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The FIA Dampens Some Ardor

F1Racing.net has reported that the FIA has banned a clever tweak to the dampers that Ferrari and Renault have been using. Apparently they have been suspending a weight in the dampers that can move around to help compensate for disturbances from the tires on a bumpy surface. That is more or less what dampers are for but, presumably, the weights make them that little bit more effective.

Ferrari and Renault

Ferrari and Renault

I love the low key announcement of this minor event. Never mind the FIA’s reasons for the ban, the important point is that the matter has been handled without fuss and penalties. As far as I’ve read today, F1Racing is the only site to have picked up on the news and that gives some idea of how smoothly the FIA have made a decision and implemented it. That is how it should be.

The technical regulations governing F1 cars have become extremely detailed, specific and voluminous over the years and the FIA inspectors have to examine the cars minutely at each Grand Prix to ensure that no illegal tweaking is going on. Very often (and because it is impossible to regulate for tweaks no-one has invented yet) new ideas inhabit gray areas of the rules and are not immediately obvious as illegal. Just because something works, it does not automatically fall outside legality and it’s the FIA’s job to decide where the lines must be drawn.

In this case, the FIA has ruled that the weights contravene article 3.15 because they are not static and fixed to the body of the car. But you could say the same of the damper unit itself; it has to be movable. So the FIA has to make their choice – legal or illegal.

In point of fact, it makes little difference what they opt for. If they allow it, all teams will do it. And making it a no-no does at least save a little on extra costs.

Some would say that such nit-picking by the FIA stifles creativity and advance in F1 but I think this misses the point. Once something has been thought of, it cannot be uninvented and may still be used by the automotive industry. As an example, Lotus spent a lot of time and money developing the idea of active suspension in the early eighties. After Williams developed the concept and made it work, the FIA finally got around to outlawing it but, by then, it was appearing on production cars in various forms. The idea was there for the taking.

And so it may prove with these “weighted dampers”. Perhaps we will all enjoy a smoother ride in our burbmobiles of the future, thanks to little weights swinging around in the dampers.

In the meantime, it remains to be seen just how much of an advantage Ferrari and Renault have enjoyed through the use of the weights. If they are suddenly less competitive in the remaining races, we can shake our heads and nod wisely, knowing exactly what has gone wrong.

Of course, it is much more likely that we won’t notice any difference at all.

7 Responses to “The FIA Dampens Some Ardor”

  1. Oooh I hope that one makes its way into bike suspension, damping is so important to us you know :)

  2. Good point, Mad – and that might be the first place it’s applied in the real world.

  3. Someone tell Öhlins that I’m willing to test their prototype weight damped rear shock for a Z750 :D

  4. My son – the guinea pig… :>

  5. Thetson still lacks his bike?

  6. No, Way, he has a new one now (as well as an older one – he has the bug bad). One is a Bandit, apparently, and the other a Zed (probably a Zee in the States) but don’t ask me what that means. ;)

  7. [...] It seems I was premature in congratulating the FIA for dealing with Renault’s and Ferrari’s weighted dampers so quickly and efficiently (see my post The FIA Dampens Some Ardor). The Hockenheim stewards have thrown a spanner in the works by accepting them as legal when the Renault team presented their cars for scrutineering with the dampers still fitted. [...]

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