James Key draws ‘strange parallel’ between Halo and porpoising intervention

Michelle Foster
Lando Norris driving the McLaren MCL36 in practice. France July 2022

James Key has drawn a parallel between Formula 1’s Halo debate and the current porpoising saga as both involve the safety of drivers.

Halo joined the Formula 1 grid in 2018 and while detractors were unhappy about the cockpit protection device, motorsport’s governing body forced it through on safety grounds.

The sport is, at least according to some, again facing a safety issue and this time the cause is porpoising.

Many drivers have complained about the bouncing that is a consequence of running ground-effect aerodynamics, fearing for their long-term health.

Carlos Sainz says already his back and neck are “tighter” and he does not “need expert advice to know 10 years like this will be tough”.

Pierre Gasly fears he could “end up with a cane at 30” if it continues, while Daniel Ricciardo added after the Baku race “this kind of shaking of the brain and the spine, I don’t think it’s good long-term”.

Read more: Conclusions from the F1 2022 season so far

The FIA have listened to the drivers, set to implement a vertical oscillation limit as of the Belgian Grand Prix, while next season they want to raise the edges of the cars’ floors by 25mm as well as the height of the diffuser throat.

Six teams are said to be opposed but McLaren technical director Key says, like Halo, this is a safety issue.

Drawing a “bit of a strange parallel” given it is a “totally different project”, he told The Race: “But there were lots of naysayers back then. You remember all the comments of ‘it looks terrible’, ‘it’s not Formula 1’. All this stuff.

“And it was like ‘well, why on earth not? There’s definitely a danger there’. And now look a few years later that we’ve had it, how thankful we are where we’ve seen some of the things that are happening on track.

“This is a different order of magnitude entirely, it’s much lower. But it’s kind of a similar thing.

“So let’s just go and fix it. On the basis it does have risk, it doesn’t bring anything to the sport.

“It actually costs money to investigate in a cost cap, which we can do without. It’s a minor consideration but it’s true.

“Why not just do the sensible thing – on safety grounds, because that’s the main concern – and just ditch it?”

Daniel Ricciardo pushed back into the garage by three mechanics. Montreal June 2022

And with the FIA expecting the bouncing to be even worse next season given the teams will, as they always do, find more downforce, Key says they have to intervene.

“It’s very difficult to simulate and predict porpoising,” the McLaren tech boss continued.

“We kind of recognise those ways of getting rid of it. But it can come back again quickly if you add certain types of development or increase your downforce.

“So rather than take that risk, I think from the FIA point of view it makes sense to just try and remove the issue entirely, but also show we are taking it seriously and doing something about it after the concerns raised by some of the drivers.

“I’m not saying it would be negligent not to, but you’ve got to be careful here.

“You can’t just assume teams will do it. And it may not be everyone’s priority.

“Every team will have an opinion, depending on whether they’ve got a porpoising problem or where they are in the championship.

“We don’t porpoise, particularly. We’ve got a development plan, which is working okay. But we still think it’s a good idea.

“So we haven’t got an agenda here. It’s much more a case of well, actually, we could all do without this. We don’t want it to get worse again. We don’t want someone to be hurt by it.

“Looking at simple steps which can try and mitigate it I think is by far the best thing to do than rely on all these brilliant people, whose priority isn’t porpoising every day, to try and fix it.”