Formula One - On And Off Track Week 3

Berthold Bouman, F1 correspondent

Story Highlights

  • The braking ride-height correction system
  • Formula One pre-season testing days
  • Rubens Barrichello, the end of an era

The braking ride-height correction system

Again it seems there is a race on to copy the latest Formula One innovation, as Lotus admitted they have developed a system that adjusts the car’s front ride-height under braking, and even better for the Genii owned team, the system apparently got the official seal of approval from the governing body the FIA. According to reports the system is a spin-off of the ‘mass damper’ system Renault had developed a few years ago, but at the time was deemed illegal.

A few days later, Scuderia Ferrari Team Principal Stefano Domenicali confirmed during the annual Wrooom press event at Madonna di Campiglio the Italian team has also developed their version of the system and have contacted the FIA as well to get the green light for the already controversial system. Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso revealed Ferrari is working on new ideas, "I don't think there will be a big difference compared to the other cars, because the regulations are very clear, but there will definitely be some innovations and good technical ideas.”

Lotus has a braking ride-height correction system for 2012
Lotus has a braking ride-height correction system for 2012

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It didn’t take long before Mercedes GP also admitted they are also testing a similar system for this season and are working hard to get the system operational before the pre-season test days at Jerez in February.

Red Bull has in the past been accused of using a ride-height system, which under the current regulations is illegal, but Lotus seems to have found a loophole in the 2012 regulations. The system works under braking and adjusts the front suspension of the car using the forces that are generated under braking, and is therefore not a ‘moveable aerodynamic device’ which is strictly prohibited.

When a driver brakes the nose of the car tends to dive down, but a small hydraulic cylinder mounted between the suspension and upright inside the front wheel rim then controls and adjusts the ride-height with a few millimeters. Maintaining the optimum ride-height under braking certainly has advantages, it provides more stability but there is another advantage.

A car gets lighter during a race as it burns the fuel onboard, and with this system the car will always have the optimum front ride-height under braking regardless of the amount of fuel on board. It is believed the system also works under acceleration, when the nose of the car tends to lift, and the system allegedly also compensates this phenomenon. It is estimated the system could give an advantage of two-tenths of a second per lap.

The million dollar question is of course whether the FIA will stand by its decision the system is legal, which would mean all other teams will have to copy it if they don’t want to lose two-tenths of a second per lap to their rivals.

Over the years the FIA has made several controversial decisions, as they have in the past allowed the use of the much bespoke double diffuser that allowed Jenson Button to grab the 2009 title for Brawn GP, and subsequently banned it again at the end of the season after everyone had copied it.

In 2010 McLaren wrote history with the F-Duct, a system operated by the driver -- which in fact made it a legal moveable aerodynamic device -- but it was banned at the end of the season, but only after the whole Formula One fraternity had spent a lot of money and resources on developing their version of the F-Duct.

McLaren Mercedes F-duct detail
McLaren Mercedes F-duct detail

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Also in 2010 teams experimented with flexible wing parts and flexing floors to compensate for the downforce they had lost due to the double diffuser ban, and again only at the end of the season and after complaints from other teams, flexing aerodynamical parts were no longer allowed.

Last year it was Renault who dusted off the old idea of using exhaust gases to enhance the performance of the diffuser, other teams refined the concept by using different engine mappings to make the ‘off-throttle blown diffuser’ possible. This time the FIA did react, and tried to ban the system during the weekend of the British Grand Prix, but after a lot of pressure from teams using the device, the FIA made a U-turn and only banned the use of different engine mappings during a race.

Back to 2012, other teams have not yet reacted or given their opinion about the Lotus system, but it could very well be they will ask the FIA for clarification of the technical regulations, or protest against their decision the device is legal. It would be wise if the FIA would evaluate the Lotus system again during pre-season testing, when FIA scrutineers are able to examine the system from close-by with their own eyes.

Formula One teams and the FIA are still at war over the Resources Restriction Agreement (RRA) which should cut the costs of running a Formula One team, allowing ‘the braking ride-height correction system’ and then ban it again, doesn’t make much sense from a financial point of view. The FIA should make a final decision before the season kicks off in Melbourne, Australia, and not change their mind again once a decision has been made, or it could become a long hot summer again for Formula One and the FIA.

Formula One pre-season testing days

The unofficial start of the season is on February 7, when all teams travel to Jerez, Spain for the first of the pre-season test days. A number of teams have announced their 2012 contender is still on schedule, and fans, drivers and teams alike, can’t wait to see the new 2012 spec cars in the pit lane at Jerez.

All set for pre-season testing at Jerez
All set for pre-season testing at Jerez

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This week Ferrari and Sauber announced their cars have passed the mandatory FIA crash tests and are ready to make their debut at Jerez. Ferrari will officially launch their car on February 3 at Maranello, while Sauber will launch their C31 on February 6 at the Jerez circuit.

Like Sauber, Lotus will also launch their car at Jerez on February 6, and one day later returnee Kimi Raikkonen will put the car through its first paces, while other returnee Romain Grosjean will later take over the wheel from the Finn.

Williams’ Mark Gillan confirmed the FW34 will also make its debut during the first week of testing, yesterday Williams announced that Bruno Senna will team up with Pastor Maldonado for the 2012 season. "The debut is planned for the first week of testing at Jerez in early February. So far, the data looks right -- we have been able to achieve all the targets we set,” Gillan reported.

