FIA to act after F1 drivers complain about ‘porpoising’ affecting health

  • Move on safety grounds after neck and back problems revealed
  • Mercedes worst affected by excessive bouncing on straights

The FIA is to enforce rule changes that prevent the violent bouncing of cars known as porpoising. Formula One’s governing body was prompted into action after a number of drivers spoke out at last weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, warning they may end up suffering from long-term health problems if it was not addressed.

With many drivers experiencing neck and back pain after Baku, and several noting they found difficulty focusing on braking zones because of the propensity of the bouncing, the FIA has opted to step in under safety grounds, meaning their reforms do not require the agreement of the teams.

“The FIA has decided to intervene following consultation with its doctors in the interests of safety of the drivers,” they said. “In a sport where the competitors are routinely driving at speeds in excess of 300kmh, it is considered that all of a driver’s concentration needs to be focused on that task and that excessive fatigue or pain experienced by a driver could have significant consequences should it result in a loss of concentration.

“In addition, the FIA has concerns in relation to the immediate physical impact on the health of the drivers, a number of whom have reported back pain following recent events.”

Porpoising occurs on straights as cars gain and lose downforce from the ground-effect aerodynamics beneath the floor of the vehicle. It is an unexpected side-effect of regulations introduced before the new season, with some teams suffering from it more than others. Mercedes are among those to have had problems and in Azerbaijan underwent the worst of the phenomenon thus far. Lewis Hamilton was barely able to climb from his car and his teammate, George Russell, who is director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, was especially outspoken on the need for the FIA to step in. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz has also been insistent this is an issue that needs addressing.

In Baku, Russell compared it to footballers suffering from cognitive impairment having repeatedly headed a ball. “When they had the massively heavy footballs and there was research done and analysis done that there were health consequences for these chaps who were heading the ball and things were changed,” he said. “F1 is the centre of innovation, there’s no reason why we can’t find a scientific solution for this.”

Teams who have not suffered from the problem, such as Red Bull, believe there should not be a rule change because they have gone down a design route with their cars that has left them unable to deal with porpoising. However, drivers have noted that even teams with little porpoising want action, pointing out that the low ride height and stiffness of suspension required under the ground-effect formula produced significant impacts through the body, even without the overt visible bouncing.

“The compression, you’re sore and you feel you’re getting squeezed,” said McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo. “It’s also the frequency. It’s this shaking of the brain and the spine, I don’t think is good, long-term.

“I know George has been very vocal about it. They’ve suffered a lot. And I 100% sympathise with him.”

The FIA has taken on drivers’ concerns and stepped in, stating it would begin by examining the under-car planks and skids to determine design and wear. The governing body will also, in consultation with the teams, quantify an acceptable level of “vertical oscillation”, or how much bouncing would be deemed to be within safe parameters.

With the current design formula set to last until at least 2025 when new engines are introduced, for the longer term the FIA will hold a meeting with the teams to define measures that will permanently address the phenomenon for the forthcoming years.


Giles Richards

The GuardianTramp

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