The rumors of illegal traction control, torque vectoring and other crafty KERS/transmission linking still move like a fog through the pit lane of Formula 1 this week in Japan. As the series gets set for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, Red Bull is still discounting accusations that they have created a traction control, of sorts, using KERS and the suspension of their car which is not controlled via the FIA regulated ECU.
The story took flight when former F1 team owner Giancarlo Minardi posted his commentary on the matter on his website. Other publications have speculated on what they think may be at play in the Adrian Newey designed RB9 chassis. Racecar Engineering has a comprehensive outline of just how they believe Red Bull are using their KERS and suspension to create traction control allowing Sebastian Vettel to apply power 50m early than anyone else at the Singapore Grand Prix.
Ironically, as time goes on you start to see allegations about Vettel's performance in Singapore starting at 1.5 seconds advantage over the field but has now ballooned to 2.5 seconds according to Minardi's website. Sort of like measuring the fish that got away.
Last weeks Korean Grand Prix didn't see that kind of domination and after the race, Red Bull boss Christian Horner praised Vettel for he win and for managing the pace...eyebrows raised.
Vettel, who could potentially secure his 4th World Championship this weekend in Japan, has already been maligned with boos during the post-race podium celebration and detractors have long stated that he isn't that good of a driver rather it is the car that is lending victories to the name of Vettel. A dodgy traction control system, if true, would only heap more invective on the young German and allegations of contravening the "spirit" of the KERS regulations within Formula 1's technical and sporting laws.
We've been down this "spirit" versus the "letter" of the law before in F1with flexible wings, floors, tire compounds, engine mapping and blown diffusers. The point is, regulations are there to constrain the series but the teams job is to gain every advantage they can within those regulations and even exploit the regulations if they can. That has always been the goal of F1 teams.
If the RB9 is using an intriguing system that links KERS to the suspension movement for instant torque application or a form of traction control, is it cheating? Have Red Bull found a loophole in the regulations? Have they discovered a way of using torque vectoring that is beyond the FIA's scrutiny?
In 2009, Brawn GP, Williams F1 and Toyota all showed up for the first Grand Prix in Australia with Dual Diffuser Deck (DDD). It was innovative and beyond the FIA regulations set for that year. The FIA considered the matter and allowed the systems to remain that saw Brawn secure the world title. If Red Bull has a KERS/traction control system, is it an innovation such as the DDD? Or is it simply cheating?
FIA technical regulation states:
9.3 Traction control:
No car may be equipped with a system or device which is capable of preventing the driven wheels from spinning under power or of compensating for excessive throttle torque demand by the driver. Any device or system which notifies the driver of the onset of wheel spin is not permitted.
Back in 2008, when traction control was banned, Formula 1's website stated:
"And traction control will be again be outlawed altogether from the start of the 2008 season, when the introduction of standardised ECUs to the cars will make policing the ban far easier than in the past."
It was clear at the time that the ECU's were being deployed as standardized equipment in order to eliminate the possibility of traction control and if red Bull have devised a system that contravenes the ECU, one could consider this, as juxtaposed with Article 9.3, as being outside of the regulations.