F1 has a history of implementing interesting new car technologies... and then banning them. Soon you may add hydraulically-linked front and rear suspensions to the bunch.
The usually quite reliable Autosport reports that the FIA will ban Front and Rear Interconnected (FRIC) suspension systems. The ban may start as soon as the next race, though a delay until next season is also possible.
What is FRIC and what makes it so interesting? Basically, it does what you think it does - the front and rear suspensions are hydraulically linked to one another. F1 themselves described how the system worked with this illustration of the front-side of Mercedes' system last year.
[FRIC links] the front and rear suspension hydraulically and can be adjusted in a similar way to the brake fluid. [...] With this suspension system there is a displacement of hydraulic fluid from one end of the car to the other in order to help keep a constant ride height and aerodynamic balance.
This all sounds strange to most car nerds, since we're always preaching about the importance of independent suspension.
Since everything in the world of F1 is insane and hookey-poo, they actually want to link the front and back of the car, because that allows the vehicle to stay at a level ride height. Keeping the car level is viciously important for the car's aerodynamics. The angle that the car sits in relation to the ground is key for the underbody air flow — any pitching or rolling from heavy braking or bumps upsets that air flow and aero balance.
What's interesting is this isn't exactly new. Systems like this have been common since 2011, as this linked rear suspension explainer from the excellent ScarbsF1 shows. Scarbs goes on to mention that systems like this were in use in F1 in the mid '90s, though Autosport points to the 2008 Renault as the first use of the FRIC in its current form.
This is also an odd case where we saw this kind of technology in road cars before we saw it in F1 — the hydraulic suspensions at Citroen and the British Motor Company were around in the '50s and '60s, linking the front and rear with hydraulic lines. The goal to keep ride height level was the same, though these companies were interested in passenger comfort, not balancing downforce.
The specific question about the legality of FRIC in Formula 1 comes from this note from the head of the F1 Technical Department Charlie Whiting that Autosport acquired.
Having now seen and studied nearly every current design of front to rear linked suspension system we, the FIA, are formally of the view that the legality of all such systems could be called into question.
The idea is that the system somehow constitutes a 'moveable aero device,' which has been banned in F1 since 1970, following a number of crashes with fragile wing systems.
You can expect to see all kinds of protests from the teams about the legality or illegality of FRIC, particularly since the most dominant team at the moment, Mercedes, has the most sophisticated version of the technology. Other teams may want to see them go down in flames.
All that being said, there is a more philosophical question at play here. Should F1 be in favor of keeping their cars relatively simple and driver focused, while banning innovative systems like FRIC (or other system they've banned in the past, like mass dampers, traction control, active suspension, and god knows what else we still don't fully understand)? Or should F1 be all about crazy tech, though many fear that could take away something from the drivers (as was the case in the now-banned ground effect era of the '80s)?
Photo Credit: Getty Images, F1 (illustration)