Is there anything worse than spending time on a project only for it to be proven worthless? It happens all the time across the professions, but there must be nothing more expensive than having an F1 project written off by the FIA as “illegal”.
That’s the boat Lotus is sitting in right now.
What’s the fuss?
If you believe some reports, Lotus have been trialling a clever front suspension system since November, one that would keep the car at a level balance even under heavy braking.
With this added stability, the car’s aerodynamics would work more efficiently, as it would remain at the same level at the front and the air would flow evenly across the car throughout a lap. Clever stuff, but that’s not all. As the system would be activated by braking forces, it wouldn’t be driver or team activated (like active suspension was), making it legal in the eyes of the rules.
Why is it illegal then?
Article 3.15 of the F1 Technical Regulations states: “With the exception of the parts necessary for the adjustment described in Article 3.18 [the DRS], any car system, device or procedure which uses driver movement as a means of altering the aerodynamic characteristics of the car is prohibited.”
So, the FIA deems it illegal because the braking forces, which are indirectly controlled by the driver braking for corners, are controlled by whoever is driving the car. Confusing, no?
But, it seems that the aerodynamics are being influenced and altered by the forces of a driver braking, thus meaning gaining an advantage. Still with us?
Who else had it?
Well, the only other teams that have made noises about having a similar system are Williams and Ferrari. For all we know though, it could have been included in every other 2012 car. Well, maybe barring HRT, obviously.
What does it mean now it’s banned?
Not much if all the teams had it. Lotus will probably be a bit miffed as they’d pioneered it, put the time in and some of whatever budget they had to get it to a level that they could test after the season finished. All that hard work is now up in smoke.
The other problem might be the Kimi factor. It could have been a deal breaker that the Lotus team had an advantage that brought the 2007 World Champ to the Enstone outfit. Now that’s evaporated, could the Finn’s motivation go too?
Williams, a team in definite need of some kind of advantage after their worst ever season, are suffering from another blow (if they had a system ready to test, that is). It’s probably back to the drawing board for the guys at Grove.
And then there’s Ferrari, the third team to have spoken about having such system. Whether they do or not may be smoke and mirrors, but with the resources they have at Maranello, who’s to say otherwise?
The real story is what it means for the sport. In today’s modern Formula One, any slight advantage is frowned upon and looked over with a magnifying glass until it falls into one of two categories: fair, or unfair.
Remember the double diffuser debut in 2009? Only a few outfits teams, notably Brawn, Toyota and Williams, had it attached to their car, but they were the form teams in the early running. When everyone else cottoned on to it the advantage was slowly eroded. Same with the exhaust-blown diffuser.
Innovation now seems to come across with a hint of disapproval, instead of the pat on the back it used to get throughout the sport’s history. And that is the biggest shame.