When The Wheels Come Off

Selected by Ross Brawn

During the Hungarian Grand Prix, the carbon fibre left rear suspension of the 2003 Ferrari Formula One car failed while braking.

The established approach at that time was to calculate suspension loads using G-force sensors in the chassis and on the suspension, and then resolve all the forces to determine the required strength of suspension. It wasn’t common practice to measure the specific loads in the suspension links whilst the car was on the circuit. This was done in the lab, but not on the circuit. It also wasn’t common practice to check the strength and integrity of the suspension as a complete assembly; the suspension was only tested as a set of separate components.

How did this failure change Formula One? Ferrari introduced real-time measurement of the entire suspension link forces whilst the car was on the circuit. This was conducted at each track to build a library of load cases to design the suspension to. New techniques were also implemented for load and fatigue testing of suspension systems in the lab using the complete suspension assembly. This was common practice in road car applications but not in racing car design. Using these rigs, fully simulated load cases could be applied to the suspension systems. These measures gave a step change in the reliability and safety of the suspension systems.

About Ross Brawn

Ross Brawn was educated at Reading School. In the 1970s he completed an apprenticeship in Engineering at the UK Atomic Energy Authority in Harwell and became a trainee engineer. He got his first taste of motor racing as a machinist at Williams before joining March Engineering in 1977 as a mechanic. Ross returned to the Williams team and rose to the position of R&D Manager and Senior Aerodynamicist in 1979. Since then, Ross has had a hugely successful career with roles at Arrows, Jaguar, Benetton, Ferrari, Honda and Mercedes. Until December 2013, Ross Brawn was Team Principal at Mercedes.