The FIA is set to rule on the ongoing use of FRIC – ‘front-to-rear inter-connected’ – suspension systems ahead of the upcoming German Grand Prix, prompting many questions from fans as to what it is and how it has benefited a number of this year’s teams, most notably the all-conquering Mercedes F1 team.
The concept has been around since 2008 when the system was first pioneered by the Renault (now Lotus) F1 Team.
Put as simply as possible, FRIC allows for the movement of hydraulic fluid through a series of pipes from one end of the car to another, based on the forces through the car’s suspension systems. If a car brakes, its weight shifts forwards, which compresses the front suspension and raises – or lightens – the rear of the car. As the pressure increases inside the front suspension, it forces the hydraulic fluid to the rear of the car, which transfers some weight rearwards and improves the back-end stability and ride height at the rear.
The concept also works side-to-side, with the fluid able to move to the left or right hand side of the car (left if turning left; right if turning right) to counter the amount of roll a car would have when it corners.
The overall impact is that the car’s stability is great improved. Its aerodynamics can work more effectively and tyre wear is reduced as the weight balance is kept as consistent as possible.
The FRIC systems works ‘passively’, meaning it’s not controlled by any electronic, mechanical or driver inputs outside of the changes in the car’s balance and weight distribution as it brakes, accelerates and corners. By contrast, something like DRS is an ‘active’ driver aid.
The wording of the FIA Technical Regulations are deliberately vague about ‘passive’ driver aids, but the rulemakers’ interest in FRIC is such that they now believe that the hydraulic system – through its ability to control roll and pitch – is clearly influencing the cars’ aerodynamics.
Should the system be outlawed or removed, it will slow down the cars, although not by a great deal – the real impact would be on tyre life.
The FIA’s Race Director, Charlie Whiting, has stated that the teams can agree to outlaw the system in the 2015 technical regulations, although that would require the unanimous vote of all eleven teams – something that’s highly unlikely to be achieved.
Whiting also indicated that any ongoing use from the German Grand Prix onwards could see teams using it subject to protest and potentially being sanctioned or disqualified if the FIA Stewards decide to investigate the matter and rule against FRIC’s use.
Given that Mercedes is known to use the system, a number of rival outfits have concluded – correctly or otherwise – that this could be the panacea to the team’s dominance of the 2014 season, where it has won all but one of the races held to-date. Quite whether Mercedes will want to risk the fallout of being disqualified from their home Grand Prix will remain to be seen.
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