Hey FIA! Stick a suspension rod up your…

Posted: January 26, 2012 by Matt Ruda in Insights

Another innovation, another ban. Now that the silly season is winding down, cars are being launched, and news is coming in quickly, the FIA banning the reactive ride height is already old news. In the flurry of college related activities, I forgot to post on the issue when the ban was first announced. However, I’m now sitting here with 24 minutes until my class starts, so let’s talk about this.

The FIA banned what was supposed to be the “next must have” among the teams. Lotus took the lead on development, with Ferrari and others following behind. The RRH system was designed to use brake torque to keep the nose of the car from getting cozy with the pavement under hard breaking. This would allow teams to run lower noses, leading to better aerodynamic situations all around. Unlike the F-Duct, DRS, and KERS, the system was completely mechanical. It wasn’t driver controlled, nor was it computer controlled. The design was simple enough to be pursued by all teams, but complex enough to create an exciting development race.

I think this development race is what the FIA feared. Some R&D races, like aerodynamics in general, go well and serve the interest of the FIA/FOM (i.e. close racing+ interesting battles= higher ratings and more money). Other R&D races get out of control, where one team is leaps and bounds ahead of the others (Williams and active suspension in the early 90’s, Ferrari and Schumacher in the early/mid 00’s, Red Bull and the blown floor last year). It is the latter kind of race the FIA wanted to prevent. Last year they tried to stop the blowing madness mid-season, leading to almost universal qq-ing and an eventual reversal of the policy. Now, instead of seeing how teams will adapt to changing circumstances, the governing body decided to ban the system outright.

There are two main reasons why this annoys me. First of which, how the FIA strung Lotus and other teams out. This system has been proposed, inquired upon, and otherwise debated for over a year now by many teams. What was then Renault seems to be the leader of this group, which makes sense given the teams previous endeavors with  suspension. If the FIA had come out and banned the system straight after the 2011 season, all would have been kosher, but they didn’t. It was only after one team made this part a centerpiece of their design, and other teams began to copy it, that the governing body moved to ban it. Look, I’m not a fan of the way LRGP was run, but Lotus looked to be strong this year, and after making moves to right their situation I was willing to give them a chance. Now, I worry. Despite the system’s ultimate failure, imagine if the FIA banned forward exhausts two weeks prior to testing last year. It’s the ultimate hypocrisy. For all their talk about saving money, they wait until teams have sunk millions into a new tech before pulling the plug, without even letting it race.

This leads to my second point. Formula 1 used to be the ultimate coming together of technical know-how and cutting edge engineering. No longer. Instead of developing new and exciting technology, aerodynamic concepts, or amazing new engines, teams are restricted and regulated at every turn. No longer are we treated to cars with weird nubs, widely varied designs, and sleek curves, all in the name of speed. Instead, we get boxy bodies, platypus noses, and bans on every piece of tech that comes along. Teams have to find and exploit every loophole simply to get anything done. Now some of these restrictions are safety related, and that’s fine. As much as I yearn for the 1000hp days, the V-12 days, the days when cars had so much downforce the driver was pushed to his absolute limit, I accept that those days are gone. I’ll take concessions on those if it keeps someone alive. But this RRH is not about life and death, but is another example of the FIA’s desire for total equality. Their actions to “redistribute the speed” do two things. First, it pisses off engineers who are going to make their car faster anyway, but have more red tape to jump through. Second, it pisses me off.

And remember, Hell hath no fury like an F1 blogger scorn.

  1. Eric Parker says:

    I agree, especially after the cars had passed their crash test. At this point if the FIA wanted to ban the idea it should be next year so that teams that did spend money on it don’t loose all of that, but it might not be worth it for other teams to develop it going forward. Really what is the worst that could happen, Lotus being competitive right away?

  2. thevillainf1 says:

    I agree that if FIA wanted to ban RRH, they should have done so when Lotus first came to them with their plans, not after so much money and time was spent on it.

    Your second point I disagree with. These engineers need to be regulated. If we let them, they’d rather build a fully automatic car with 0 chance for human error that’s driving on rails.

    Perhaps even F1 should move a bit more towards a spec series in some areas – say, a spec rear and front wing – but then leaver much more freedom in all other areas of the car.

    I know as a budding aerodynamicist Matt must hate this, but aero has been king for too long in F1, and needs to be brought down a notch. Speccing these 2 crucial areas might go a long way.

    Exploiting the loopholes has been the true art in F1 for many years, and despite ever stringent regulations each year there is still a team that every year gets away with something extraordinary the rest nor the FIA thought about. While RRH may be banned now, you can bet your bottom dollar that in a month or so we’ll be talking about this or that marvellous innovation, like a Merc front wing F-duct perhaps?

    F1 engineers and the FIA are playing Tom and Jerry, and Jerry always wins..or was it Tom? Dammit whoever was the mouse again? 😛

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