Red Bull should benefit from F1 safety restrictions on porpoising— MPH


F1 teams will have to dial out their cars' extreme bouncing for the Canadian GP, following a bone-crunching race for some in Baku. The FIA measure should relieve Mercedes' drivers, but they'll probably be slower, writes Mark Hughes

Blurred picture of George russell Mercedes with sparks flying

The FIA will set a limit for an acceptable level of bouncing

Mario Renzi/F1 via Getty Images

The FIA has been particularly decisive in acting upon the driver complaints about the battering they were taking at Baku due to the ground effect cars bouncing on their suspensions. Beginning from first practice in Montreal today, the FIA will be monitoring each individual car’s impact with the ground in readiness for deciding a vertical acceleration limit to be imposed from Saturday practice onwards. Failure to meet it will potentially result in disqualification.

The governing body has been able to unilaterally introduce this measure under the guise of safety – so the change thereby does not require agreement from the teams. In saying that any car which doesn’t meet the requirement will be considered a ‘dangerous construction’ the safety justification is met.

In its press statement, the FIA said the following:

“Following the eighth round of this year’s FIA Formula 1 world championship, during which the phenomenon of aerodynamic oscillations (“porpoising”) of the new generation of Formula 1 cars, and the effect of this during and after the race on the physical condition of the drivers was once again visible, the FIA, as the governing body of the sport, has decided that, in the interests of the safety, it is necessary to intervene to require that the teams make the necessary adjustments to reduce or to eliminate this phenomenon.

“The FIA has decided to intervene following consultation with its doctors in the interests of safety of the drivers.  In a sport where the competitors are routinely driving at speeds in excess of 300km/h [186mph], 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.”

It’s been done to save the teams from their competitive selves because in any choice between lap time and driver comfort they will always decide in favour of the former. But this is being done without any definitive knowledge of the physical damage it may be doing to drivers. As Kevin Magnussen eloquently put it: “I guess that’s kind of why [the FIA] are there. It’s part of their job to step in because we can’t leave it up to the teams. Teams are always going to do what’s best for them, which is natural, and everyone should expect everyone to do that. That’s how it is. So that’s why the FIA is there, to step in as the grown up and make sure things are right.”

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At the time of writing there was still much to be formulated but the basic idea is that a vertical acceleration limit will be set. Any team with a car going above that will have to change its set up (ie using ride height) to bring the accelerations within the prescribed limit. The accelerations are already measured by sensors in the middle of the car which feed information to the FIA ECU fitted to all cars.

Once the acceptable limit has been decided upon following data analysis from the two Friday practice sessions, the teams will be informed prior to FP3 on Saturday what that limit is.

Speaking to Sky, George Russell welcomed the FIA’s unilateral action, saying it was far better than weeks and months of politics and negotiation before anything was done.

It has been perceived in some quarters that the change has been made in response to a Mercedes campaign for it, given that its competitiveness is probably more adversely affected by porpoising and bouncing than any other car. But if there was a campaign it would have been for a regulation change, not merely a technical directive which will probably force Mercedes to surrender more performance than it otherwise would have. In terms of the likely effect on the competitive order, logically this new technical directive should help Red Bull – with a car relatively unaffected by porpoising but still extremely quick regardless – relative to Ferrari, which has a very quick but heavily porpoising car. Mercedes, in being forced to run at a higher ride height, should logically be less competitive than before. For all that the car’s bouncing problem in Baku was diabolically bad, it was comfortably the third-quickest car there.

Inevitably, not everyone is going to be happy about this change. But it’s been made for all the right reasons.