Nikolas Tombazis reveals a ‘few cases where teams’ failed the porpoising rule

Michelle Foster
Lewis Hamilton chases George Russell at the Canadian GP. Canada June 2022

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton chases his team-mate George Russell at the Canadian GP. Canada June 2022

Introducing TD39 at the Belgian Grand Prix, FIA technical director Nikolas Tombazis says there were a “few cases” where teams exceeded the vertical oscillation limit and had to take action.

None of that, though, was revealed at the time.

With this year’s all-new ground effect aerodynamic cars bouncing from one race track to another, Mercedes suffering worse than the others, drivers complained of back and neck pain.

Lewis Hamilton said he had “a lot more bruising” as well as “headaches”, raising concerns about micro concussions, while Pierre Gasly feared he’d need a cane by the time he hit 30 if the bouncing continued.

The FIA stepped in, implementing TD39 at the Belgian Grand Prix, a technical directive that included the introduction of a vertical oscillation metric. Under that rule any car that exceeding the maximum level permitted would have to make changes to their cars.

That, though, was the last fans heard of it, never a word whispered about any team falling foul.

But according to Tombazis some die, the 54-year-old telling Auto Motor und Sport: “We had a few cases where the teams had to improve after the first practice session.”

Meanwhile Formula 1 technical director Pat Symonds revealed that next year’s rule to raise the height of the floor edges had already been put forward by the FIA ahead of the 2022 championship.

“We were concerned that the cars would drive very low and the edges of the ground would be damaged too often. It was more a matter of saving costs. The teams rejected it because our suggestion came at too short notice,” recalled Symonds.

It will, however, happen next season with the floor edges raised by 15mm while the diffuser throat height has also been increased. The FIA hopes this will counteract any added downforce the teams find over the winter as more downforce means more porpoising.

According to Tombazis, the cars will lose as much as five to seven percent of their downforce by the floor edges being raised. That, it is being said, equates to half a second on the track.

“But,” Tombazis said, “that will be cancelled out by the usual vehicle development.”

Porpoising was the buzz word of 2022

Porpoising, bouncing or bottoming out, whatever you want to call it, pretty much dominated the first part of the championship as the teams struggled to get a handle on it.

Mercedes had it the worst although they weren’t the only team affected with Lance Stroll revealing it cost Aston Martin a floor or two in testing.

It’s a consequence of using ground effect aerodynamics to create downforce, as the car is pulled closer to the ground it causes the aero to stall which then causes the car to rise away from the track. As that happens the aero kicks back in and pulls the car back towards the track, and so it goes.

Given the increasing number of complaints from the drivers about being in pain after a grand prix, the FIA had to take action. Red Bull were opposed, their RB18 designed by the man that it is said can “see air” Adrian Newey doing very little bouncing. Mercedes were adamant their drivers were at risk.

The FIA went the way of Mercedes given that most of the teams had a porpoising problem to some degree or another. Only time will tell if 2023’s tweaks eradicate it completely.

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