Friday Practice in Baku: The Return of Porpoising?
Several teams seemed to have solved their aerodynamic problems, but the Baku circuit is dredging them back up.
What Is “Porpoising?”
Since the start of the 2022 F1 season, all teams were required by the FIA to build a new car that complied with the new technical regulations. When the cars were unveiled for testing in Barcelona and Bahrain, several teams struggled with porpoising.
It’s an aerodynamic effect that causes the car to bounce up and down rapidly at high speeds. The drivers complain of headaches, neck and back pain, etc. from all the violent bouncing over a race distance or a whole weekend.
I would explain the physics of it if I could; even the top teams like Mercedes and Ferrari can’t find the solution. Ferrari has covered up the problem well enough up until this point, and Mercedes thought they found the solution at the Spanish GP. However, the Baku Circuit is bringing all these problems to light because of the massive main straight.
Which Teams Are Suffering?
It’s close between Ferrari and Mercedes for the bobblehead contest. I can’t imagine how violent that shaking must be on the brain, the eyes, and the spine. It appears that Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc have it the worst, then Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.
Early in the season, Mercedes struggled with a lack of balance when the car turned into the corners. The constant bouncing unsettled the car into the braking zone, and would sometimes result in understeer.
This problem prevented Hamilton and Russell from pushing the car to the limit with confidence, as they would have to sacrafice lap time to keep the car balanced and out of the wall.
The Ferrari car appeared to be quick through the slower sections of the Baku Circuit, where the porpoising has less of an impact.
In terms of qualifying, the drivers that suffer porpoising will struggle on the straightaways, and in the high-speed corners.
“The W13’s straight-line speed was disappointing, but [their trackside chief] believes some of that loss was due to the car “hitting the ground” on the straights” (Barretto, 2022).
Mercedes is trying a new front wing this weekend, but I doubt that they will be able to qualify on the front row. Ferrari have been on top of both practice sessions so far, but the Red Bull is faster on the straightaways. The problem for Red Bull at the moment is that they have a faulty DRS package, and it fails to open sometimes.
The teams will have to correct all these problems before qualifying tomorrow. Once qualifying begins, the teams will not be able to change certain aspects of their car, and they could be plagued by their problems in the race.
Will It Affect Race Pace?
Porpoising has a large impact physically on the drivers, in a sport that is already difficult enough. When the car bounces around, the muscles in a driver’s neck are activating to stabalize the head and eyes. When the head is bouncing, it is harder to see the braking markers and apex curbs.
Lacking pace on the straightaways is not an option for a team that wants to win this race. I predict that the Red Bull cars will overtake the Mercedes and Ferraris, provided that they can fix their DRS problem.
51 laps of bouncing would be miserable, so hopefully Mercedes engineers and mechannics can solve the problem, or at least make it bareable.
Another element to watch out for this race and in qualifying is the wind. There were tremendous gusts today on track that almost caught drivers out. The high-speed corners can become really dangerous when there is unpredictable wind. The forecast shows the wind dying down this weekend, but it will likely remain a factor.
Please check out my article about some of the other challenges facing the teams this weekend.