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Pascal Vasselon on Mass Dampers

F1 Racing-live dot com has a very interesting interview with Pascal Vasselon, Toyota’s senior chassis manager, today. Perhaps the most revealing part of the whole interview was what he had to say about the mass damper controversy (which the International Court of Appeal is due to give a ruling on this Wednesday):

“Mass damping is one of the critical things that engineers have to sort out. We are forced to use stiff suspensions to maintain a stable aerodynamic platform. And, on the tyre side, we use low pressure for grip. So it means we put stiff suspension on top of very soft tyres and that causes a lot of problems. The combination means that at some frequencies the suspension is locked and the car is effectively bouncing on the tyres, which are not damped. The mass damper is one of the possibilities to control the frequency.

“From our side, we disregarded this because we considered it to be moving ballast, which is not allowed. Our development focused on suspension and another route that, for us, was more in line with the regulations. The mass damper is not an innovation, it is well known in engineering. It was actually used on the Citroen 2CV to counteract wheel hop! The question was: do we apply it to F1 or not? I would say it is obviously borderline. But then we also believe the issue of – it should be banned for the future, but it has been accepted, so why ban it in the middle of the season? Let’s wait the end of the season – will be answered by the International Court of Appeal very soon. That’s probably the true question that has to be answered.”

This is the clearest explanation of mass dampers I have yet come across and gives us a much better idea of why it is such a contentious issue. Had the FIA described it as “moving ballast” in the first place, instead of their vague reference to moving bodywork, I think everyone would have understood the problem sooner.

Toyota

Toyota TF106

Pascal also puts his finger exactly upon the most important point in the whole matter: the FIA’s choice to outlaw the mass damper right in the middle of the season. One could see the necessity for so hasty a decision if it were a safety matter or some tweak that gave an unfair advantage, such as Brabham’s fan car of 1978. But the mass dampers have been used since last year and to ban them suddenly in the middle of this season seems either stupid or deliberately antagonistic.

Do the FIA actually enjoy these trips to court where the whole business of F1 is made to seem contentious, chaotic and obsessed with trivialities? Is it impossible to reach some sort of agreement between the governing body and the teams that the rules will not be tinkered with during the season? So one team or another might make some huge technical breakthrough midseason that gives them a big advantage (unlikely but possible) – is that really the end of the world? Ban it at the end of the year if it’s so important.

With a little common sense and a spirit of compromise, so many of these storms could be avoided. I suppose we have to be grateful that there are still men like M. Vasselon involved in F1 who have plenty of both.

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