Adrian Newey ‘surprised’ Red Bull’s rivals were caught out by porpoising cars

Michelle Foster
Adrian Newey tapes Max Verstappen's RB18. France July 2022

Red Bull technical director Adrian Newey tapes Max Verstappen's RB18. France July 2022

Red Bull design guru Adrian Newey “was surprised” rival teams were caught out by porpoising cars, saying “everyone should have known” it was coming.

As Red Bull raced to the championship double, their 2021 title rivals Mercedes bounced from one track to another, Ferrari also suffering with bouncing as did many other teams further down the grid.

Porpoising or bouncing is a consequence of running ground effect aerodynamics to create downforce, it happens when the car is pulled too close to the ground causing the under-floor aero to stall.

When that happens the car then rises from the ground, the aero kicks back in, and the car is again pulled towards the ground.

It is not only horrendously uncomfortable for the drivers but it costs them downforce and lap time as teams have to raise the ride height of the car to minimise it.

Mercedes’ W13 with its zero-pods seemed to suffer more than any other car on the grid, although the Brackley squad was by no means alone in their troubles.

Newey was surprised.

Studying ground effect aerodynamics before entering Formula 1, the Briton told Auto Motor und Sport: “I had a basic understanding of the ground effect principle and also of the phenomenon that we saw 40 years as porpoising bouncing. So I guessed what was in store for us.

“At most I was surprised by the extent. Actually, everyone should have known. It’s a phenomenon that’s in the genes of these cars.”

It has been suggested that the teams suffering with the phenomenon had a torrid time eradicating it as it cannot be replicated in a wind tunnel.

Newey says that’s true, but Red Bull had already found their solution by the time the six days of pre-season testing was over.

“It’s difficult to translate this problem into a model,” he said. “The model is fixed in the wind tunnel, so you can’t simulate it.

“But there were ways to predict it and we got a handle on it relatively quickly with our upgrade on the last day. By the time the Bahrain test was over, we had contained it to the point where it wasn’t bothersome.”

He added: “The problem with ground effect cars is that it encourages you to drive at the limit of aerodynamic stability. If you exceed that limit, you get bouncing.

“The right one, finding a compromise between downforce and bouncing, is not easy.”

But finding that compromise means the car is never really at its sweet spot.

“These cars demand too many compromises,” he said. “The trick is to find the best between ride height, downforce and bouncing.

“40 years ago, of course, we didn’t have the simulation tools we have today. We had to use our understanding more.

“On the other hand, the rules offered more freedom. The aprons and the design of the tunnels under the car gave us more efficient ways to solve the problem at the time.”

Newey’s previous knowledge of ground effect aerodynamics paid dividends for Red Bull this season, the team romping to the championship double while Max Verstappen set a new record for the most wins in a single season.

The team has won 16 of 20 races with two remaining.

Read more: Red Bull’s ex-engineering chief thinks Max Verstappen is still ‘weak technically’