Lotus steal march on rivals with technical innovation

By Andrew BensonBBC Sport
Kimi Raikkonen
Kimi Raikkonen returns to F1 with Lotus after a stint in rallying

The Lotus team appear to have stolen an early march on their rivals with a technical innovation that could provide an important advantage.

The team, who raced as Renault last year and have ex-champion Kimi Raikkonen as one of their drivers, have developed a ride-height control system.

The device, which has been declared legal by governing body the FIA, aims to improve stability during braking.

BBC Sport can reveal that Ferrari are working on a similar system.

Details of the Lotus system are vague, but it is understood to be operated via a hydraulic cylinder on the front suspension that reacts to braking forces.

The aim is to keep the ride height as close to constant during braking as possible - any change in the ride height of an F1 car can have a major effect on its aerodynamics because it affects the airflow over and under the car.

Even though suspension travel on an F1 car is only a matter of millimetres, any change affects the car's behaviour, and teams are constantly working on ways to keep the airflow as consistent as possible despite the high forces during braking - which exceed 5G.

BBC Sport understands Ferrari are the only other team to have contacted the FIA on this issue and that they have plans for a similar system.

Team boss Stefano Domenicali was asked about the issue at the team's annual media event in the Italian Dolomites. He did not admit that they were working on a ride-height control system, but he did refer to the debate.

"It is more related to having stability under braking," Domenicali said.

"It is a system that I know there have been some documents in writing between the FIA and the teams.

"We are waiting for the final confirmation if this kind of devices will be acceptable or not. But for sure we are looking around these sorts of devices to see if they contribute to a performance. But we need to wait and see what will be the reaction to the FIA on that."

There has been speculation about the legality of the device but BBC Sport understands the idea was first suggested to the FIA in 2010 and the governing body declared it legal early last year.

It remains to be seen whether other teams will raise objections to the idea on the grounds that it amounts to a movable aerodynamic device - this catch-all phrase has been used over the years to ban a number of devices that control the movement of a car's chassis.

But the FIA considers that this rule is not relevant as the device in question is a part of the suspension and does not contravene that area of the rules.

Sources have likened the Lotus system to a more sophisticated version of rising-rate suspension, where the stiffness of the springs changes depending on the amount of movement of the wheels.

Articles 10.1 and 10.2 of the F1 technical regulations are the rules that are relevant to this device, the FIA believes.

Article 10.1.2 states that any suspension movement must result "only from changes in load applied to the wheels" - which this does as the system responds to braking torque.

And article 10.2.2 states: "Any powered device which is capable of altering the configuration or affecting the performance of any part of the suspension system is forbidden."

But the Lotus device is not powered, but entirely passive.

Nor is it controlled by the driver, as one report has suggested, which would be illegal.