The FIA is intervening over F1 porpoising, but should it?
A technical directive will force teams to control excessive bouncing on health grounds, but not everyone agrees with a mid-season rule change…
F1’s governing body has decided to intervene to prevent the ‘porpoising’ phenomenon that has afflicted this year’s new crop of cars, saying that the extreme nature of the bouncing could hinder a driver’s concentration and lead to health issues.
Porpoising - an aerodynamic effect that TG has attempted to explain here - has blighted most of the grid to varying degrees this season, but has been most notable on the Mercedes driven by Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.
Although the team believes it’s largely got on top of its porpoising issues, the last race in Azerbaijan saw the car suffer from a similar bouncing problem caused by the floor bottoming into the asphalt.
Having gingerly climbed out of the car after the race, Hamilton said he couldn’t “express the pain” he was in, while Russell said the race had been “brutal”. A number of other drivers - most notably Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas - voiced similar concerns.
So now the FIA is stepping in by announcing a technical directive ahead of this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix. This means it’ll be paying closer attention to the planks and skid plates in the cars’ floors, and it plans to outline “a quantitative limit for acceptable level of vertical oscillations”. Which roughly translated means ‘bounce too much, and we’ll disqualify you’. Uh oh.
There’ll also be a meeting with all the teams to set out measures that will reduce porpoising “in the medium term”.
“The FIA has decided to intervene following consultation with its doctors in the interests of safety of the drivers,” it said in a statement. “In a sport where the competitors are routinely driving at speeds in excess of 300km/h, it is considered that all of a driver’s concentration needs to be focused on that task and that excessive fatigue or pain experienced by a driver could have significant consequences should it result in a loss of concentration.
“In addition, the FIA has concerns in relation to the immediate physical impact on the health of the drivers, a number of whom have reported back pain following recent events.”
However this is F1 we’re talking about, so naturally not everyone agrees. Red Bull - which has won the last five races on the trot - has built a fast car that’s more or less unaffected by porpoising, proving it’s possible under the new regs to design a competitive machine that doesn’t bounce.
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Teams could easily reduce the worst porpoising right away by raising their ride heights, however this would reduce their ability to generate downforce and therefore make them much slower. Red Bull’s argument is that rivals should either do this and suffer the consequences, or design better cars. And it’s an entirely fair point.
But is the FIA’s decision to step in good news for Mercedes? If everyone’s forced to effectively limit their performance on safety grounds, couldn’t that rein in the frontrunners?
Possibly not. The FIA’s statement says nothing about interfering with cars that already have porpoising under control. And if the Mercs are almost a second a lap off the pace in their most aggressive, track-smashing setup, imagine how much further back they could fall if they’re forced to crank their car up…