Mercedes Formula One team have been developing a polemic over the past few F1 race weekends mostly via George Russell. The British driver has repeatedly commented on the current car design regulations as the cause of ‘porpoising’ or bouncing which will cause long term damage to the drivers’ health. But Christian Horner believes the Mercedes are ‘playing the game’.
Russell has repeatedly called for the FIA to ‘look again’ at F1 car design which is broadly set to be the same until the end of the 2025 season.
“It’s just a matter of time before we see a major incident, a lot of us can barely keep the car in a straight line over these bumps,” said Russell in Baku.
“We’re going around the last corners at 320kph, bottoming out, you can visibly see on the tarmac how close the cars are running to the ground.”
The Brit threw a few other hand grenades into the debate describing the current car philosophy design as “necessary” and “a recipe for disaster”.
“I don’t know what the future holds.” Added the Mercedes driver, “but I don’t think we can sustain this for three years or however long these regulations are in force for.”
During the race in Baku Mercedes other driver Lewis Hamilton was heard complaining on the radio “this is killing me”. Hamilton was seen struggling to haul himself out of the car following the chequered flag and then slowly hobbling away to the FIA driver weigh in.
One observer commentated amusingly it looked like Hamilton had done “12 rounds with Tyson Fury”.
Yet looking closely at the Mercedes 2022 W13 cars is quite revealing. At the start of the season the car was ‘porpoising’ due to the air flow under the car. The Brackley team brought a fix for this in Barcelona where interesting half of the winter testing was undertaken and the circuit is smooth and flat.
During the next two races in Monaco and Baku, the car is no longer ‘porpoising’ but hitting the ground repeatedly causing a high level of oscillation visible from the the driver helmets.
Clearly this is a different issue for Mercedes than the aero design of the floor that caused the pre-Barcelona problems.
It is evident the Mercedes W13 is being run much lower to the ground than the Red Bull car and has no rake angle – where the rear of the car ride height is higher than the front suspension.
This is a set up choice that Mercedes make, to improve the performance of the car. They could raise the ride height and increase rear end rake to make their drivers’ lives far more comfortable. Of course they would be slower and qualify further back on the grid.
On Sunday evening after the Baku race, Christian Horner waded into the debate.
When questioned how he would tell his drivers to handle a Mercedes style predicament Horner grinned and replied, “I’d tell them to bitch as much as they could on the radio and make as big an issue out of it as they possibly could. It’s part of the game.
“You can see it’s uncomfortable, but there are remedies to that. But it’s to the detriment of the car performance. What’s the easiest thing to do is to complain from a safety point of view, but each team has a choice.”
The Red Bull boss is clearly suggesting Lewis Hamilton may have been exaggerating his discomfort as he took nearly a minute apparently struggling to extricate himself from his car.
The British media chose to emphasise this issue, given the race was fairly ordinary following the bonfire of the Ferrari’s.
Natalie Pinkerton of Sky was almost obsessed with the issue, asking each driver she interviewed how they found the bouncing.
The reality of the situation is that Mercedes will again have problems this coming weekend in Canada, as the surface their is not a professionally laid dedicated race circuit. However, the following races in Europe are all at motor racing arena’s and the Mercedes drivers’ discomfort issues should be reduced significantly.
Mercedes will still want the regulations altering for next season if possible, because it appears their unique interpretation of the new ‘ground effect’ F1 car design regulations does not suit their car philosophy.
The Brackley team may well have to go back to the drawing board and ditch the principles of the current W13.
Of course if everyone else was forced to do the same, Mercedes would be at less of a disadvantage.