Suspensiongate – Were Mercedes and Red Bull Illegal or Innovative?

Ryan Ashenhurst
Ryan Ashenhurst
Ryan Ashenhurst
Contributor

Ferrari has successfully challenged the legality of the Mercedes and Red Bull suspension systems of the 2016 season after enquiring about implementing a similar system themselves for 2017.

Following a letter to Charlie Whiting enquiring about the use of FRIC suspension systems that were banned in 2014, Ferrari’s technical director Simone Resta said,

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 inverters.

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’.”

– Simone Resta

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Article 3.15 bans the use of moving aerodynamic devices that can aide the overall aerodynamic characteristics of the car, the FRIC suspension being one such component banned as a result. It’s difficult to place Ferrari’s true intentions here, and says a lot about the FIA’s implementation of their own technical regulations on what seems to be a reactive basis.

Charlie Whiting’s response suggests that the systems that Mercedes and Red Bull used in 2016 may not entirely adhere to the regulations, he said,

“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.”

– Charlie Whiting

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“likely” suggests that Mercedes and Red Bull, who both started using these suspension systems in 2016, have in fact found a clever loophole as opposed to developing something illegal deliberately – otherwise Whiting’s response would have been a binary yes/no.

What Ferrari have managed to do is pile the heat onto their two biggest rivals as the questions surrounding this debate will more than likely continue into the 2017 season. We have to be careful about condemning technical innovation though.