FRIC: Demystifying Formula 1’s Latest Controversy

By Hillary Chinyere
Harare, 17 July 2014, 15.00 CAT.

Mukakati Fric

A close-up on the suspension of one of the Formula 1 cars that use FRIC.

Formula1 teams were served with a technical directive from the FIA’s race director Charlie Whiting after the British Grand Prix, with regards to the legality of the Front-and-Rear Interconnected Suspension (FRIC) systems employed in the majority of the cars. This is a result of the belief that FRIC systems being currently used may be illegal and giving some cars an unfair advantage.

What is FRIC?
This technology was introduced to Formula 1 by Mercedes in 2011 and have been perfecting it ever since. Due to high speeds of F1 cars, something has to keep the cars ‘down’ and maintain their stability as the cars usually reach top speeds which exceed the maximum take-off speed of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet. Therefore, the ability to create downforce is a crucial quality of an F1 car. However, as a result of a number of regulations introduced recently, the cars have lost a considerable amount of downforce and teams always innovate to get around new regulations.

As the car brakes, enters or leaves a corner it undergoes quite a few changes regarding its stability and ride height and a substantial amount of downforce is lost as a result. If an engineer could make the car more stable in the midst of those changing dynamics and fix the ride height through those manoeuvres, he would enable the car to get a competitive edge. Such an innovation produces a stable ride height through a manoeuvre (not that an F1 car is all about comfort), optimise aerodynamics and above all, maintain downforce. FRIC is a system that links the front and rear suspension of a car via hydraulics to achieve the effect described above, in addition to giving better drivability to the car.

Why Teams Use FRIC
Earlier versions gained polarity in 1993 and amoung the cars equipped with the technology was Luigi Martini’s M193 which had a passive hydraulic system. The modern complex interlinked suspension helped the Lotus’ E21 and Mercedes’ W04 to be competitive cars in 2013, two years after its introduction. First of all, only the teams’ developmental and garage personnel are privy to the specific details of their respective technologies the account of benefits given here is not exhaustive. FRIC is sometimes used to minimise the variations in height between the front and rear of the car during braking and acceleration and thus promote a more uniform tyre wear. One advantage of FRIC is the way it allows independent control of the car’s suspension components enables the car’s handling to be adapted to individual tracks with great precision.

Aftermath of the ‘Ban’
McLaren, Mercedes and Red Bull are said to have removed the system from their cars in preparation for the German Grand Prix. According to Germany’s Auto Motor and Sport, Force India is “leaving key developments in the cupboard” until the legality of FRIC is clarified.

“McLaren does not currently intend to run a FRIC suspension [sic] system at the German Grand Prix,” said a McLaren spokesperson.

Caterham is believe to be planning on lodging a complaint against teams who will be using FRIC systems during the German Grand Prix. As we stand, no one really knows if the technology will be allowed for use at

Hokenheimring tomorrow. It also remains to be seen if Mercedes will retain their form after removing FRIC from Lewis Hamilton and NicoRosberg’sF1W05s as it has been rumoured to be its Holy Grail. When shall we have such technologies on our Donnybrook track?

A Technical Account on How 18’ Tyres Will Affect Formula 1

By Hillary Chinyere

Harare, 14 July 2014, 10.00 CAT.

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One of Lotus’ Renault-powered E22 sporting the 18-inch Pirelli rubbers.

13-inch tyres have been part of Formula1 for many years and are effectively the sport’s living fossils, as the rest of the car has been literally evolving around them. Italian tyre manufacturer Pirelli, Formula One’s exclusive rubber supplier debuted it’s 18-inch tyre prototype on the second day of the second in-season testing done at Silverstone a couple of days after the British Grand Prix. This comes at a time when there has been talk on the imminent return of Michelin to the F1 pits. Lotus were given the task of testing the new tyres which have largely received negative reaction from the elitist fans. I’m one of those.

