Blighted by porpoising in the first half of the 2022 season, Mercedes upgraded their CFD systems to better replicate the problem in the hope of ensuring there won’t be a repeat in future seasons.
Introducing all-new ground effect aerodynamic cars last season, Formula 1 moving away from over-car airflow and instead using the floors to create downforce, then-F1 managing director Ross Brawn spoke of his surprise as some teams were “caught out” by the bouncing.
Porpoising, the up and down motion the car make as its aero stalls when it is pulled towards the track by downforce only for the aero to kick in as it then rises up, is a known consequence of running ground effect aerodynamics.
Mercedes had it worse than others.
Bouncing from one track to another, both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell complained of sore backs and necks with Hamilton also revealing: “There’s a lot more bruising after the races nowadays so it’s taking you most of the week generally to recover.” He added that the “bruising can be quite severe”.
Struggling to find a solution, Mercedes made changes to their design tools, most notably their CFD systems, in order to better understand the problem.
“The way that we’re working, the way that we’re assessing developments on the car – that is what we’ve been investing in,” Mercedes’ director of trackside engineering Andrew Shovlin told Motorsport.com.
“And that investment has meant that the car that we [were] racing on track is perhaps not as quick as it would’ve been if we’d gone flat out with our development heads on.
“But it was very much a case of trying to crack the code of what was happening with these cars aerodynamically.
“And, once we could understand that, development-wise it is a bit like ‘the lights have suddenly come on again and we can see where we’re going and we know what we want chase for future performance’.”
Mercedes tackled the problem with a two-pronged approach, working on the track to resolve the issue, which Shovlin admits was “fair painful”, and also by developing their tools back at the factory.
“The issue wasn’t so much our wind tunnel but there was a mechanism at play that we hadn’t captured in any of our modelling or any of our work and that was the porpoising mechanism,” he added.
“So, there were two things you had to do. One is that you’ve got to engineer it out of the car.
“Which was, at the time [during the opening races of the 2022 season], fairly painful from a point of view of the distraction, the finite resource that we’ve got in a cost cap in the aero department that had to funnel into understanding the problem.
“[That was] some very fundamental and relatively basic work, just trying to work out work actually was going on.
“And then, subsequently [work out]: how do you develop the tools that you need to be able to get back to where we were?’
“Where we could just commit to making a set of parts, bring them to the car and have confidence that they work.”
And work they did, Mercedes breaking their win-less streak at the penultimate race of the season as Russell led Hamilton across the line at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix.
Porpoising is not easy to eradicate
Although Mercedes won the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, Russell taking the victory in the sprint race and following that up with his maiden P1 in the grand prix, it was back to earth for the Brackley squad at the Abu Dhabi race.
Hamilton reported on the Friday that the “bouncing is back with a vengeance”, the Brit once again uncomfortable in his W13.
It begs the question are Mercedes genuinely on a path to a solution. That’s a case of only time will tell.
Even with their upgraded design tools, porpoising is notoriously difficult to mimic back in the factory as the wind tunnel belt would break before a team could recreate the conditions required for bouncing.
And with the teams, as they traditionally do, set to find more downforce over the winter break as their evolve their cars ahead of the 2023 season, they could have an even bigger problem with porpoising this year.
The FIA has taken steps by raising the diffuser throat height and the floor edges to combat the problem but, as the many of the teams found in 2022’s pre-season testing, none of the teams will actually know where they are with the problem until they take to the track.
This year they only have three days of testing to resolve the issue if there is one. And just a handful of days later it’s the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.