The FIA is to clamp down on Formula 1 teams using
steering angle to gain an aerodynamic advantage via the use of clever
front suspension systems.
Technical Directive sent by the Charlie Whiting last week made it clear
that the governing body believes that in 2017 some teams designed their
suspension and steering systems to lower the front ride height in
cornering, potentially providing an aerodynamic benefit and hence
Whiting acknowledges that a ride height change under steering lock is
normal, but he says that from now on, it cannot exceed 5mm – and that
it’s up to the teams to provide proof that the systems of their 2018
cars will comply.
The matter was discussed in detail with technical directors at the
most recent FIA Technical Regulations Meeting in London, where there
were conflicting views as to how much influence suspension should
henceforth be allowed to have on aerodynamics.
Mercedes is understood to have suggested that active suspension should be allowed, with FIA-prescribed software and hardware.
It was three weeks after that meeting that the Technical Directive
was sent to the teams, all of whom are already far advanced with their
Whiting wrote: “It became clear during the season that some teams
were designing the suspension and steering systems in an attempt to
change the front ride height of the car.
"Whilst some change is inevitable when the steering wheel is moved
from lock-to-lock, we suspect that the effect of some systems was a far
from incidental change of ride height.
"We also believe that any non-incidental change of ride height is very likely to affect the aerodynamic performance of the car."
Whiting referenced a 24-year-old FIA International Court of Appeal
ruling on suspension as a precedent for the interpretation of the key F1
technical regulation that concerns aerodynamic influence.
One section of the regulations reads "any car system, device or
procedure which uses driver movement as a means of altering the
aerodynamic characteristics of the car is prohibited,” and that may be
the wording that the FIA is using to help to justify its stance.
In the latest Technical Directive, Whiting concluded: “It is our view
that such steering systems should be treated in the same way as
suspension systems, i.e. that the 1993 ICA ruling should apply when
assessing compliance with Article 3.8 of the Technical Regulations.
"Hence, any change of front ride height when the steering wheel is moved from lock-to-lock should be wholly incidental.
"We will therefore be asking you to provide us with all relevant
documentation showing what effect steering has on the front ride height
of your car and, in order to satisfy us that any effect is incidental,
we believe that ride height should change by no more than 5.0mm when the
steering wheel is moved from lock-to-lock.”
It remains to be seen what the impact of the Technical Directive will
be, given that teams are so far along with their 2018 cars, and thus
might already be committed to their suspension and steering layouts.
The real test may come only if the matter reaches the FIA stewards on
a grand Prix weekend, when they will have to make a ruling.
In effect, teams now have to decide whether they can afford to take a
risk and carry on with their intended designs, or build their cars to
the new interpretation.
One team insider told Motorsport.com: “I suspect it can’t be policed
anyway, and teams will just ignore it. It is just the FIA’s ‘view,’ it’s
not actually the ‘law’. Nothing will change.”