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GP Week : Issue 206
23 GPWEEK.com // 23 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: Here we all were, in the lead-up to the German GP, speculating on whether or not one or more teams would have the moxie to run their FRICs systems. That's right. Instead of concentrating on the fascinating human dramas of the fist-fight that's developing so nicely between Britney and The Sheriff at Mercedes, or speculating on how long it's going to take Seb to get his mojo back while Danny steals all the apples from him at Red Bull, we were somehow expected to be biting our nails over the bafflingly complex hydraulic systems which are used to inter-connect front and rear suspensions. It's not as though one outfit has got an unfair advantage in this FRICS (front- to-rear interconnection system) war, because I understand that all 11 teams have been running something similar this year. But we had to go through the same old rigmarole that has become inevitable when the FIA and Charlie Whiting take it upon themselves to stamp out yet another pointless gadget which runs a bit too close to the limits of the rules. First we're solemnly warned by a technical bod that taking it off will be dangerous because the drivers have got used to it and might 'forget' that it's not operational anymore. Then one team comes to the conclusion that it doesn't want to risk losing points because, just perhaps, the FIA might have a good point in banning it. Then everyone suddenly sees the light, admits defeat and whips the kit off their cars. One thing you can count on in cases like this is that someone's going to be left looking foolish. This time, at Hockenheim, there were a few red faces among certain technical chiefs when their drivers let the side down by admitting either (a) that they hadn't noticed any difference, or (b) that, actually, the car felt a bit nicer to drive without the much- vaunted technical gimmick. It's natural, I suppose, for engineers to band together to resist any attempt to simplify their precious machines. All the way down the pit-lane, these wizards are paid eye-wateringly extravagant salaries to find the Next Big Thing. Each of the top four or five teams employs hundreds of specialists whose job it is to squeeze another few percentiles of efficiency from their aerodynamic appendages. It's not surprising that departmental bosses are so anxious to defend those jobs, not to mention their own incomes. When the opportunity presents itself, I myself have crossed swords with engineers to challenge the usefulness of some of their more outlandish inventions. Back in 2006, when there was a kerfuffle over mass dampers, I dared to suggest in an FIA press conference that the devices added nothing to the racing and were of no interest to spectators. Up stepped Pat Symonds, then with the team known as Renault, to reply on behalf of mass damping. Far from being obscurely useless devices, he told me, the dampers represented sound engineering principles, and were commonly used in the construction of skyscrapers. Needless to say, I didn't want to hear this. Mr Symonds is not only a vastly experienced, not to mention successful, pillar of the F1 establishment, but he is also a good bloke, one with whom I am happy to sit down and enjoy a drink and a chat. If he saw my question as frivolous and vexatious (as I suspect he did), then I resolved to re-consider my objections. Eight years ago, Pat even went so far as to send me a detailed drawing of Renault's mass damper, which I - being a self-confessed dimwit - was unable to comprehend. The subject of our dispute faded away soon after wards when the FIA banned mass dampers, albeit not for any of the reasons which I had put for ward. A couple of weeks back, at Silverstone, Pat and I had a re-run of the old head- banging. With cost-reduction currently on everyone's minds, I had put for ward my own suggestion (already aired here) that there would be no loss of spectacle, but millions to be gained in wasted cash, if Formula 1 followed an innovation already in place in sportscar racing by adopting 'spec' wings. The three men sitting in the front row of the inter viewees' stand were Pat Symonds (now at Williams), Adrian Newey of Red Bull Racing and Jonathan Neale from McLaren (pictured above). You could see them bristle at the sheer ignorance of the journalist who dared to propose a move that would effectively slash their involvement in motor racing. "Aerodynamics (at this level)," I suggested, "contributes nothing to road car design and has no interest – or very little – to the spectator." Newey warned that F1 was already too close to the dreaded 'spec' formula that is GP2, adding that Indycar racing had been diminished by becoming a virtually standard chassis. He suggested, without so much as a blush, that F1 costs were already being controlled, and claimed that spectators are genuinely interested in the minutiae of technical developments in F1. At this point I made the serious mistake of not asking Adrian why, since he was aware that technical development are of such interest to the public, he chose to obscure any engineering novelties on the Red Bulls by employing pit-lane bouncers to frighten-off journalists and photographers when the logical thing to do would be to issue full details for open publication. Pat Symonds then informed us all that he regarded the aerodynamic advances and techniques dreamed up by the engineering teams behind him as "extremely relevant" and have been employed by major car manufacturers in the field of drag reduction. He went further: "When you have a whole field of wind turbines, the turbulent flow off one turbine affects those in the wave behind," he informed us. "And CFD studies which have been pushed hard in these area by Formula One are used to develop those sort of techniques – so I think what we do is extremely relevant." So there you have it. Without F1 and its extravagant spending on those wings and things, our road cars would be less fuel-efficient and the windmills now blotting our landscape would not be producing as much juice as they do. Nice try, you boffins, but you'll have to try a bit harder to persuade me that I'm going to needs FRICS on the family runabout ... dO wE CaRE a jOT abOuT 'fRICS'? OPINION OPINION MIKE DOODSON