Today Force India announced they will also launch their new car on February 3 on the British Silverstone circuit where drivers Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta will take the car for a spin on the legendary circuit. Mercedes reported they will not have the 2012 car ready for the first test days, and Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg will have to do some testing with the old car. “We believe that the decision to run the car at the second winter test is the optimum compromise for our design and development programme,” team boss Ross Brawn commented last week.

Ross Brawn, Team Principal, Mercedes GP Petronas
Ross Brawn, Team Principal, Mercedes GP Petronas

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Also not ready for the first test is the 2012 Marussia, although technical consultant (and also returnee) Pat Symonds initially reported the car would be ready in time.

Toro Rosso, HRT and Caterham have so far not made announcements regarding the debut of the new car, and it could well be they will also miss the first pre-season test and will have to take their 2011 car to Jerez.

Adrian Newey recently revealed he was still working hard on the RB8, but it will be ready in time for the first test at Jerez. Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner confirmed last weekend the new car will make its first on-track appearance on February 7. Yesterday Red Bull officially announced they will unveil the RB8 during an online launch on February 6.

But this year McLaren will be the first team to show off the McLaren MP4-27 during a ceremony on February 1, but have not disclosed where the unveiling will take place. McLaren managing director Jonathan Neale confirmed last week the car had also passed the FIA crash test.

Rubens Barrichello, the end of an era

A number of drivers will not return to Formula One this season, most notably Rubens Barrichello, the most experienced Formula One driver of all times. The Brazilian had hoped to retain his seat at Williams, but yesterday’s announcement his compatriot Senna joined Williams reduced all his hopes to almost zero.

It is also sad to see that Williams were more interested in Senna, who reportedly would bring 14 million Euro of sponsor monies to the once strong and proud British team, although it must be said Frank Williams was perhaps forced to make this decision to save his team.

“I won’t be driving the Williams car in 2012,” Rubino, as his Portuguese nickname is, wrote on Twitter. “I wish my friend Bruno Senna all the best. The future is wide open.” Barrichello still refuses to give up, but after 326 Grands Prix during 19 consecutive seasons, it looks like it is inevitable the amiable Brazilian will be sidelined after all, as the only available seat left is a ride with the HRT team, but reports suggest HRT will sell the seat to the highest bidder for around 6 to 7 million Euro.

No Williams drive for Rubens Barrichello this season
No Williams drive for Rubens Barrichello this season

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It is highly unlikely Barrichello would make such a move and become a paying driver after 19 years, and it is even more unlikely he will settle for a role as test driver. “I think at first I won’t look for anything,” Barrichello today reported. “Perhaps I’ll just enjoy my family for a year. After that I believe my passion for speed will not allow me to stand still.”

Asked about other opportunities he answered, “For sure I will not race on the American ovals -- I have promised that to my wife, and I will honour that.” And he jokingly added, “I will speak later, firstly with friendly journalists.” Barrichello is still immense popular, just before this story was published, Twitter statistics reported he has 1,385,082 followers, which also must be a record for a Formula One driver.

Senna about his move to Williams which meant the end of the road for Barrichello, “Rubens knows even better than I do that sometimes it's part of the sport that someone comes in and someone has to go. We have a great relationship and I'm sure it will stay that way."

1996 World Champion Damon Hill today said, “I'm not sure how many more seasons Rubens could have expected to carry on in Formula One, although I think he did a pretty good job!” Last year Barrichello’s ex-Ferrari tem mate Michael Schumacher said, “He is one of the icons of Formula One and it would be sad for him not to be on the grid next year.”

Silvana and Rubens Barrichello
Silvana and Rubens Barrichello

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Barrichello has been through everything one can imagine in Formula One, from success and glory during his days with Ferrari, and drama and - with hindsight - an almost fatal crash at Imola in 1994, when his Jordan smashed into the tyre barrier at the last chicane before the start and finish straight.

He was lucky to escape without serious injuries, but the next day Austrian Roland Ratzenberg died during the second qualifying session, and one day later the man he admired the most in Formula One, his compatriot Ayrton Senna, died when he crashed during the race at the Tamburello corner. It was perhaps the blackest weekend ever for Barrichello who was still a rookie at the time, and even today he is still very reluctant to say anything at all about Imola 1994.

He is a man of passion and emotion, always friendly and optimistic, a real Brazilian, and a fair and honest driver, his fans will always remember his maiden win during the 2000 German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, when Rubino, cheered on by his wife Silvana and his Ferrari engineers, climbed onto the first step of the podium and burst into tears when the Brazilian anthem was played.

He went on to win another 10 Grands Prix, won 14 pole positions and in total took 68 podium positions, he has many friend in Formula One, and Formula One will certainly miss him!

Join us again next week for another episode of “Formula One: On and Off Track”

Formula One - On and Off Track week 2
Also view this week’s edition of the Big Picture

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jenson Button , Michael Schumacher , Rubens Barrichello , Kimi Raikkonen , Fernando Alonso , Ross Brawn , Ayrton Senna , Damon Hill , Nico Rosberg , Paul di Resta , Frank Williams , Pastor Maldonado , Bruno Senna , Nico Hulkenberg , Romain Grosjean , Adrian Newey
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Force India , Toro Rosso , Williams , Brawn GP , Jordan
Tags barrichello, bouman, featured, jerez, lotus, ride-height