Why F1’s top teams are so divided on suspension

Formula 1’s stable rules for 2020 were expected to lead to the top teams all converging with their designs, but actually the opposite has been true in some respects as there has been a fair bit of diverged thinking.

And there couldn’t be any clearer sign of this that with regards to what Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull have done at the front of their cars – with the placement of their steering assemblies, suspension arms and type of heave dampers all showing a different approach.

In this article we will take a close look at what the teams have done, and why their approaches have ended up being so different in the chase for the smallest of performance advantages.

What Mercedes has done

All teams use suspension sub-systems to help maintain a more effective aerodynamic platform, but Mercedes has really led the way on this front ever since its return to the sport a decade ago.

Mercedes W04 FRIC layout, fully detailed system

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Mercedes’ FRIC (Front-to-Rear-InterConnected) system led the way in showing how teams felt suspension innovation was the way to go, but the system was banned in 2014.

Mercedes W02 rear suspension layout

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The rear suspension layout of 2011’s W02, showing the hydraulic accumulator used to connect the rear dampers.

Mercedes W06 hydraulic parts, front suspension

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

In Brazil 2015 the team tested a hydraulic heave damper (right), rather than the more classically sprung variant (left), as it prepared for the following campaign.

Mercedes AMG F1 W10 front suspension detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

During the latter phases of 2019, Mercedes used free practice sessions to assess a new heave damper arrangement, utilising belleville springs.

Mercedes AMG F1 W11 front suspension detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Whilst this may lead to a small loss of functionality it does give the team the necessary time to better understand the setup and where it might be able to make up the resultant performance gap.

Mercedes has also made significant changes to the W11’s bulkhead and suspension design to incorporate its DAS system.

As shown in the video, Mercedes’ steering assembly was already somewhat bulkier than some of its counterparts. And whilst DAS has clearly added to that conundrum, the overall size and weight of the system must offer a clear performance advantage to justify its inclusion.

The visual differences between this and last year’s assembly have sparked debate over the installation of DAS, with the commonly-held theory of two opposing rack and pinions now in doubt, as it would outwardly appear to be a hydraulically controlled unit.

Ferrari’s different route

Ferrari SF1000 front suspension

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Ferrari has been the least pro-active of the lead trio when it comes to optimising its front-end layout for 2020, favouring design continuity and ease of setup over what could be considered bold missteps.

Ferrari SF70H front suspension

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

2017: The start of its current design continuity, as the team uses an exposed layout that makes it very easy to make general set-up changes.

Ferrari SF90, front suspension

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

2019: The SF90’s front-end is almost identical to this year’s car, with small changes made to optimize its package.

It appears that Ferrari has decided that the performance of its front suspension was sufficient that it warranted putting more emphasis on other areas of the car over the last few seasons.

Red Bull tries something unique

Red Bull has seen 2020 as an opportunity to push the envelope and close the gap to Mercedes ahead.

It has opted for an aggressive repackaging regime, as the steering assembly has been moved back in the chassis, in order that the steering arms [2] now align more effectively with the rear leg of the lower wishbone [3].

The lower wishbone is part of a multi-link arrangement, with the forward leg [1] an unusual one piece affair that crosses through the chassis, rather than being mounted either side of it.

Red Bull Racing RB 16 front suspension

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

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