FIA ruling on F1 suspension row expected before first test
A ruling from the FIA on the legality of trick suspension systems in Formula 1 is now expected before the first pre-season test, following the latest discussion between teams.
Debate about the concept of pre-loaded suspension systems has been ongoing, in the wake of a clarification request by Ferrari over the winter about the devices helping aerodynamic performance.
In the letter, sent to F1 race director Charlie Whiting from Ferrari chief designer Simone Resta, an idea of a system that could replicate the banned FRIC (Front and Rear InterConnected) system pioneered by Mercedes without there actually being a physical link between the front and rear of the car was put forward.
It was proposed that the concept would go beyond simple handling and could help improve performance through better ride-height and aerodynamics.
"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," said Resta.
"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".
Whiting's response at the time was clear in that he felt any suspension system that acted in such a way would be in breach of the rules.
He said: "In our view any suspension system which was capable of altering the response of a car's 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 believed that Ferrari's request for clarification was aimed not at giving the green light to a system it wanted to develop, but to seek guidance on whether concepts used by rival teams were legal.
In particular, it has been suggested that Mercedes and Red Bull have been at the forefront of pushing suspension complexity to the limits, even though neither outfit felt that the ruling had any impact on devices they were running.
Despite Whiting's initial response, the matter has continued to be debated among teams ahead of the 2017 season.
It is understood further discussions took place in a meeting of technical directors with the FIA last week, but there was no consensus between the competitors about what should and should not be allowed.
Various ideas were proposed – including a return to conventional suspension, a switch to active suspension or no restriction on the current hydraulic concepts – but teams' opinions were split.
In light of the situation, and the fact that the suspension technology can be key to car performance, it is understood that a fresh Technical Directive from Whiting giving his opinion on the situation is expected in the next fortnight.
It is unclear, however, whether this will impose restrictions on devices that have been developed by teams – forcing a major reworking ahead of the 2017 campaign – or will state that complex systems are within the regulations.
However, it is hoped that the ruling will deliver clear guidelines on what is and is not allowed, and doing it before testing begins will at least give teams time to adjust before the season opener in Australia next month.
Should there be ongoing disagreements about the situation, however, it is possible that the matter could result in a showdown at the Australian Grand Prix.
For teams understand that opinions from Whiting are only advisory in nature, and binding interpretations of the regulations can only be laid down by race stewards at events or ultimately the FIA International Court of Appeal.
It means that if a team is unhappy with what a rival is doing, then it can challenge it with an official protest at a grand prix.
F1's first pre-season test is scheduled to begin at Barcelona on February 27.
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