The row over Formula One cars porpoising grows race by race in the paddock. In Montreal team bosses met to discuss the matter which resulted in a huge row between Christian Horner and Toto Wolff. Lewis Hamilton too has been vocal over the health effects the ‘bouncing cars’ have on the drivers and was so distressed from back pain he could hardly extract himself from the Mercedes W13 car.
David Coulthard has waded into the debate and believes there has been a significant amount of drama over the new 2022 ‘ground effect’ car designs stating, “I think we are in race nine of a completely new set of technical regulations.”
“So this has been a phenomenon since pre-season testing, although clearly some teams either did a better job or got luckier in their fundamental design to not be as badly affected.”
Coulthard recalls the days of the last F1 ground effect car designs observing, “I think that anyone that followed F1 from the late 70s/ early 80s, they had ground effect.”
The Scottish ex Williams and McLaren driver explains how the ground effect aerodynamics works.
“It was a known condition back then where if you know, floor ceiling with the skirts released and the car popped up, it was also a way for them to get around ride height controls where you know, the car has to have a certain ride height, which it passed in the pit lane. It went out on the track back and then it suddenly dropped down to a much lower ride height and then ran outside the spirit of the rules. But if you ran over a curb, your release the floor and then you’ve got this porpoising effect.”
Clearly Red Bull have mastered ground effect better than Mercedes, but Coulthard explains the chief technical officer has previous knowledge of this aerodynamic design
“History has a habit of repeating itself and Formula 1 has the ability because of technical regulations and the way you actually understand those rules. Adrian Newey, someone I always worked with since my Williams days, always used to say he reads the rules to see what they say but more importantly what they don’t say. What they don’t say he designs, hoping for a loophole that gives him an advantage. It makes sense, doesn’t it? If you’re gonna design something that fits in the box, how are you gonna be able to outperform your competitors?”
Newey of course was an apprentice designer during the previous F1 ground effect era but Coulthard believes the current issues suffered by Mercedes has been repeated when other F1 design changes have previously been made.
“Like other years when they brought in grooved tyres and then narrow track cars, there’s a constant evolution, constant technical dealing with updates and those that are struggling more, of course, are gonna be more vocal than those that are getting results.”
Echoing Christian Horner’s view that the regulations are the same for all and some teams just haven’t designed their cars particularly well Coulthard reminisces, “Everyone got the same set of technical regulations handed to them, I’ve been in a situation where I’ve had the advantage of my team doing a better job and I’ve been on the other side when the team didn’t do such a good job and you take the pain whether it’s through your lower back.”
Coulthard is scathing about the complaints of certain drivers who have been most vocal over the current car design. “If any driver feels uncomfortable, if any driver feels he’s doing to himself long term damage, step aside. There’s a whole bunch of guys and girls that would very happily step into your car if you feel uncomfortable. I think we have to keep the perspective that sport doesn’t come with the princess and the pea’s mattresses.”
Of course injury is common in many sports and just because F1 is non-contact doesn’t mead the drivers should be privileged.
“If you’re a boxer, you have to accept someone is gonna punch you in the face,” Coulthard adds.
“If you’re a footballer, someone is gonna drag their studs down the back of your legs. My girlfriend used to play for the Swedish National team and she has marks on her legs because as a striker she was getting taken out of matches. I think we have to keep in perspective a little be that this is the way certain things are and there’ll be evolution but for the most part, just get on with it.”
Given the F1 drivers are paid fortunes to do what they love and countless others would love to do, Coulthard’s message from a driver who piloted F1 cars in a more dangerous era of – “just get on with it” – brings a level of reality check to the melodrama being played out at times in front of the F1 fans and media.
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