Given that FRIC (Front and Rear Interlinked Suspension) has been present on Formula One cars for over six years, the emergence of the FIA's plans to ban the system as soon as next weekend's German Grand Prix, as reported by Jonathan Noble of Autosport, came as a major shock.
And that shock wasn't only confined to those who had previously never even heard of the device, which, according to Noble, links "the front and rear suspension to maintain a constant ride height for improved performance."
Eric Boullier, the racing director of McLaren, one of the most iconic institutions in F1 history and still a major power, revealed that his team—one of the many to benefit from the system—had learnt of the ban at very short notice. The Frenchman told Matt Beer and Edd Straw of Autosport:
It came as a total surprise.
It was not based on any team's action, it was an FIA action.
We had been warned at the [British Grand Prix] weekend that something could come of this, and then we got this technical directive.
We don't like it when there is a technical change in the season, but maybe there is a reason why the FIA wants to do it.
The instant ban on FRIC, according to Noble, is dependent on each team agreeing to delay the removal of the technology until next season, but when you consider that the 11 constructors—with their differing motives and eagerness to gain even the slightest of advantages—rarely agree on anything, the ban is almost certain to come into effect in time for the race at the Hockenheimring.
After all, why would a team with no FRIC system give the all-clear for their closest rivals to continue to use theirs when there are points, prizes and pounds at stake?
And that is a possible reason why the FIA have suddenly decided to look upon FRIC as illegal.
Formula One has a history of changing its rules to maintain intrigue, interest and a level playing field.
The new-for-2014 regulations, remember, were not only introduced to represent F1's transition into a green era; they came to stop the flow of victories and world championships of Red Bull Racing and Sebastian Vettel, which, rightly or wrongly, turned people away from the sport.
It is, however, one thing to shred the rule book during the off-season—but quite another to make out-of-the-blue alterations halfway through a campaign.
And the FIA has a track record of this too.
In 2006, Fernando Alonso won six of the first nine races of the season—finishing no lower than second in the other three grands prix—and appeared certain to wrap up his second consecutive world title.
The governing body's decision to ban Renault's mass damper system at the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim—funnily enough—meant the Spaniard only won one of the last seven races, with Ferrari's Michael Schumacher coming within touching distance of securing his record-extending eighth championship.
As recently as 2011, exhaust-blown diffusers, the key to Vettel's early season success, were banned for a grand total of one race, the British Grand Prix, where Alonso and Ferrari took their only victory of the campaign with Vettel finishing second.
The imminent ban on FRIC, then, could easily be interpreted as a ploy to halt the dominance of Mercedes, who have won all but one of this season's nine races.
Noble writes that the team is "believed to run the most complicated system" while Sky Sports' Pete Gill suggests that the Silver Arrows' interpretation of the device sees FRIC link the left and right sides of the car as well as the front and rear ends.
The effect of such as system, if indeed it does exist on the Mercedes, is clear, with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton thriving behind the wheel of a car that excels in all types of conditions: from extreme-wet to bone-dry, from streets circuits to purpose-built tracks, from high-downforce setups to low.
Even so, the loss of FRIC—if the ban comes into effect—will only have a minimal effect on Mercedes' performance and fail to have a "huge effect" on the entire running order, according to Craig Scarborough of Autosport.
And the same can be said from a driving perspective, according to the feedback of Max Chilton, who tested without the aid of FRIC for Marussia at Silverstone this week in anticipation of the ban. The 23-year-old told William Esler of Sky Sports:
It didn’t feel as bad as I thought. It will depend on what circuit you are at. At Silverstone it didn’t seem to take a huge amount of balance away from the car and by the end of the day we kind of got it back to where it was so it was actually quite an encouraging sign.
It has its gains as the car is lighter without it and you can run higher, which isn’t best for the downforce, but it is better for kerbs so if there is a particular circuit where you want to run wide over kerbs then this is better.
If, like in 2006 and 2011, a midseason rule change will not alter the destiny of this year's world championship, have only a small—if any—effect on the running order and actually prove to be an advantage for cars at some venues, the wisdom of enforcing a ban on FRIC halfway through the campaign is questionable at the very least.
But Formula One has made a habit of making a fuss over very little, hasn't it?
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