X

Ferrari and Williams Have Benefited Most from the Formula 1 FRIC Ban

Matthew Walthert@@MatthewWalthertFeatured ColumnistSeptember 10, 2014

Williams' Valtteri Bottas leads Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen at the Belgian Grand Prix.
Williams' Valtteri Bottas leads Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen at the Belgian Grand Prix.Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Associated Press

Before the German Grand Prix in July, the FIA, Formula One's governing body, announced a ban on the front and rear interconnected suspension (FRIC) systems used by the teams to generate more downforce and maintain stability under braking and cornering.

The announcement was a surprise for a few reasons.

First, the FIA under current president Jean Todt has been preaching cost control for F1. Midseason changes to the regulations, necessitating redesigns for the cars, do anything but minimize costs.

FIA president Jean Todt and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.
FIA president Jean Todt and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Second, there was no apparent safety issue that triggered the change. In 2013, a number of high-speed tyre blowouts (and lots of complaining from Red Bull) led to Pirelli changing their tyre specifications in the middle of the year. There are no such concerns surrounding FRIC.

Third, whenever there are regulation changes in the middle of a season, some teams are able to adapt more quickly, giving them an advantage on the track. Last year, for example, Red Bull were having trouble managing their tyres early in the season (although they were still leading the championship). Once the new tyres arrived, Sebastian Vettel won the final nine races of the season.

When the FRIC ban was announced, the natural reaction was to wonder whether one or two teams would benefit more than others. Now that four grands prix have been run since the ban came into effect, we can begin to examine whether that has occurred.

Before the race at Hockenheim—the first race without FRIC—Craig Scarborough, who covers the technical side of F1 for Autosport, among other publications, wrote:

Those teams that adopted the system early, such as Lotus, Mercedes, Ferrari and Marussia, have the car's design fully adapted to the slightly different mechanics of the FRIC. ... In any rule change there will be winners and losers, and the teams mentioned above with more time and car design invested in FRIC will suffer the most. 

Still, he acknowledged that "it is unlikely to knock Mercedes' dominance of the sport this year, nor have a huge effect on the running order behind it."

That final statement has certainly proven true so far. The Constructors' standings look almost the same now as they did before the German Grand Prix. Williams and Ferrari have swapped third and fourth places. Other than that, everyone remains in the same positions.

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg continue to dominate the championship.
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg continue to dominate the championship.Antonio Calanni/Associated Press/Associated Press

Mercedes, meanwhile, has won two of the four races since the ban (compared to eight of nine before it), but they should also have won in Belgium, were it not for a little scrap between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg that you may have heard about.

At the post-qualifying FIA press conference in Hungary, the second race after the ban, Rosberg said:

For sure it had a big effect, yes, but I think it affected everybody, because everybody had the FRIC system in one way or another and so it seems that we’ve held on to our advantage and I’m very very happy to see that because it wasn’t sure how it was going to go, if some teams might benefit more than others. 

The following table demonstrates with a bit more nuance which teams have gained and lost since the FRIC ban came into effect. The table displays the average finishing position for each team before and after the ban (DNFs—including those which occurred after 90 percent of the race distance, allowing the driver to be classified—are not included).

Average Finishing Positions for the 2014 Formula 1 Season
TeamBefore FRIC BanAfter FRIC BanDifference
Williams7.005.43+1.57
Ferrari7.246.29+0.95
Red Bull4.004.38-0.38
Sauber14.4414.83-0.39
Marussia15.3616.17-0.81
Mercedes1.472.29-0.82
Toro Rosso10.1011.43-1.33
McLaren7.819.38-1.57
Caterham15.7317.40-1.67
Lotus12.0013.75-1.75
Force India7.139.00-1.87
Formula1.com, compiled by the author

Before we go any further, though, it should be noted that it is impossible to isolate the effect of the FRIC ban in these results. Improving or declining results may have little or nothing to do with FRIC, but the table does still provide a starting point for a discussion.

As you can see, Williams and Ferrari are the only teams to have improved their average finishing positions since Hockenheim. In Williams' case, it may be that the team was not as far along in their implementation of the FRIC system, so they were able to adapt more easily. Their adaptation was no doubt also assisted by the strong technical team they are building in Grove.

Kimi Raikkonen's performances have improved since the FRIC ban.
Kimi Raikkonen's performances have improved since the FRIC ban.Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Ferrari was on Scarborough's list of early adopters but, really, the team had nowhere to go but up. Kimi Raikkonen has had his best races of the season since his big crash at the British Grand Prix, helping Ferrari improve their overall results.

Lotus was another of the teams that Scarborough expected to struggle without FRIC and that has definitely been the case. Lotus have lost almost two places per finish over the last four races—not that it really matters when you are fighting for 14th place.

After the German Grand Prix, Lotus' Romain Grosjean spoke to Autosport's Jonathan Noble about the team's use of FRIC, saying:

It is seven or eight years that we used it on the car, so all developments have been made around specific ride heights and where the floor should be.

So if you remove the FRIC you have to raise the ride height and you get out of the window. So it did cost us quite a bit.

The car is not undriveable, it is quite nice to drive, but we miss some downforce.

Lotus, though, seem to have a firm claim staked on eighth place in the Constructors' Championship. FRIC ban or not, they are unlikely to catch Toro Rosso, and Marussia, Sauber and Caterham will not trouble them from behind.

Force India have struggled since FRIC was banned.
Force India have struggled since FRIC was banned.Drew Gibson/Getty Images

Force India have also struggled since Germany. The team's relatively small budget does not allow them to throw money at problems the way Ferrari, Red Bull or Mercedes can. Therefore, a midseason change like the FRIC ban can disproportionately affect Force India and the other low budget outfits.

In the end, though, the FRIC ban is not going to change the championship. Mercedes are still running away with both the Drivers' and Constructors' titles and any shuffling further down the pack is not completely (or even mostly) attributable to the lack of FRIC, anyway.

Once again—while many of its teams continue their financial struggles—F1 has found a way to spend millions of dollars with no perceptible change for the fans watching on television or at the track.

Follow me on Twitter for updates when I publish a new article and for other (mostly) F1-related news and banter, along with a bunch of photos of my kids:

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.