Christian Horner rues having to spend on porpoising floor changes that were ‘probably not needed’

Michelle Foster
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner on the grid. Abu Dhabi, November 2022.

Christian Horner looks down the grid before the race. Abu Dhabi, November 2022.

Christian Horner says floor tweaks imposed by the FIA this season to minimise porpoising came at “quite a lot of expense” and were “probably not needed”.

Making the change from over-car airflow to ground effect aerodynamics last season, many of the teams were caught out by porpoising. Some more than others.

While Red Bull, their RB18 designed by Adrian Newey who is said to be able to ‘see air’, had hardly any bouncing, their 2021 title rivals Mercedes had it to the extremes.

Such was the ferocity of the W13’s porpoising, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell complained of back pain, head aches with Hamilton also saying “there’s a lot more bruising after the races nowadays”.

But with Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff advocating for the FIA to get involved, citing long-term health concerns, Horner said if his RB18 had the same problem he’d also be telling his drivers “to bitch as much as they could over the radio and make as big an issue out of it as they possibly could”.

As far as the Red Bull team boss was concerned, it was up to each team to resolve their own issues, not the FIA.

However, mid-season motorsport’s governing body did step in, issuing TD39 that not only meant some teams had to stiffen their floor planks but it also measured the vertical oscillations with the race stewards stewards stepping in should any team exceed the limit.

While it was never revealed if any teams did, post-season Nikolas Tombazis, the FIA’s head of single-seater technical matters, revealed some teams had in fact exceeded the metric and were forced to make changes to their ride-height of their cars.

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The FIA, though, didn’t stop there also implementing floor tweaks for this year’s championship as they feared porpoising could become even worse with the teams finding additional downforce during the off-season.

That means this year the teams have had to raise the floor edges by 15mm, the diffuser throat height has been raised and the diffuser edge stiffness has been increased.

Asked about those changes and what impact they could have, Horner told Auto Motor und Sport: “I think we have to wait and see, the first snapshot will be the testing in Bahrain.

“It’s a little bit strange, because obviously there was a big push to get all of this changed, and the changes came through around Spa last year.

“But by the end of the year, there was very little porpoising.”

Put it him that given that the FIA’s intervention ‘really seems necessary’, he replied: “My argument at the time was will it not just get sorted out, which it did.

“So we’ve gone through quite a lot of expense, for all the teams in a big regulation change that probably wasn’t needed.”

Should the FIA have stayed out of the porpoising debate?

Red Bull was one of the few teams that had a man in charge who knew all about porpoising, Adrian Newey having experienced the phenomenon back in the 1980s.

For the rest, as Wolff put it, it was like knowing about the stock market crash but not having experienced it themselves.

“It’s not enough to read in a book how the stock market crash happened or the internet bubble burst,” he told AMuS. “There is an uncanny advantage – and this is something I personally witnessed – to go through the whole cycle.”

But while the teams now all know about it, and have experienced it first hand, there is still the balance to be found between upping the car’s downforce and minimising the porpoising.

The FIA is correct in saying the teams will find more downforce over the winter, they always do. But Horner is also right in saying balancing that and porpoising is a problem they should all have to figure out themselves.

That the floor tweaks came during a budget cap just adds to the headache for everyone but especially those teams who aren’t even at the cap’s limit. They have had to find the money to make changes to their cars because the floor changes will have meant other tweaks were needed to maximise the car’s bodywork.

Is that fair when only one team seemed to have a huge problem with bouncing? The others finding ways to minimise it themselves even at the expense of performance.