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Reactive suspension, 2012's big thing?

NEWS STORY
15/01/2012

Mat Coch writes:

The 2012 development race has begun in earnest as teams work to emulate Lotus' innovative new suspension concept. Deemed legal by the FIA last week the ruling has left many teams scrambling to develop their own solution with pre-season testing fast approaching.

It's another feather in the cap for those at Enstone; the former Renault team, now Lotus, has been at the forefront of innovative design in recent years.

In 2005 the team developed mass dampers, while last year it ran a forward mounted exhaust. The mass damper solution proved a hit, prompted a clarification of the regulations which ultimately saw it outlawed while the forward exhaust solution was less successful.

Around the time the mass damper system was banned the technical regulations surrounding suspension systems were clarified. Crucially the word 'vertical' was removed from the definition, leaving article 10.1.2 of the technical regulations to read: The suspension system must be so arranged that its response results only from changes in load applied to the wheels.

The omission of the word 'vertical' opened the door for teams to develop suspension systems which reacted to all loads; vertical, longitudinal and lateral. Vertical and lateral load are experienced as the car rides bumps and changes direction, while longitudinal load is experienced under braking and acceleration.

Traditionally when a driver presses the brake pedal the brake calipers grasp the disc and the front of the car dips, especially under heavy braking. In Formula One terms it is a barrier to performance. Typically the front of a Formula One car is run as low to the ground as possible, with a key determining factor being the front wing and its proximity to the ground under heavy braking.

If the car were to stop diving, or pitching, under braking the teams could run their cars lower to the ground, and therefore enjoy more downforce as a result.

To do so a method of counteracting the car's pitching motion is needed, which is what the Lotus reactive suspension is believed to do.

As mentioned earlier a traditional braking system relies on a caliper grasping a disc from a fixed position. What the Lotus system is believed to do is allow the brake caliper to rotate around the wheel.

Under braking the calipers push pads on to the brake disc. The Lotus system is believed to use the friction that process generates to rotate the caliper around the wheel until it hits a stop. It then returns to its original location using a simple spring, restoring the cars original ride height while being ready for the next braking point.

A respected industry insider explained exclusively to Pitpass that; "by linking that rotation to a hydraulic cylinder, and in turn linking it to a push rod, it's possible to change the ride height of the car.

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