Ferrari fire early shots in 2017 Formula 1 battle

The New Year is only just upon us and already trouble is brewing in the world of Formula 1 as Ferrari have lodged a complaint to the FIA about suspension technology developed by Mercedes.

The world champions ran a hydraulic system in 2016 to improve chassis stability, which was a work-around the banning of Front and Rear Interconnected (FRIC) suspensions in 2014. The system allowed Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to be more aggressive under braking and allowing them to ride the kerbs more effectively, as well as aiding tyre management in the process.

The system contributed to the dominance Mercedes enjoyed over their rivals as they powered top a third consecutive title. Red Bull countered by evolving similar ideas with the radical rake angles on the RB12’s of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.

Ferrari has written to the FIA in an effort to ascertain the legality of the Mercedes and Red Bull systems. This tends to be the normal protocol when teams are unsure of how to interpret rules, and particularly common when a raft of new regulations are introduced, which is the case in 2017.

Ferrari chief designer Simone Resta wrote the following letter which was circulated to all the teams: “We are considering a family of suspension devices that we believe could offer a performance improvement through a response that is a more complex function of the load at the wheels than would be obtained through a simple combination of springs, dampers and inerters.

“In all cases they would be installed between some combination of the sprung part of the car and the two suspension rockers on a single axle, and achieve an effect similar to that of a FRIC system (Front Rear InterConnected suspension) without requiring any connection between the front and rear of the car.

“All suspension devices in question feature a moveable spring seat and they use energy recovered from wheel loads and displacements to alter the position of the heave spring. 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.

“We would therefore question the legality of these systems under Art. 3.15 and its interpretation in [technical directive] 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’.”

The letter directly queried the two above-mentioned suspension systems:

“1) Displacement in a direction opposed to the applied load over some or all of its travel, regardless of the source of the stored energy used to achieve this.

2) A means by which some of the energy recovered from the forces and displacements at the wheel can be stored for release at a later time to extend a spring seat or other parts of the suspension assembly whose movement is not defined by the principally vertical suspension travel of the two wheels.”

FIA race director Charlie Whiting responded: “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.”

Whiting’s response is not declaring that the systems are outright illegal, but he is suggesting that if they are as described by Resta then they should be protested.

This is the first salvo fired among the teams ahead of the new season which begins with testing at Circuit de Catalunya, on 27 February, in Barcelona.