F1 boss says Mercedes ‘bounced’ FIA into a hasty reaction

With the return to the 1978-82 F1 car design that incorporates grand effect the 2022 Formula One season got off to a predictably rough start for certain teams. Porpoising, or bouncing, was always going to be an issue for this who know their F1 car design history. The cars in the late 70’s using the Venturi under floor aerodynamic principles porpoised as did many in the class of 2022.

The Mercedes W13 hit the pre-season Bahrain test and the tech guru’s in Brackley were immediately concerned and George Russell immediately called on the FIA to act.



Russell first calls out FIA over safety

“It’s not very pleasant at all and from what I’ve seen from other teams in particular it would be a safety concern”, said Russell during the pre-season test.

Ex F1 car designer, chief technical officer, ex team boss and now the MD of F1 responded before the season opener in Bahrain.

“I’m a little surprised some of them have been caught out by it,” said Ross Brawn.


Ross Brawn surprised Mercedes ‘caught out’

“I thought they would have anticipated it from their wind tunnel work, but you can see on the track that some have already come to terms with it, so there are solutions out there.”

The porpoising is created when the teams attempt to run their car too low to the ground which increases the downforce and performance so it was argued teams like Mercedes merely had to lose some competitiveness, raise the ride height and the bouncing would be significantly reduced.

Yet Mercedes and Russell continued to complain race after race that the drivers’ long term health was at risk and come the end of the Azerbaijan GP Lewis’ Hamilton was apparently so battered by his car he could barely extract himself from the cockpit.



Mercedes bounces FIA into a reaction

The FIA sprung into action and established a metric to measure the level of the vertical impact on the drivers devising a limit which should not be exceeded. If the limit was breached a team or driver was then at risk of being excluded from part or all of a grand prix weekend.

Further, the FIA discovered during their analysis that certain teams including Red Bull had developed an innovative way of anchoring the ride height plank to the chassis. This reduced the bouncing but bizarrely the FIA outlawed this because it was in breach of the spirit of the regulations. 

Surely encouraging other teams to follow suit would have been a more sensible route to take.



2023 regulations changed to reduce bouncing

For the 2023 season the FIA have introduced some modifications to the car design regulations again intended to restrict the bouncing of the cars.

Mercedes and Russell clearly pressed the right buttons with the FIA as its president Mohamed Ben Sulayem released a statement which began as follows.

“Safety is absolutely the highest priority for the FIA, and we have devoted significant time and resources to the analysis and resolution of the issue of porpoising,” Ben Sulayem said.

“I have personally discussed this matter with all of the teams and drivers, and while of course there are some differences in opinion owing to varying competitive positions, it is very clear that the FIA has a duty to act and ensure that the drivers are not put at undue risk of injury as a result of this phenomenon.”



More measurement of proposing by FIA

So for 2023 the FIA have mandated for additional specific purpose designed sensors to be fitted to the floors of the car to provide a more accurate measure of porpoising together with stricter floor deflection tests. Rear diffuser throat heights will also be raised, as well as the edges of car floors which will be lifted by 15mm.

Given the ride of the 2022 Red Bull car already provided more ground clearance than most of the others, this regulation change should impact the Milton Keynes team less than their competitors.

Now F1’s chief technical officer and former Benetton’s technical director, Pat Symonds has blamed Mercedes for pressurising the FIA into unnecessary regulation changes.



F1 boss believes Mercedes pressured the FIA

Symonds believes the teams should have been left to their own devices to solve the problem.

“I think they [the FIA] overreacted a bit after Baku,” Symonds told Auto Motor Und Sport. “In Baku, we saw the worst effects because a team tried something that didn’t work and then went public quite loudly.

“If they [FIA] hadn’t intervened, the problems would have been solved. Most teams now understand how to control the bouncing.”

Symonds was part of F1’s technical team who were responsible for the new car design regulations and worked on ground effect cars in the early 1980’s. He admits when drawing up the new car specifications he’d “simply forgotten” about the porpoising problem given it was some 40 years ago.



Only Adrian Newey anticipated the porpoising

“I have to admit that the problem was not on our radar, but we could have known,” Symonds continues. “We had the means to discover it in advance because we were working with dynamic simulations.”

“I should have known too, because I used to work on ground effect cars. I had simply forgotten, [but] without a doubt, the bouncing changed things.

“The teams first had to solve this problem before they could work on their aerodynamics. Bouncing is not purely an aerodynamic problem. There’s also a lot of mechanics involved, for example suspension stiffness.

Mercedes did eventually get on top of their issues and did eventually win the penultimate race of the season. However, they now have to redesign their car to the new specifications the pressurised the FIA to introduce which may see the W14 in fact lose some performance in the early part of the 2023 season.

READ MORE: FIA ruling a body blow to Toto Wolff

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