Technical: Formula 1's impending FRIC ban
10 July 2014 – A shadow of uncertainty has been cast over the Formula 1 field ahead of next weekend's German Grand Prix, with governing body the FIA clamping down on the use of FRIC suspension systems. GPUpdate.net technical guru Matt Somerfield overviews the life of the concept and looks at the implications of the ban.
After the British Grand Prix, the FIA and more specifically Charlie Whiting issued a technical directive to the teams concerning the use of 'FRIC' suspensions going forward, with an imminent ban looming as close as the German Grand Prix. Only a unanimous agreement by the teams will see the decision staved off until 2015.
For those uninitiated in front-to-rear-interconnected suspension, its use is not exclusive to Formula 1 and it is something that has been prevalent in the sport for many years (decades even). The first examples pre-date even that of 'active' suspension used in the early 90s, most effectively by Williams. This is an important crossroads as FRIC or interconnected suspensions are passive and must not be confused with their active cousin. Active was an assisted system that relied on onboard computer systems and electronic actuators, whereas interconnected suspensions and more recently FRIC are passive using the standard hydraulic system (albeit with hydraulic elements replacing the standard heave elements) alongside accumulators to match the effect seen at both ends of the car.
FRIC therefore controls a cars' pitch and roll (pitch is most prevalent under braking and acceleration, whilst roll is most prevalent when invoking a change in direction), making the car both mechanically more compliant but also creating a more consistent aerodynamic platform. The movement of hydraulic fluid front to rear (and vice versa) allows the designers to run the car at a consistent baseline and in more of an aggressive stance (rake) which creates consistent and more downforce than if the systems weren't employed.
This control of pitch and roll also has its benefits in terms of tyre wear with both being tuned to allow the drivers and engineers a more expansive operating window, making the tyres conducive to more or less heat and therefore wear, dependant on the prevailing track and weather conditions.
So if they have been around for such a long time, it begs the question 'Why now?' The directive explains more.
"Having now seen and studied nearly every current design of front-to-rear linked suspension system, as well as reviewing future developments some teams have shared with us, we are firmly of the view that the legality of all such systems could be called into question, particularly with respect to compliance with Article 3.15 of the F1 Technical Regulations," the directive reads.
"As these systems, in one form or another, have been in use for some time we are inclined to permit their continued use for the remainder of the current season, however, we feel we would need the agreement of all participating teams to take this approach. We would therefore be very grateful if you could indicate whether you may be in a position to agree with such an approach.
"Failing this, we would have to consider making a report to the stewards about the non-compliance of any car fitted with a system which appears to allow the response of the suspension at either or both of the rear corners to drive the response of the suspension at either or both of the front corners (or vice versa)."
Reading through the directive, we must remember that these are not regulatory. This is a forewarning by Whiting that the FIA will no longer stand for a breach of the regulations that has been maturing over the last few years.
Just because everyone is cheating, it doesn't make it right.
It is a shot across the bows, designed to make the teams aware that for 2015 this practice will cease to be legal, especially with the changes made by the FIA in 2015's regulations and ratified by the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) a few weeks ago pertaining to the skids and plank. These changes will make it difficult to run with such an aggressive rake, due to the now mandated material of Titanium for the skids (whereas most teams have been using Tungsten over the last few years as it wears less). If the topic of FRIC was left alone the teams would make concerted efforts in this area to overcome the changes made to the skids for 2015, nullifying their effect. This change is being introduced to force the teams to run with less rake and to further rob them of downforce, creating a car more focused on mechanical grip, an objective of the new regulations (2014/15).
A wholesale change of this magnitude mid-season is frankly not possible, some of the teams' solutions can't simply be deactivated and replaced with conventional suspension elements. Although not as dangerous as when the FIA cut off active suspension development, a sudden loss of these systems could have huge aerodynamic implications, with cars designed around the suspension's consistent platform failing to create the correct forces and worst of all flow detachment in critical areas of the track causing mass instability.
The teams that have the least mature solutions would of course benefit if they didn't agree to the continued use of FRIC but performance will be relative. Those with the money and resources are most likely to excel under new conditions too. Lotus nee Renualt was the first to re-develop this technology during the last ruleset (2009-2013). But that's not to say they have the best version, with Mercedes' iteration seemingly the most advanced of the current grid. Even Marussia's stride toward the midfield is owed in part to their adoption of a FRIC suspension.
It remains to be seen if the teams will unanimously agree to keep it in place for the rest of the campaign.
Stay tuned to GPUpdate.net for further technical features throughout the 2014 Formula 1 season