Formula 1 Thrives on Standing Out

Having more low profile tyres does not appeal cos it makes the F1 car look like a normal road vehicle. Can you imagine an F1 car with tyres bigger than those of a Land Cruiser Prado or aftermarket rims on an ex-Japanese Toyota Altezza? It’s the same reason why I oppose the notion of making F1 engines more road relevant. We love F1 for its uniqueness in speed, downforce, grip, noise, aesthetics and handling. For more road relevance, we’d rather watch Rally or better still, NASCAR. It’s the same reason why you might play ridiculous computer games, you play them for their ridiculousness and not their similarity to real life. Formula 1 is already changing so quickly and most of the change is in the wrong direction, with the 2014 and recently-announced 2015 regulations, along with the slow replacement of classic circuits with modern Herman Tilke tracks which have proven to be boring to many a car racing fan. Formula 1 must not follow but lead what is happening on our ordinary roads, both in safety and performance.

Death of the Pit Stop?

Some fans in support of novel tyre technology cited enhanced durability as a positive but it has a deleterious effect on the beauty of F1. We want to see races being decided based on team strategies with respect to rubber compounds used at different stages of the race. First it was the ban on re-fuelling based on safety reasons, now there is talk on a tyre made of more metal and meant to be high on longevity. This, I’m afraid, might reduce the pit lane to merely a site for drive-through penalties or as a grid for multiple offenders such as Pastor Maldonado. Maybe this could be both a pro and a con as drivers such as Lewis Hamilton have blamed their not so quick pit-stops for some of their finishing positions?

Performance Vs Aesthetics

I would be open to bigger rims if only they could improve the performance of the car unlike technologies such as KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) with very low power-to-weight ratios. In that respect, I would welcome a review carried out to investigate the rim size which give the best overall speed to the cars and at the same time financially viable for all teams.

It’s next to impossible to buy a regular car with weight as little as that of an F1 car, aftermarket aerodynamics parts as effective as F1 front and rear wings or steering wheels as integral to the car and with the complexity found in F1. I’m not really worried about the aesthetics but by the functionality of changes we make to the car as it is not a status symbol but a mobile piece of engineering. Can we borrow from Le Mans and adopt the 18” for looks alone?

Braking

On the up side, larger rims can accommodate larger brakes as brake development in Formula 1 is relatively fluid. Low-profile tyres, as the Pirelli 18-inch prototype would be easier to warm-up as they remove the need for tyre blankets. If you are already familiar with Formula 1, you might have heard that warming up tyres improves grip of the tyres and performance of brakes.

Keeping a Low Profile

Low profile means better structural integrity and less bouncy tyres. As a result, when a car loses a wheel as happened to Mark Webber’s car during the Germany Grand at Nurburgring, it will be less dangerous for bystanders. At the same site, a lower profile tyre would mean a larger hub, which would be heavier, making it even more dangerous were it to be accidentally launched. Worth to be noted however is that a larger rim is heavier and thus tends to reduce performance of car as more power will thus be in demand to move the extra weight. Other F1 will argue that the bouncy tyres are an integral component of the cars’ suspension and changing them would require a total redesign of the entire suspension, at a huge cost.

I Can Get Even More Technical

When using Laws of Physics you always wanted the smallest wheel possible that would fit the brakes required to stop the vehicle from Vmax at the maximum rate that the grip allows. Increasing the wheel size will increase the rotational inertia, meaning it will require more power to accelerate and more braking to decelerate (slow down) compared to the smaller wheels; in this case, the 13-inch family. The major practical reason for having large brakes is for cooling and there are few times you ever hear of f1 cars having an issue with over-heating brakes, 2014 Canadian Grand Prix being one of them. Again, bigger wheels and rims result in longer gear ratios, a drawback on performance-oriented cars such as F1 cars.

Nevertheless, the recent changes in Formula 1 regulations have shown us that the voice of Bernie Ecclestone is louder than that of fans and logic.

British Grand Prix Saw the Return of Real Racing in Modern Formula1

By Hillary Chinyere.
Harare, 7 July 2014, 10.00 CAT

I had predicted earlier that Williams and Red Bull were the only contenders for the non-Mercedes podium finishes on a Silverstone Circuit that is home to many an F1 team, with Williams themselves situated just across the road from the over-hyped “Home of Motor Racing.’ And boy was I right?

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Lewis Hamilton win reduced reduced gap between him and Rosberg to 4 points.

Nico Rosberg’s first DNF of the season meant a one-horse race by eventual winner Lewis Hamilton who at one time led the pack with 44 seconds, following the German’s retirement in lap 29 due to a failed gearbox.

