There is a bit of a buzz going around today regarding FRIC suspension systems. These have been used in F1 since around 2008 when the system was first tried by Renault F1 (now Lotus F1 Team). FRIC is an acronym derived from the description of a suspension system that is “front-to-rear-inter-connected”. In practical terms this means that there are pipes inside the car that carry hydraulic fluid from one corner of the car to another, based on the inputs from the suspension. When a car brakes, for example, the weight of the car shifts forwards: the front suspension is thus compressed and the rear end rises. As the pressure builds inside the front suspension the hydraulic fluid is forced to the rear of the car, increasing the spring effect at the front but reducing it at the rear. As a result of this movement the car’s ride-height remains more consistent. The hydraulic suspension also works from one side of the car to the other which reduces the amount of roll. The entire system is deemed to be “passive” (which means that it is not controlled by anything other than the road surface) as opposed to active systems that are controlled by onboard computers and actuators. The overall effect of this is that a car is much more stable, which means that the aerodynamics work better and the weight of the car is spread as much as possible between the four corners at all times, which means that the tyres last longer and wear more evenly. Removing the systems will slow the drivers, but not by much. The real impact will be on tyre wear. The FIA rules (Article 3.15 of the FIA Technical Regulations) on the matter are deliberately vague, stating that any specific part of the car influencing its aerodynamic performance must remain immobile in relation to the sprung part of the car. The FIA has now concluded, after analysing the current systems, that these may have evolved so much that the hydraulic system is now helping to control pitch and roll and thus influencing aerodynamic performance. Race Director Charlie Whiting says that the teams can agree to ban the systems for the start of next year, if they can all agree to do that. This never happens, of course, because there is always someone who gains and someone who loses with such a change. If the teams do not agree, Whiting says, they will become questionable at the German GP and anyone using such a system risks being declared illegal. It would then be up to the FIA Stewards to decide on the legality of the systems, with the Court of Appeal available for a further assessment if it is deemed to be necessary.
As with all such matters, different people will have different views about how this has come about, and who stands to gain or lose from a change. The only way to know that for certain is to see what happens after the change is made – if, indeed, it is. One presumes that some teams feel that Mercedes has a bigger advantage than others from this system and so they wish to stop it.