Ferrari has successfully challenged the legality of suspension technology that rival teams have been using, but the row is set to rumble on into the 2017 season.
F1 banned the FRIC (Front and Rear InterConnected) suspension system back in 2014, but some teams – notably Mercedes – have since come up with a workaround that optimises ride height and offers extra downforce in corners.
Working at its optimum a system that can drop a couple of millimetres of front wing ride height is probably worth around 2/10ths of a second a lap.
Ferrari’s chief designer Simone Resta wrote to the FIA’s F1 race director Charlie Whiting to explain that as a result the Italian team was considering its own novel suspension designs and asked for clarifications on specific areas. This could indicate that Ferrari was a few months behind their rivals like Mercedes and Red Bull in this technology, while medium size and small teams would not have the R&D resource or capability to compete in this area.
Whiting replied with his view that the concepts outlined in the letter would be illegal, which is a signal to the other teams not to appear in Melbourne with the system on their cars or they risk being sanctioned by the FIA Race Stewards.
In his letter, which was distributed to all the teams, Resta wrote: “We are considering a family of suspension devices that we believe could offer a performance improvement through a response that is a more complex function of the load at the wheels than would be obtained through a simple combination of springs, dampers and inerters.
“In all cases they would be installed between some combination of the sprung part of the car and the two suspension rockers on a single axle, and achieve an effect similar to that of a FRIC system without requiring any connection between the front and rear of the car. All suspension devices in question feature a moveable spring seat and they use energy recovered from wheel loads and displacements to alter the position of the heave spring.
“Their contribution to the primary purpose of the sprung suspension – the attachment of the wheels to the car in a manner which isolates the sprung part from road disturbances – is small, while their effect on ride height and hence aerodynamic performance is much larger, to the extent that we believe it could justify the additional weight and design complexity.
“We would therefore question the legality of these systems under Art. 3.15 and its interpretation in TD/002-11, discriminating between whether certain details are ‘wholly incidental to the main purpose of the suspension system’ or ‘have been contrived to directly affect the aerodynamic performance of the car’.
The two areas that Resta requested be clarified in detail were: “1) displacement in a direction opposed to the applied load over some or all of its travel, regardless of the source of the stored energy used to achieve this.
“2) a means by which some of the energy recovered from the forces and displacements at the wheel can be stored for release at a later time to extend a spring seat or other parts of the suspension assembly whose movement is not defined by the principally vertical suspension travel of the two wheels.”
Whiting’s response to Ferrari’s letter explained that the two areas Resta asked for clarification on were likely to be in breach of F1’s technical regulations.
He wrote: “In our view any suspension system which was capable of altering the response of a cars’ suspension system in the way you describe in paragraphs 1) and 2) would be likely to contravene article 3.15 of the F1 technical regulations.”
It is understood that the teams that were running the innovative suspension layout in 2016 have presented their own queries to the FIA.
The row comes ahead of the 2017 season where F1 cars will feature new rules on chassis designs that will make the cars look more aggressive and are intended to lower laptimes.
During the last major bodywork overall back in 2009, the debate over the double diffuser system on the Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota cars dominated the early part of the season. Protests were filed at the opening round, but the system was allowed.
Ross Brawn, whose eponymous team ran the double diffuser that was eventually ruled to be legal and went on to secure both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships in 2009, said late last year that the teams that had made an early start on their 2017 designs would be at an advantage as they, “can start to shape the arguments.”
With F1 set to become an aerodynamic Formula once again in 2017, additional gains from systems such as the one Ferrari has challenged are well worth having.
Disputes over innovative designs and further solutions in this area are likely to feature prominently in the coming weeks as the new cars are unveiled and testing gets underway.
What do you make of Ferrari’s move to clarify F1’s suspension rules? Does it signal a new debate over aero rules? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.