“It really needs to be the turning point. But I don’t take yesterday lightly, it’s not been the perfect weekend.”- Lewis Hamilton

We were however treated to some spectacular driving in the fight for fifth position between the highest-paid driver, Fernando Alonso and the most decorated driver on the track, Sebastian Vettel. After some complaining via team radio over the track limits by both drivers and some wonderful defensive driving from Alonso, it was Vettel who prevailed. But regardless of the sheer fight between the drivers, it was their complaints over each other that was nauseating. Vettel was complaining on end that the Spaniad’s aggressive driving forced him off the track. He further accused Alonso of breaching the track limits himself when Alonso’s four rubbers were over the edge of the track.

In the F14T, Alonso made his frustrations known when Vettel allegedly opened DRS flaps in a non-DRS designated zone. Alonso definitely proved his credentials yesterday and for him to keep Sebastian at bay for 13 laps in a slower car with oldertyres was truly amazing. At one point I thought Vettel had resigned to overtaking by the way he came across on the radio as he sounded really dejected. You would have been tempted to think that he realised he was in a tussle with a real battling F1 champion.
ValtteriBottas deserves to be respected for his heroic laps and he flew from 14th on the grid to 2nd on the podium, after his teammate Felipe Massa nearly missed a potentially fatal crash with Alonso’s KimiRaikkonen. They both retired in the first lap.

 

See results in full here.

In other news, Axcil Jefferies looks set to return to GP2, according to hints on his Twitter.

 

Rosberg Goes Purple on a Treacherous Silverstone

By Hillary Chinyere.
Harare, 6 July 2014, 12.00 CAT.

As I saw Prof Jonathan Moyo at Cde. Sakupwanya’s burial, I just wondered when or if Formula 1 will ever return to the ZBC-TV silver screens. Maybe our national cricket team’s matches should be screened first?

Nico Rosberg salutes the Silverstone Grand Stand after setting the best time.

After overshadowing Nico Rosberg for the better part of the practice sessions, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton’s blunder in final qualifying made him succumb to P6 on a tricky Silverstone Circuit. Hamilton abandoned his penultimate flying lap after going through the first sector due to the then prevailing wet conditions. Had he stayed on long enough, he could have claimed pole position on a day when Jenson Button qualified on his best grid position thus far this season, P3 and the Marrussia pair of Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton gave their team its best grid line-up ever, P12 and P13respectively. Briton Max Chilton will however start on P17 as he serves a 5-grid penalty for a gearbox change.
In a similar scenario, Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel qualified at his best in the V6 era on P2. Teammate Daniel Ricciardo had to settle for P8 as he missed out on the final stages of Q3 whilst waiting for conditions on the track to improve. At one stage in the closing moments of qualifying, Vettel was on purple, before Nico Rosberg made his grand flying lap two seconds than the more decorated German.
After running wide in Maggots as he tried to raise his tyre temperature, Sergio Perez qualified on P7, three places behind German teammate Nico Hulkenburg. Checo had to apologise after making a sexist joke about Susie Wolff who became the first female driver to participate in a Formula 1 event in 22 years.

Susie Wolff

Susie Wolff downplayed Checo’s joke on her appearance during Free Practice.

 

The F-14Ts of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen qualified right at the back but will start on P16 and P18, respectively. Kimi was also quoted by the British media as saying he will retire as soon as his Ferrari contract expires at the end of the 2015 season.
Even though Toro Rosso later shied away from further pushing after deterioration of track conditions, they were still able to surprise me by making it into Q3 and with it, a fifth row on the 2014 British Grand Prix grid. Daniil Kvyat qualified on P9 ahead of Jean-Eric Vergne on P10.
Romain Grosjean managed a well-deserved P11 as he narrowly missed Q3. Pastor Maldonado qualified on P15 but will start the race on P20 on the grid as he was left with less than 1000cm3 of fuel which is mandatory for post-qualification inspection.
It was a bad day for Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez. After failing to better his 14th position in Q2 due to a spin which shattered the British dreams of other drivers, the Mexican will start on P19 as he serves a 10-place grid penalty incurred in Austria. Adrian Sutil failed to make a time in Q2 and provisionally made P16, but will start on P13 on the grid as he benefited from the penalties of other drivers.
As a result of flawed strategy, Williams’ pair of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa only managed P17 and P18 but will start on P14 and P15 respectively. At the stewards’ mercy, Caterhams of Marcus Ericsson and Kamui Kobayashi were allowed to occupy the back of the grid after they had fallen victim of the 107% rule.
My team of the day was Marussia, as their exceptionally timed switch to the slick Pirelli tyre compound enabled the hard-working team to get their best ever grid positions. If not for Esteban Gutierrez’s spin which brought out yellow flags, were the Marussias able to make P7 and P8? Continue reading

British Grand Prix Preview

By Hillary Chinyere, Harare.

will-mass-sepa-2014-3
Will Felipe Massa repeat the stunning qualifying form of Austria?

