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FIA Declares Adjustable Ride Height Illegal

The Red Bull RB6 - with a hidden active suspension?

The FIA has issued a statement to the effect that any self-leveling damper systems used by teams to adjust car ride heights while the cars are in parc ferme condition are illegal.   The FIA issued the following statement to all teams on Sunday night:

“Any system device or procedure, the purpose and/or effect of which is to change the set-up of the suspension, while the car is under parc ferme conditions will be deemed to contravene art 34.5 of the sporting regulations.”

A controversy recently arose surrounding a system that Red Bull supposedly has been using since the season-opener in Bahrain. It’s been suspected by other teams that Red Bull cars are equipped with a damper system that automatically adjusts the ride height of the cars in response to the weight of the cars’ fuel loads.  Cars normally have a higher ride height during qualifying, when they’re running low fuel loads.  This has an impact on downforce.

As the Red Bull squad has been so quick in qualifying thus far this year, it’s been suspected that they’ve found a way to lower their cars in qualifying trim.  Once the cars are topped off with fuel, the damper system provides more resistance, so the ride height (and downforce) remains consistent.  Or so goes the theory, at any rate.

This would be an approximation of active suspension, which was outlawed after the 1994 season, during which Benetton, most notably, had a system which allowed drivers to manually adjust cars’ ride height from the cockpit, during races.

Theoretically, that current system doesn’t allow for manual adjustments, which would theoretically be the loophole that permitted its use.

However, Red Bull’s Christian Horner has denied that they’ve deployed such a system.  As reported in Autosport, Horner said, “We haven’t got one, it is as simple as that.”

Moreover, while other teams, most notably McLaren, have vowed to develop their own version of the system, Horner has launched a pre-emptive strike by saying, “If McLaren have one in China we will protest them, because theoretically they are illegal. The FIA had a good look at our car [in Malaysia] on Saturday night and they are happy with it – they will struggle to find anything because there simply isn’t anything there.”

It should be noted that the FIA inspected the Red Bull cars in Malaysia, and failed to find any systems in place that exceeded the parameters of the regulations.  Furthermore, Horner has stated that if rival teams were to deploy their own versions of the theoretical system, Red Bull would launch an official protest.  The FIA’s recent announcement would seem to preclude that necessity, however.

Image by f1photo.org, licensed through Creative Commons.

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