off between downforce and smoothing out the ride and much of the work that goes on at F1 tracks in the build up to a race is focussed on getting a good compromise for the race weekend.
The FRIC suspension works by transferring hydraulic fluid from front to rear and it does so passively, which is why it’s legal – it’s not something the driver actively controls, it happens as the car moves.
This generation of F1 cars is very sensitive to roll, so anything that can minimise the roll angle is definitely a big positive. It’s very hard to say exactly what the gain is in lap time, but it makes the driver feel more confident and that is worth something as is the other major benefit in terms of the tyres. By making the car more stable and consistent, you will make it easier on the tyres. You have more load where you want it, so the wear is more even.
FRIC is not a simple thing to integrate into a car and it is something a team would seek to keep quiet about as they develop it. So we may not see too much fanfare about it as new teams bring it on stream as the season goes on.
Interestingly Lotus and Mercedes were two teams who have been most keen on the passive DRS system, which has proved very hard to introduce as the driver feels insecure about the drag reduction and reattachment and the sudden change in ride height, when he’s not expecting it.
If through the FRIC system you could minimise the pitch in the car under straight line braking manoeurvre, that would help the stability and thus ease the driver’s insecurity. So FRIC suspension may well be a pre-cursor to the introduction of the passive DRS system in races.