Analysis: Why the FRIC ban is puzzling
Thursday was the day we finally knew exactly what was going to happen surrounding the FRIC ban situation – no team (allegedly) will run the system for this weekend’s German Grand Prix and – at the moment – for the rest of the year. Despite being in F1 for several years the FIA have finally called time on this technology on cost grounds. But as William Tyson explains, this is not as clear cut as it seems.
What is FRIC?
Before we get into why the decision has been made and what the implications of such a ban will have on the competitive order, let’s first review what FRIC is.
FRIC stands for Front-Rear Interconnected and it refers to the connection between the front and rear suspension. It has been in F1 for decades to a certain degree - mechanical, wired systems have been known to have been on the cars since the early 1990s. The modern day FRIC is a hydraulic system that links all four corners of the car to maintain a stable platform under any car movement – pitch, yaw, roll and warp (a combination of the latter, which often occurs in a long cornered braking zone such as China’s turn 1). Lotus (formerly Renault) introduced a basic system that just linked the front and rear in 2008 and the technology has grown since.
On a car you normally find and anti-rollbar of some description linking the side-to-side motion as the car turns to prevent the car rolling too much. Easy.
F1 cars traditionally have a set of anti-rollbars and heave spring for each end of the car but FRIC is a better tool for both jobs. In theory, the driver should have little ride height variation in any given scenario. This is great because the cars can be run lower and the aerodynamics are further optimised around this. Not only does this generate more peak downforce, the consistency of grip that the driver has is also improved.
It works by pushing fluid through a series of hydraulic lines that span the length of the car. Where the heave element normally is, instead lies a double cylinder arrangement – one on each end of the car – connected to their respective push/pull rods. At the centre of the car is an accumulator, often be seen tucked into the sidepods, which is basically the hub of the system. This is where all the pipework runs to. The valve that controls the accumulated fluid is tuned so that it only allows fluid to move between the cylinders under a certain amount of load, or the hydraulic pressure within the system can be changed. The constant shifting of fluid between the cylinders – controlled by the valve – creates the stable platform that aerodynamicists crave.
Banning FRIC without taking into account the aerodynamical side of the car’s performance is only a deficit of about 0.3 seconds. However, as we all know, aerodynamics are the critical performance factor in F1 so this is why teams could have a problem with the ban.
The modifications made to the cars as FRIC progressed has slowly made them more pitch sensitive. The designers can be more aggressive with downforce producing devices as the car is more stable. By removing FRIC, the current aero platforms may not suit the traditional anti-rollbar/heave systems as the car is more likely to suffer from ride height variation.
So could this shuffle the pack a little? It’s difficult to say because everyone’s aero package works very differently from one another. It’s a case of how sensitive your car is to ride height change rather than looking to completely overhaul the entire package. It could bring some teams closer together but most drivers seem nonplussed about it all. Lewis Hamilton tested his Mercedes without FRIC at Silverstone last week, saying that “the car felt much the same. Naturally I think everyone has to adapt the set-up a little bit to utilise different settings.”.
Why has it been banned?
The FIA have deemed FRIC as a moveable aerodynamic device, something that has been a no-no in F1 for some time. Teams have gone round this hurdle (such as the F-duct in 2010) but ever since the removal of active suspension in 1994 the driver can have no control over the aeroydynamics (excluding his mere presence disturbing the airflow and DRS). However, as the driver controls the car and its suspension system is influencing the aerodynamics it has now become illegal. Yes, it’s silly but every technical allegation the FIA make is often silly, some things never change.
There have also been claims that the FIA decided to clamp down on FRIC due to cost. In concept the system isn’t too complex, it just takes a long time to perfect. There is a general consensus that the top teams’ systems – notably Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – have reached a peak, so development has slowed drastically. Having consulted an engineer who works for a top F1 team, his comments were that the development of FRIC itself hasn’t been too costly at all.
So what’s the big fuss about costs? Most teams are telling us that the whole event has been a bit of a surprise and the FIA have almost sprung it upon teams to make a quick decision and reconfigure some setup work just weeks before the next race. Well apparently, as mentioned above, it boils down to the vast aerodynamic development spent on optimising the car around FRIC.
If we recall the 2013 tyre disaster situation, teams like Force India lost out and Red Bull gained. This was all down to the aerodynamic influence of the tyre, so all Red Bull had to do was bring back all their binned parts from winter testing, stick them on the car and romp to another double World Championship success.
But hang on, surely the teams will have to undo all their good work over the past five years and start creating new aero packages and investigate new setups, starting the whole process again? Correct. And what does this do? Drive up costs. Right in the middle of the season.
I’m all for the FRIC ban, purely because it encourages innovation to find a new passive ride height control system. What I’m not in favour of is the apparent lack of thought put into such a ban. Why not leave it until 2015? This gives teams a longer period of time to sort out a FRIC-less car and prevents a mad development rush and wasting thousands of pounds producing new front wings that won’t last more than a few races. This is yet another reason why F1 needs a wake up call/slap in the face to make better, more calculated decisions.