Written by Kitty Tunstall, Edited by Leah Brown
Porpoising is what happens when you see a Formula 1 car bounce up and down and it has always been an issue within the sport, however, the problem has been exacerbated since the start of the 2022 season. The problem is an aerodynamic issue caused when the chassis hits the ground. Because the drivers sit so low in the cockpit, they take some shock loading through their spine, resulting in back pain and headaches. Porpoising tends to happen during races with longer, more uneven straights, such as Montreal and Baku, while at races such as Monaco and Barcelona, it is less of a concern. At the recent Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton was heard on his radio complaining of back pain as a result of severe porpoising. The pain became so acute that getting out of the car at the end of the race seemed to be an almighty struggle for the former world champion and he has since described it as “the most painful race [he has] experienced.”
People are now asking whether the FIA, the international governing body over Formula 1 and many other motorsports, should impose new regulations to prevent this level of porpoising or whether Mercedes, who seem to be affected by porpoising the most, should be resolving the issue as a team. While porpoising has affected most drivers in one way or another, teams such as Mercedes and Ferrari experience it frequently, while the likes of McLaren and Red Bull do not. Therefore, many feel it would be unfair for other teams to have to compromise in order to help Mercedes when their cars are working to a good standard.
Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate George Russell announced that the porpoising is an enormous safety concern and it is only a matter of time before we see “a major incident.” Additionally, Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff, told The Race that after Baku last weekend, Hamilton was “really bad” and might have been forced to miss the upcoming Canadian Grand Prix due to the back injury he sustained as a result of the porpoising.
The complaints are not only coming from the Mercedes paddock, as Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz has likewise raised concerns about the issue and is very much in favour of the FIA taking action and bringing in new regulations. Sainz has previously spoken about the potential long-term health consequences of being a Formula 1 driver and is in favour of the issue being looked into further for safety reasons. Sainz stated, “we kindly asked the FIA to look into it, not listen to the teams so much and to listen to us. … We need the FIA to act as soon as possible - if not, it will start accumulating”.
Contrastingly, there are people who believe porpoising is an issue that can be fixed internally, and if the safety issue was as bad as they are making it out to be, the teams would fix it on their own accord without waiting for the FIA to impose regulations.
Commentator and former British racing driver Martin Brundle told Sky Sports that Mercedes have sacrificed the comfort of their drivers for performance and that the team are able to fix their porpoising issue by raising the car and allowing more air to flow cleanly between the ground and the floor of the car. However, doing so would lose performance and “asking the other teams to change the regulations to help Mercedes is a bit like asking a turkey to vote for Christmas.” Likewise, Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner told Sky Sports that “the easiest thing to do is to complain from a safety point of view” because that would incentivise the FIA to bring in a minimum ride height, however, “ you can see that some cars are absolutely fine and others are struggling. I think it’s on the emphasis of the team to sort out as opposed to changing regulations. I think it would be unfair if there was a change just because they missed the target.”
While there is no doubt that something must be done about the porpoising, it will be interesting to see how events unfold this weekend in Montreal and throughout the rest of the season.