Autosport are reporting that the FIA found in favour of the legality of the Lotus anti-dive brake device (we must really come up with a better name for it). They argue that since the system is completely reactive and not influenced by the driver (allegedly it uses brake torque to activate), then it cannot be considered as a system which uses driver movement as a means of altering the aerodynamic characteristics of the car. This makes some sense, and we are all pretty much familiar with that section of the 3.15 paragraph of the 2012 Technical Regulations, as recently published by the FIA (please refer to the bottom of page 16/77).
The million dollar question though is, will it remain legal? As a little reminder, we would like to refresh your memory on how the system of appeals and protests work in F1. A team has no right to appeal or protest against any aspect of an opponent’s car during the off-season. We have to get to the first practice session, of the first race of the season, before a rival can lodge an official protest against devices such as the one that Lotus has been pioneering. The FIA’s initial approval of the system is just an initial “we have looked at the system, we think it’s ok, go ahead and develop it”. However, what they do not say is that they have not advised other teams about it and have not heard any counter arguments from opposing technical directors. The other teams will have their chance to oppose this device at the first race, in Melbourne. There are many examples in the history of F1 of such concepts and devices which have been deemed legal during the development phase but have been outlawed once presented at the first race, due to rival’s protests. I can’t think a better example from the 2nd brake pedal that McLaren introduced in 1998; they lapped the field in Melbourne and the pedal was duly banned for the remainder of the season…
But on what grounds can the other teams protest? Everyone seems to be fixated with the driver-operated aspect of it but, if you look in the Technical Regulations a few lines above, still in paragraph 3.15, you will find this: “Any device or construction that is designed to bridge the gap between the sprung part of the car and the ground is prohibited under all circumstances”. Please note that this phrase refers to any device, and not just driver-operated ones. Is the Lotus gizmo such a device, i.e. does it bridge the gap between the sprung part of the car and the ground?
At a first look, the answer is no, between one would argue that this device, raises the front part of the car under braking, thereby increasing (or, at the very least, maintaining) the gap between the sprung part of the car and the ground. It is therefore not “bridging” that gap. However, there is a counter-argument to that, which I am sure will be used by all Lotus’ rivals: Although it increases the gap at the front of the car, at the very same time it definitely bridges that gap at the back-end of the car, which will no longer be allowed to lift under braking. What’s worst is that this device is obviously designed to do that, since it does not play any other role in the suspension; it doesn’t absorb vibrations, it doesn’t negate spring effects, it doesn’t damp, it doesn’t rebound, it doesn’t do anything else but manipulate the ride height on both sides of the car.
I would therefore be very reluctant to accept the legality of the Lotus device at this stage. The FIA apparently have given them the go ahead to develop it and put it in the cars for the first race. From the article I understand that this design and approval process has been going on for quite some time now, and that initial approval was given on January of 2010. If that is accurate, it means that the system is complicated to develop and implement; it should therefore be difficult for the other teams to design, apply to FIA for approval, manufacture and install such a system by the time of the 1st race.
I expect all other teams to be protesting come Melbourne.