Formula One: On and off track - week 14

Formula One: On and off track - week 14

Active suspension, the return of KERS, and the fading light in the Nanny State. Active suspension? More and more teams accuse the Red Bull Racing team of using an active suspension system. The problem is simple, teams run their cars with ...

Active suspension, the return of KERS, and the fading light in the Nanny State.

Active suspension?

More and more teams accuse the Red Bull Racing team of using an active suspension system. The problem is simple, teams run their cars with almost empty fuel tanks during qualifying, but after qualifying teams are not allowed to make suspension adjustments before the race, which means they have to setup the car with a relatively high ride height during qualifying. If they don't do that, the ride height will be too low (which is also illegal) when the fuel tanks are filled before the race. You could overcome that problem with an active suspension, which would compensate for the extra fuel weight, but that is very, very illegal in F1.

The 1993 Williams FW15C.
Photo by Renault.

In the early 1990s Williams introduced the first active suspension equipped car, it used a system of hydraulic actuators which could adjust the ride height of the car in a split second, the car always had the ideal ride height, whatever the fuel load or track conditions were, it even compensated for the bumps on the track. The 1993 Williams FW15C with its active suspension, traction control, fly-by-wire controls, computer controlled semi-automatic gearbox, power steering and ABS braking system was the most sophisticated F1 car of all times. Alain Prost won the 1993 championship with ease, the car performed so well that he was probably already whistling the Marseillaise 10 laps before the end of the race. After 1993 the FIA decided to ban all electronic driver aids, and the active suspension became history.

Back to today, Red Bull's Christian Horner vigorously denies the existence of such a system, and the FIA declared the car was legal after a thorough inspection during the Malaysian GP. But the rumors are very persistent, Red Bull allegedly uses a system of gas filled dampers, which could release gas to adjust the ride height before or during the race. Red Bull has had enough of the allegations, and warned other teams that if they would use a system that adjusts the ride height, Red Bull will send an official protest to the FIA.

However, there is a simple solution: if the FIA were to allow one single change to the suspension to correct the ride height while the cars are in the Parc Ferme, teams would not have to spend money on a complicated and expensive adjustable ride height and suspension system, which in the end would be deemed illegal anyway, and everybody would be happy again.

The return of KERS?

During a recent meeting members of the FOTA have discussed the possible return of the KERS system in 2011. At the end of 2009 the FOTA banned the system, but they now feel F1 should endorse an energy recovery system, and also think the system could be a powerful tool to 'spice up the show'. The problem with the 2009 system was that it was not compulsory, bulky, heavy and could only deliver extra power for a few seconds. Another problem was that each team had developed their own system. The plans now are to build a standard system which will be used by all teams and is more powerful than its predecessor. The rumors are the new system will be produced by the Italian Magneti-Marelli company.

But some teams have already expressed their concerns. Mercedes said it would be complicated to introduce a new powertrain formula before 2013, Renault wants to use their own system, Williams only wants to use it if it is compulsory and not expensive, and McLaren also said the costs could be a problem, and not just for the smaller teams. Other teams also have their doubts and think the new system should be much more powerful and less heavy. Quite a deja vu, isn't it?

But it indeed would be a bad idea to re-introduce it when it is very expensive, especially for the smaller teams who are already struggling to make both ends meet. On the other hand, F1 needs to build eco-friendly race cars, and KERS could be one step in the right direction. But F1 should also think about using biofuel or implementing fuel restrictions; current F1 cars consume up to 200 liters of fuel to cover just 300 km. One thing is sure, the KERS discussion is far from over, and it will probably take a lot of time before all teams will agree to re-introduce an upgraded version of the system.

The fading light in the Nanny State

A number of drivers have again complained about the fading light during the Australian GP this year. Bernie Ecclestone has pushed for a late start of the race to attract more European viewers. Michael Schumacher, Nico Rosberg and Robert Kubica expressed their concerns about the light conditions. Schumacher: "It was certainly over the limit by the end of the race, it was certainly too dark." Kubica proposed to move the start to early in the morning: "I say let's do it early in the morning so it's Saturday evening in Europe."

Australian GP organizer Ron Walker has now joined the discussion, he said it was not dangerous, and called the drivers 'prima donnas' and added: "You can't please these drivers, they are a bunch of lazy people who won't do anything to help the sport". Which is of course not very helpful either, the drivers are just concerned about the safety, that's all. The FIA has conducted a number of light condition tests during the race, but it's unknown when, or even if, they will publish the results.

The podium ceremony took place under artificial light.
Photo by

Australian Mark Webber was slammed for his comments on the Hamilton road incident. He said it was ridiculous Hamilton got booked for dangerous driving just because he did a few burnouts with his Mercedes road car to 'please the fans'. Webber's comment on the incident: "It's a great country, but we've got to be responsible for our actions and it's certainly a bloody nanny state when it comes to what we can do. Lewis has found out very quickly. It pisses me off coming back here, to be honest."

Deputy Police Commissioner Ken Lay reacted by saying the state's road toll is distressingly high and Webber should know better. "That's after a weekend [which left] six dead, four of them attributed to speeding" he added. The Herald Sun published an article in which Mark's father and his girlfriend supported his remarks, and posed for a photo with fans who were wearing a shirt with the text "Victoria, The Nanny State!" during the Malaysian GP.

The newspaper was flooded with reactions and by the end of the day they had received 360 reactions of mostly furious readers. A few reactions: "Been a Webber fan, just lost me. A Victorian who just has a friend die in a car accident recently." And: "So this is the message from Mark Webber to the families who have lost loved ones on the roads this Easter. What a bloody disgrace." But there was also support for Webber: "Totally agree. Victoria has gone mad and the Government and Police need to wake up. What a joke, where can I get those shirts? I want one!"

Join us again next week for the weekly "Formula One: On and off track".

See also: Formula One: On and off track - week 13

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About this article
Series General , Formula 1
Drivers Michael Schumacher , Mark Webber , Alain Prost , Nico Rosberg , Robert Kubica , Bernie Ecclestone
Teams Red Bull Racing , Williams