September 16, 2016

Le FRIC, C'est Chic

Funny how the newest things in F1 really have roots that go back ages.   Take the latest Mercedes nomination "secret",  a trick front suspension that has roots back to the Citroen DS?


OK,  that's a bombastic statement but we are talking about a clever "analog" hydraulic suspension developed by Frenchmen.

You can read about the particulars of what the Brackley Silver Arrows  have done with their front suspension elsewhere,   I will try to distill it.

look at where the pushrod is attached
Mercedes have figured out a loophole in the regulations that allows them to fit a front suspension system that gives them the competitive advantage over Red Bull and Ferrari in terms of aero efficiency and tire management.

Red Bull has something similar but not quite
You remember FRIC (Front to rear interlinked Suspension) introduced by Mercedes in 2011 and banned in mid 2014.  Turns out the re-written rules forbid front to rear and diagonal linkage but there is nothing preventing left to right connections (think sway bar in normal car terms) so teams have been taking advantage of this and have continued to develop suspension that take advantage of this system.    The key has been packaging, most team use a version of a "hydraulic computer" suspension in the rear where space is not at a premium but only Mercedes has figured out how to fit the system on the front axle.

Ferrari is sticking by the letter of the rules... and suffering.
And this is where the clever exploitation of a rule loophole comes in.  Mercedes took advantage of an allowance which had been made for Manor where they were permitted to add a chassis "spacer" to adapt their 2014 car to fit 2015 regulation,  Taking advantage of this gray area allowed the German team to create the space needed  to fit the intricate components needed and to use the vanity panel, an esthetic part for most other teams, as a structural piece.

It's borderline legal and brilliant.

Why go through all this effort? Because the system gives you the ultimate in suspension, soft over fast bumps and stiff over sustained corners,  allowing the car to float over kerbs while maintaining the optimal ride height and aero efficiency in the fast bits while utilizing tires most efficiently.

It's not a new concept,  think Renault mass damper and of course the original FRIC.    Ferrari and Red Bulls chassis are not made in a way this can be easily retrofitted but more crucially, Mercedes have the expertise in tuning what is a very complicated system.

The brains behind this system is said to be French engineer Loic Serra, McLaren tried unsuccessfully to poach him away from Brackley.   Red Bull however was successful in tempting a Mercedes hydraulic engineer over to their side for next season.   At RBR, this yet unnamed tech will work with Pierre Wache another highly touted suspension specialist who,  like Serra, came through Sauber from Michelin, where they both were tire interaction engineers in the early 2000s.

You can read more tech details at Auto Motor und Sport and at Motorsport but score one for engineers and zero for the rule makers.

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