“To Porpoise, or not to Porpoise” - The 2023 Formula One Season’s Technical Regulations
Written by Olivia Kairu, Edited by Juan Arroyo
The first look at Formula One’s 2023 challengers kicks off the pre-season buzz on the road to the long straits of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, showcasing liveries and the teams’ approaches to the revised aerodynamic regulations that ushered the sport into a new era.
The introduction of the technical directive at the start of the 2022 season marked the largest aerodynamic change in F1 history, promising closer racing and limiting the aerodynamic furniture attached to cars. Most notably, the rule change revived ground-effect cars from their outlaw in the ‘80s, with the intent to increase downforce and generate less turbulence through better airflow. Unfortunately, and much to the dismay of many F1 engineers, porpoising manifested itself as a symptom that stymied the aerodynamic changes and the effectiveness of the ground-effect concept.
First apparent in pre-season running, the sudden jolting and bouncing is the result of a lack of airflow control underneath the car. In theory, the suction created by the floor’s venturi tunnels pulls the car closer to the tarmac to generate additional downforce. But the reintroduction of ground-effect elements was riddled with problems that reduced downforce levels and posed high safety risks that ultimately dampened team progress.
The updated 2023 technical regulations intend to target last year’s many concerns, so let’s take a look at what’s in store for Formula 1 machinery this season:
Adjusting to the new rules caused porpoising to plague some teams more than others last season; specifically Mercedes, due to the variance in design elements such as floor composition and ride height throughout the grid. The Brackley-based outfit is known for running a low-rake car concept and faced limitations with the W13 evolution. The lower ride height led to heavy oscillations at high speeds. An attempt to slightly alleviate the stresses of porpoising was made during last season’s summer break with Technical Directive 39, which would look to limit floor flexibility.
The FIA’s new regulations now seek to eliminate the porpoising problem — they detail a further tightening to the flex control on the floors, a 15mm increase to the floor height, an elevation to the diffuser throat height and the installation of a floor sensor for porpoising observation.
Looking at the season ahead, Mercedes hope to have curbed any components that may drastically hamper performance. Team Principal Toto Wolff spoke at the W14 launch, saying: “We face up to every challenge, we put the team first, and we will leave no stone unturned in the chase for every millisecond. This year, we are going all in to get back in front.”
The 2022 front-wing design limited teams’ reliance on wings to control airflow by shifting focus on the redirection of wake along the side of the car as much as possible. This was contrary to the previous focus of airflow towards the bottom and through the floor diffuser. Dirty air has been reduced as a result of the changes, making for closer racing overall.
Further restrictions on the front-wing design have been rolled out for the season ahead, with the FIA prohibiting the connection and the alteration of the endplate and flap. Teams such as Ferrari have nonetheless seized an opportunity afforded by a wording change in the FIA regulations to skirt around the Federation’s restraints.
During its launch, Ferrari’s SF-23 sported a front-wing equipped with slot gap separators similar to that which Mercedes was banned from running at the Austin GP last year.
F1 cars were the heaviest they had ever been in 2022, with teams scurrying to hit the minimum weight limit of 798 kg. The revision to the regulations has since reduced the weight by 2 kg to 796 kg in a bid to make the cars lighter. Alfa Romeo, Mercedes and McLaren have also opted for weight-saving liveries for the season ahead, hoping to shave off any deadweight that could add to lap times.
Following Zhou Guanyu’s dramatic crash on the first lap of the 2022 British Grand Prix, where his Alfa Romeo turned over and skidded upside down due to a detachment of the roll hoop, the FIA has confirmed that a more sturdy roll structure will be tested and added to the halo. Zhou emerged from the car unharmed, but the incident highlighted safety concerns for the weakness of the previous roll hoop, underscoring the importance of the halo in protecting drivers.
While changes to the floor may help to curb porpoising, it remains to be seen how the teams will adapt to the revised regulations and push the limits of their designs to gain an edge on the competition.
The restrictions on the front-wing design and weight changes also pose new challenges for the teams. Meanwhile, the focus on safety upgrades, such as the strengthening of the roll structure on the halo, demonstrates the ongoing commitment to driver safety in the sport.