Controversy in Oz: McLaren accuses Red Bull of trick suspension system

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The controversy is heating up in Australia (a place not unfamiliar with controversy) over allegations that some teams have a trick system to adjust their ride height mechanically allowing them an advantage during qualifying.  A team that could lower the ride height during a light-fueled, low weight qualifying configuration would be faster.  Cars with lower ride height are aerodynamically more efficient and it would present a distinct advantage in lap times—certainly qualifying.

The cars are in parc ferme after qualifying and teams are unable to make any adjustments prior to the start of the grand prix.  The cars are made considerably heavier when race fuel is added, approximately 300lbs, and this would necessitate an adjustment in ride height to accommodate the additional weight.  That is the prevailing theory anyway and it is running rampant in the paddock this weekend.

The allegations were put forth by McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh who told the BBC:

“There’s evidence there are ride-height control systems which many people thought weren’t permissible,” he said.

“As you can imagine, we’re working quite hard on those systems now.

“The original rulings suggested such systems wouldn’t be allowed on cars but we’re seeing some cars which seem to have them.

“We’ve got to have them fitted as soon as we can – hopefully by China (the fourth race of the season on 18 April) we’ll have something on the car.”

Under the façade of being the magnanimous character that he is, Mercedes GP boss Ross Brawn has called for the FIA to investigate to clear up any misunderstanding with all deference to Red Bull.

“I think we do need to tidy it up, in fairness to Red Bull because there are accusations being thrown around. It is very unfair,” said Brawn. “They have a very good car, and there is no evidence they are unnecessarily doing anything untoward.

“You can do things with tyre pressures between qualifying and the race, which is a simple way of helping the situation. But it is necessary for the FIA to just clarify where we stand.

“Our understanding – I can’t remember the article exactly, but you are not allowed to make any suspension changes between qualifying and the race. Anything that influences the suspension, be it gas pressure, be it the intentional manipulation of temperature, would have that effect. I think we need Charlie to clarify that to get rid of the controversy.”

Very nice of Brawn to be concerned for Red Bull’s reputation amidst such ‘wild’ rumors huh?  This shouldn’t be unfamiliar territory for Brawn as it was his dual diffuser in 2009 that gave a clear advantage to the Brawn cars and lead them to a world title.  When asked by AUTOSPORT if he felt Red Bull were doing anything illegal, Brawn replied saying:

“No, not particularly. It depends on the track – some tracks for sure you need to run a much higher ride height with high fuel, other tracks because the ride height is controlled by features on the track it is not so significant.

“I don’t necessarily think there is something going on but there will be some tracks where you have to set the car up for the race and accept the compromise that comes from qualifying.”

The allegations may have come on the heels of a conversation that Red Bull team boss Christian Horner had regarding McLaren’s controversial F-Duct system which creatively routes air to the rear wing and affects the laminar flow over the wing.  The FIA was called to look into the F-Duct system after Red Bull and Renault had concerns.  The FIA found that the system was acceptable leaving Horner to comment:

“it’s therefore a clever design as opposed to illegal design”.

It remains to be seen if the FIA’s Charlie Whiting will investigate the Red Bull ride height system or not but this is nothing new under the sun in F1.  McLaren’s golden boy Lewis Hamilton lacked pace and tactics to make it into Q3 leaving the team dependent on current world champion Jenson Button to field their efforts at the front of the grid.  It’s been painfully obvious this is not what McLaren want as Button is the ‘other’ driver and not Lewis Hamilton.  I love it!  Go Jenson!

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