FRIC: Decoding F1’s latest controversy
What FRIC is, why and how it is being banned, what happens next, and what it all might mean for the rest of the 2014 season...
By Pete Gill. Last Updated: 14/07/14 9:10am
So first things first. Who or what is Fric?
FRIC, actually. And in non-abbreviated form, it stands for ‘Front and Rear interconnected suspension’. Stay with us, it will get more interesting than this.
Hang on, not so fast. Interconnected is one word so shouldn’t it be ‘FRI’ then?
Very droll. But before we lose our thread to semantics, let’s just take a moment to confirm what FRIC is.
In non-techy talk, it’s a system employed to help stabilise a car through corners by keeping its ride height as consistent as possible. Although it conventionally works - and the clue is in the name here - from back to front in a car, it’s believed the concept has also been advanced by some teams to control a car’s roll from left to right and vice versa.
And now it’s been banned?
In a letter sent to all the teams earlier this week by FIA race director Charlie Whiting, the governing body caught the paddock by surprise with the announcement they now consider the system’s primary function to be aerodynamic and thus deem it illegal.
Why has it been declared illegal now?
Good question. It's suspected that one of the eleven teams has reported a rival to the FIA in the hope of clipping their wings, but that's just supposition. It may well be that the FIA have been looking at this issue for some time and have only now decided they have enough data to declare it illegal. According to McLaren's Eric Boullier, a tipping point may have been reached with the extremity of some of the systems. But to stress, it's only been declared illegal in the opinion of Whiting, and it's not actually been banned yet either...
Because the FIA have thrown the ball back into the teams’ court by inviting the eleven teams to vote on whether a ban should be delayed until the start of 2015.
So the teams are deciding on whether the ban should be introduced?
Effectively, yes, although their veto would technically only amount to an agreement not to protest against the use of a FRIC system by a rival outfit. But for clarity’s sake, we’ll just call it a ban.
Does the agreement just require a majority verdict?
No. And this is the rub – the vote to delay the ban until 2015 needs to be unanimous. So unless all eleven teams agree to a cooling-off period, it will be enforced from next week’s German GP onwards.
What chance of a unanimous vote?
Somewhere between slim and none. According to paddock rumour, at least one team – Force India – don’t currently use the system so they’d have nothing to lose and plenty to gain if a ban was enforced.
But if they could be persuaded?
Then there’s still the prospect of another team will veto the veto. The small teams might regard enforcing the ban a measure of revenge against the bigger teams’ indifference to their calls for cost control, but even amongst themselves they are likely to see the ban as a potential competitive advantage. Marussia are believed to be further ahead than most in adapting the system to suit their car, so Caterham and Sauber may well view this as an opportunity to handicap team directly above them in the Constructors' Championship.
What would happen if any of the teams ran with FRIC next week?
Then they would be in danger – make that serious danger – of being reported to the stewards and excluded from the results. Whiting's letter was particularly explicit on this point.
How have the teams responded to the news?
Quietly. Few have spoken on the record since news of the FIA’s letter broke. However, Red Bull have pledged ‘we will comply with either regulatory option for the German GP’, while McLaren have described themselves as ‘quite relaxed’ about the matter. Mercedes, the team thought likely to be hurt the most by the ban, are yet to officially comment.
Are we sure their letter didn’t get lost in the post?
Yes. Paddy Lowe confirmed receipt when he was spotted in the Silverstone paddock a couple hours after the close of play on Wednesday night. So, too, was Red Bull boss Christian Horner having not been previously sighted when the test was actually underway. At the risk of putting two and two together and getting five, it’s decidedly possible that the teams held a hastily-arranged summit in the paddock away from prying eyes before finally departing Northamptonshire after a week's residency.
Why would Mercedes be hit hardest by the ban?
By the very nature of F1, some teams will be currently deriving more performance from the system than others, and the Mercedes system is believed to be particularly advanced, running both from back to front and also side to side.
Clever. But they’d still be fast without it?
Opinion is split in the paddock as to how hard they’d be hit, especially as all the other teams, barring Force India, also have the system in place. However, few at Silverstone on Wednesday could have failed to note that it took the team a surprisingly-lengthy five hours to fix Lewis Hamilton’s car after what appeared to be a relatively tame spin, or that all of Lewis' afternoon stints ended with his W05 being stripped bare as a bevy of engineers went to work on the car. It was almost as if they had something significant to change…
And where did Hamilton finish?
Fifth fastest, although it would be foolish to read anything into that.
But have Mercedes been victimised for their 2014 success?
A cynic might indeed suggest as much. Any rule change mid-season will inevitably favour some teams more than others and trigger a readjustment of the pecking order. But Mercedes have an arsenal of technical chiefs and a vast budget at their disposal – along with a competitive advantage of about a second per lap. They’ll cope.
Might any of the teams have to pull out of the German GP if FRIC is banned?
That’s very, very unlikely. It would only happen if FRIC was fundamental to a car’s design and composition – and nobody is suggesting that.
So what’s the prediction for what's going to happen in Germany?
As is customary, the teams will fail to reach a unanimous agreement and all the cars will run without FRIC. Expect Mercedes to still be out front, but with their advantage suffering more of a trim than a crew cut.