So much has happened in the period after we enjoyed the largely impressive Austrian Grand Prix return at the all-new Red Bull Ring. Nico Rosberg has admitted that he keeps race data from teammate Lewis Hamilton’s garage. FIA’s commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone has indicated that he does not intend to renew Monza circuit’s contract beyond 2016, a move hugely criticised by the drivers. The paddock rumuor mill has it that Sunday’s will be Jenson Button’s last home race in his 14-year long F1 career. The 2009 champion will wear a special pink crash helmet during the race in honour of his father John Button who passed on tragically in January. John is responsible for engineering Jenson’s ascent to his F1 seat.

Race Strategy
Also known as the home of motorsport, Silverstone Circuit is known for high tyre wear as it is a traction dependent circuit. Overtaking is possible into all of the main braking areas on the circuit and even into Copse corner on occasion. With the race held at the height of the British summer, the ever-present threat of rain will keep both drivers and teams on high alert. The British Grand Prix was very dramatic last year with a series of Pirelli tyre failures, which led to a change in tyre specification. Silverstone has very high cornering loads, especially through Copse corner and this is why Pirelli brings their hardest compounds in their range. Silverstone has the fastest corner combinations on the F1 calendar and is loved by the drivers, although it can be a real headache for the engineers and strategists. It should be an interesting tactical battle again with teams exploiting the undercut and the offset to pass cars using strategy. in light of this, UBS recommends 2 pit stops, with the first one after lap 14 and the second one on lap 33 in this 52-lap race.
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Team-by-team Analysis
Nico Rosberg leads his British teammate, Lewis Hamilton in the Drivers Championship by a good 29 points. I tip Lewis to win this one as he only lost the lead to Nico in last year’s British Grand Prix to rear tyre blowouts.
As Silverstone is equally demanding in aerodynamics as it is in traction, Red Bull will likely cash-in on the former. The fact that this circuit has two DRS zones and four long straights will almost guarantee them the non-Mercedes podium.
Ferrari will unlikely challenge for podium in Sunday’s race due to the advantage of Mercedes Benz-powered cars on a track which demands high straight-line speed and low strain on brakes. Fernando Alonso can manage the odd P4 or P5 as he has done during this season thus far, in a somewhat mediocre F14T.
After their impressive performance in Austria, Williams are expected to be the other podium contender alongside Red Bull. Given another Mercedes DNF, Fellipe Massa or Valteri Bottas have what it takes to repeat what they did a fortnight ago.
McLaren should just aim for points as their MP4-29 isn’t well suited to high-speed circuits with long corners. Too bad for the most experienced driver on the grid who is being bettered by his rookie teammate!
Marussia can get a good result this week, if they keep their tyres as well as they did in Monaco. This will put them on a stronger footing against fellow backmarkers Sauber, Caterham and Toro Rosso.

Verdict

With Silverstone being one of the fastest tracks on the 2014 calendar and coupled with the four long straights, Mercedes are the favourites. I’m tipping Lewis Hamilton to take both the pole and win the race. Red Bull will likely get a single podium finish as their aerodynamics put them ahead of the rest of the midfield, barring mechanical issues they had at their home track.

A Piece of Trivia

Axcil Jefferies is not the first Zimbabwean Formula driver after all! There was once a Bulawayo-born gentleman by the name of John Maxwell Lineham Love who went as high as Formula 1. He had 10 races(9 starts) and managed a single podium finish and a total of 6 points in the World Driver’s Championship. To put this into perspective, Esteban Gutierrez has 6 career points as at Austria 2014. Love has a record-squalling six consecutive South African F1 championship to his name. You now have a pick-up like to use when you visit Donnybrook in Harare.