JULY 29, 2012
Red Bull in ride height controversy
BY TONY DODGINS (@TonyDodgins)
Hot on the heels of its engine mapping controversy in Hockenheim, it has emerged that Red Bull Racing was asked to change a mechanism on the car that allowed it to change the suspension manually, in contravention of the rules, at last month's Canadian Grand Prix.
Article 34.5 of the FIA Sporting Regulations states: "If a competitor modifies any part on the car or makes changes to the set-up of the suspension whilst the car is being held in parc ferme conditions, the relevant driver must start the race from the pit lane...
"In order that scrutineers may be completely satisfied that no alterations have been made to the suspension systems or aerodynamic configuration of the car (with the exception of the front wing) whilst it is in post-qualifying parc ferme, it must be clear from a physical inspection that changes cannot be made without the use of tools."
When the story emerged in Hungary that Red Bull had been asked to modify its car in Canada, team principal Christian Horner said: "It was something that could either be changed by hand or by tool but the FIA said they preferred that it was a tool that was used, so we never changed the ride height in parc ferme or anything like that, so it really is a non-issue."
That, however, seemed at odds with the regulations, which imply that rather than having any choice, manual adjustment should not be possible.
Ride height has been a hot topic in the F1 paddock over the previous two seasons, with many contemplating how Red Bull has been able to run so apparently low in qualifying, while still being able to accommodate a race fuel load without any ride height changes.
Asked why the team would have a manually adjustable part on the car when tools are required by the regulations (in order to aid stewards policing them), Horner said: "There's a lot of parts that are changed manually on the car. But a tool was used. As I say, the suspension has never been changed once it's in parc ferme. Never."
On the subject of whether the part was new this season or something that has been on the Red Bulls for some time, Horner said: "To be honest I'd have to double check but, honestly, it's completely trivial."
That opinion was not shared throughout the paddock, however. One technical expert estimated that the difference between a qualifying low-fuel ride height and a race ride height would be around 15mm at the front and 30mm at the rear, with the lower, more aerodynamically advantageous ride height worth around 0.3s over a lap.
Without the relevant data, however, rival team principals were reluctant to offer any strong opinions, while conceding that it left a bit of a bad taste.
Mercedes' Ross Brawn said: "Obviously something has arisen that the FIA has had to deal with and we're in their capable hands to make sure that they regulate the sport properly. It's between the FIA and the competitor to resolve."
McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh added: "The only people that have the data are the team and the FIA and I think we're just trying to be dignified about it."
The FIA declined to comment on the matter.
There have been accusations, in the German media especially, that Red Bull is being persecuted in the light of so many issues in 2012: the holes in the floor at Monaco; brake ducts in Canada and now the ride height issue; and the mapping and Vettel's penalty in Germany. Others, however, suggest that the team is pushing limits too far.
"I think it's a consequence of being competitive and usually when others are complaining, the reason is that the car's quick and hopefully that's the case," Horner said. "What was on the car in Canada has been on at a lot of other races as well and at no point has it been adjusted in parc ferme."