Car racers have always tried to find a way around the rules. This is not the same as breaking the rules, which is cheating. A way around the rules is to find an advantage while living within the spirit of the rules.
Back in 1982, Brabham F1 designer Gordon Murray developed a system in which the ride height of the car (the distance from the ground to the lowest part of the chassis as determined by the FIA) was different when the car was at rest and when it was going full tilt out on the circuit.
By using compressed air in the springs, the Brabham’s ride height would be legal in the garage but much lower when the car was at speed and air pressure would push down on the suspension.
It seems like Team Red Bull in F1 and Team Penske in Indy cars have started experimenting in that area again.
There’s an investigation under way in Formula One at the moment into what appears to be Red Bull’s use of "active suspension," which really seems to be just a variation of Gordon Murray’s 1982 compressed air trick.
This time, hydrogen is pumped into the springs (or dampers) to hold the front end of the car down during qualifying when there is a light fuel load. The gas is then released before a full load of fuel is added for the race, leaving the ride height constant.
Or so some of the other teams – McLaren and Mercedes, in particular – are saying. Special wheels.ca F1 correspondent Gerald Donaldson discusses this issue in our Malaysian GP preview podcast, which you can listen to here.
"Gerry" also has some interesting things to say about dissension in the ranks of three top teams – Ferrari, as well as McLaren and Mercedes.
Never a dull moment, eh?
Meantime, over at IndyCar, an investigation of Team Penske’s control of ride height at speed resulted in a verdict of not guilty but has left a sour taste in the mouth of at least one other team.
There was suspicion that Penske was using a third spring to control the car’s ride height out on the track but an investigation by the IRL determined that while this was a "clever way" to control pitch, it was all perfectly legal.
Reporter Robin Miller writes that Target Chip Ganassi Racing isn’t all that happy with the decision because it claims it approached the IRL about trying the same thing and was turned down.
Shades of the Brawn GP diffuser issue in F1 a year ago. Remember when now-world champion Jenson Button was unbeatable at the beginning of last season and that was because Brawn was using a diffuser deemed legal that other teams claimed they’d asked about and been turned down?
So maybe the reason Team Penske has been as dominant this season is because of this "unfair advantage. . . "
Gee, where have we heard that before?