As Mercedes battles porpoising, is there more to come from Red Bull? MPH


Mercedes can't compete for F1 wins until it solves its severe porpoising problem. But it could be too late by then if Red Bull has more performance to unleash, writes Mark Hughes

Lewis Hamilton in the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand prix


It hardly needs to be said that there is a lot of very intense work going on at Mercedes trying to understand and rectify its porpoising problem. Until that is done it is not in any shape to compete with Red Bull and Ferrari.

There are many levels to the problem. Aerodynamicists who have worked with venturi-tunnelled ground effect cars have all encountered the problem but it’s extremely complex and no two cars are alike in the way they are afflicted.

The solutions invariably are some combination of floor redesign, better suspension/damping and a surrendering of some of the theoretical downforce simulation may have suggested is there. In Mercedes’ case the problem has been compounded by not having had suitable rear wings for the reduced floor performance in either Bahrain or Saudi Arabia.

Why do you need less wing when you have porpoising? Because the lower downforce doesn’t press down the rear so hard at speed and so keeps the car away from the critical threshold of ride height at which the phenomenon is triggered with a certain combination of speed and bumps.

Rear shot of Lewis Hamilton cornering in the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Mercedes’ porpoising is so severe that it affects the car in corners

Eric Alonso/Getty Images

If the problem is not too severe the porpoising may occur only at very high speed on the straights, a speed beyond the fastest of the corners. In which case the lap time won’t be affected too much because benefit can still be taken of the higher downforce through those corners. But if the problem is really severe it can be that it’s triggered at speeds which are being reached in the corners – in which case the cornering performance is seriously reduced. This is where Mercedes is at.

So the short term answer is to reduce the downforce – but if you don’t have a wing small enough to get you out of the porpoising zone, then you have to do it the really inefficient way by raising the static ride height at the back. This loses you the downforce but, unlike a smaller wing, gives you no benefit in reduced drag.

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Why didn’t Mercedes have a smaller wing? Because its pre-season simulation didn’t account for the porpoising. So the wings in manufacture were suitable for a car which could run without porpoising. New ones couldn’t be manufactured in time. The team would have liked to have the wing which was readied just in time for Jeddah available at Bahrain a week earlier. It would have liked to have had an even lower downforce one for Jeddah. But even if the smaller wings had been available, they would be sticking plasters for the underlying problem, only necessary because the floor is not working.

Ferrari has the porpoising but only at very high speeds despite running a lot of wing. Red Bull no longer seems to have the problem and is very quick despite running way less wing than either Ferrari or Mercedes. This could mean the Red Bull is running only at a fraction of its potential and that it has an underlying porpoising issue that, when fixed, is going to unleash big lap time gains as bigger wings become feasible. OR, it may be that it’s already in its sweet spot and it runs smaller wings simply because it has a better underfloor performance than everyone else and that its optimum lift/drag ratio is achieved without needing much wing.

The prospect of a potentially much faster Red Bull is surely a scary prospect for Mercedes. But we don’t know just how much performance could be unlocked from the W13. Those aerodynamicists who have been through this before say the solution will be found in a variety of details such as how close the throat area of the venturi is to the centre of the car, how aggressive the inlet is, how close the bodywork is to the ground – and suspension and damping. But even once Mercedes has found that ideal combination, there is no way of knowing yet whether it will be enough.

Sergio Perez in the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Red Bull may only be running at a fraction of its potential

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In qualifying pace the car has averaged around 0.5sec off the pace, in races more like 0.7sec. A lower downforce wing may have found around 0.1sec of that, a power unit as potent as Ferrari’s maybe another 0.1-0.2sec.

As it is, it’s still comfortably clear of the best of the midfield cars – from Haas, Alfa and Alpine. That’s because it is still delivering more downforce than those cars even when running in its compromised form. But extracting all its potential is not going to be a quick job. For its title prospects Mercedes really needs Ferrari and Red Bull to continue taking points off each other until it gets a proper handle on this.