Then and Now – Moveable Aerodynamic Devices

Back in the late 1960’s when Colin Chapman introduced Jim Hall’s idea for high mounted wings into F1, the devices were mounted high up so as to be in clean air, and were fixed directly to the suspension uprights so the down-force was applied directly to the wheels without needing to first compress the cars suspension.  The system was very effective, but the thin struts holding the wings could not cope with the stresses when going over bumps in the track.  After some very dramatic failures in the 1968 Spanish Grand Prix they were banned on safety grounds.  Ever since there has been a regulation banning any aerodynamic device that is not rigidly fixed to the cars bodywork.  The regulation has been re-worded through the years to clarify several attempts at circumventing its purpose and currently it reads as follows:

3.15  Aerodynamic influence : 

With the exception of the driver adjustable bodywork described in Article 3.18 (in addition to minimal parts solely associated with its actuation) and the ducts described in Article 11.4, any specific part of the car influencing its aerodynamic performance : 

a) Must comply with the rules relating to bodywork. 

b) Must be rigidly secured to the entirely sprung part of the car (rigidly secured means not having any degree of freedom). 

c) Must remain immobile in relation to the sprung part of the car. 

Any device or construction that is designed to bridge the gap between the sprung part of the car and the ground is prohibited under all circumstances.  No part having an aerodynamic influence and no part of the bodywork, with the exception of the skid block in 3.13 above, may under any circumstances be located below the reference plane.  With the exception of the parts necessary for the adjustment described in Article 3.18, any car system, device or procedure which uses driver movement as a means of altering the aerodynamic characteristics of the car is prohibited.

This is the regulation that was used to ban the sliding skirts necessary to make most use of the shaped underbody of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s cars (hence the bit about bridging the gap between the sprung part of the car and the ground).  It was also used to outlaw the Lotus 88 twin chassis car of 1981.

While the Brabham BT46B fan car wasn’t actually banned (it was withdrawn voluntarily by the team’s owner in the interests of the sport), it would no doubt have been found to contravene this regulation.

Article 3.18 referred to in the FIA regulation covers the Drag Reduction System (DRS) which was added to the rear wing after a similar amendment allowing the drivers to adjust the front wing angle during the race proved not to have the effect desired.

In 2005 Renault introduced a mass damper to their car.  Mass dampers are widely used in buildings in areas subject to earthquakes or in tall buildings to control the vibration caused by the wind.  They were used by Renault in the original 2CV (dating back to 1949) to control the oscillation of the wheels.  Its use within F1 was similar in nature, but after being used by over 18 months it was found to contravene article 3.15 as it was deemed its primary purpose was to control the aerodynamic performance of the car.  It was initially banned by the FIA at the German Grand Prix when the spare car was presented for scrutineering with the device fitted.  Renault appealed and the Stewards overturned the ban.  Two races were held before the FIA hearing found the device illegal, fortunately for Renault they had decided to race without the device until the outcome of the FIA hearing.

Now, in advance of the German Grand  Prix once again we are in a position where a system that has been in use for well over a season and is apparently connected with the suspension function of the car has been declared illegal by the FIA.  As the Front Rear Inter Connected (FRIC) suspension does help control the attitude of the car (much as the mass damper did), it will also present a more stable aerodynamic platform, allowing the teams to run the car closer to the ground and run greater wing angles without fear of the wing stalling.  As a result I would expect any FIA hearing to find the system illegal.  However, most cars have a measure of anti-dive and anti-squat built into their front and rear suspension geometry, would these also be considered in contravention of 3.15?

Similar discussions were held when the FIA were trying to ban blown diffusers, only this time the pistons of the engines were being considered for having an aerodynamic influence.  Thankfully in that case common sense ruled, and the pistons were considered to have a non-aerodynamic primary purpose.  Whether such pragmatism will surface in this occasion I don’t know, but many of this years’ chassis are built around their interpretation of FRIC, and it may not be entirely simple to replace the system with conventional springs and dampers.  Still, it’s not as if teams are trying to reduce costs is it.

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