What Is Porpoising In F1?

David Coulthard
David Coulthard

It was a hot topic through both pre-season tests in 2022, but what is porpoising in F1? And what effect does it have on both car and driver?

In a bid to decrease the dirty air in the wake of an F1 car, The FIA has thrown open the use of the underbody of the car to generate downforce. An F1 car needs downforce to stay firmly on the track and not take off like an aeroplane. It needs even more downforce for higher cornering speeds. But the FIA relaxation has come with strict guidelines on the use of the underbody of the car.

Formula 1 car constructors first explored the possibility of using the underbody to generate downforce in the 1970s and 1980s. They had experienced the phenomenon of porpoising then. Porpoising describes the motion of a porpoise in the sea. In a Formula 1 car, it may be described as bouncing or hopping. As a Formula 1 car travels at a far greater speed than does a porpoise, the bouncing is more rapid and can create problems on fast corners.

Why does porpoising occur in the 2022 Formula 1 car?

Unlike the 2021 F1 car, the underbody of the 2022 F2 car is not smooth. The FIA has amended the regulations governing the aerodynamics of a Formula 1 car. These regulation changes were meant to be enforced in 2021. They were deferred due to the Covid-19 pandemic and enforced for the 2022 season.

They have put certain restrictions on aerodynamics to reduce the drag on cars. To compensate for the loss of downforce, the FIA has recommended two large venturi ducts on the underbody of the car. They have relied on ground effects to generate the compensatory downforce. The downforce is generated by the depression formed by the air accelerating through these ducts.

As the car cuts through the air, the air is propelled through the ducts in the underbody. This air forms a negative pressure sucking the car towards the ground. This is the ground effect and it creates the downforce. The downforce helps the car take corners at great speeds and race across straights faster.

All the while, the downforce keeps the car firmly in contact with the track giving the tyres grip and traction. The air exiting at the end of the car is dispersed by diffusers so that it does not form vortices. The diffusers ensure that the car experiences little drag and the exiting air is cleaner. That makes for other cars to follow closer than they would otherwise.

The diffuser in 2022 F1 cars is much wider than in 2021. Beyond a threshold speed, the air refuses to remain in contact with its wall. This speed is believed to be approximately 250 kph. The airflow then detaches itself from the upper edge of the diffuser reducing the suction effect. This reduction of downforce unloads the suspension raising the car upwards.

The easing of load on the suspension is reversed a while later causing loading of the suspension. Because of the speed at which the car is travelling, the cycle of aerodynamic loading and unloading of the car is rapid. The driver feels as though he is travelling across a series of bumps on the track. Porpoising can be dangerous, particularly on fast corners.

What are F1 teams doing about porpoising?

The porpoising phenomenon was first encountered when constructors were researching ground effects in the early 1980s. In 1983, the FIA banned the modification of the underbody for added downforce. The latest change in aerodynamic regulation took many engineers by surprise. The limitation on tunnel testing also added to the problem.

The extent of porpoising can only be determined when a car races on a track. No team has managed to eliminate porpoising in the two testing sessions before the season’s first race. All teams are expected to come out with a solution to porpoising within the first few races. Until then lap times will be affected.

There is no doubt that the first team to entirely solve the issue of porpoising will have an advantage over the field. McLaren seemed to have the least trouble with porpoising. That can be attributed to their engineer’s experience in the early 80s. Ferrari also seemed to control porpoising during the Bahrain test sessions, although not entirely.

With barely more than a week to go before the first race at Sakhir, teams are left with little time. The Sakhir track is not the most even and smooth of tracks. As such, teams will not be able to get a good idea of the extent of porpoising. A smoother track with more fast corners will give the teams the right assessment of the problem on hand. Any changes in the FIA regulations will be applicable for the 2023 F1 season.

What is porpoising in F1? – The Conclusion

Proposing describes the undulating motion of a porpoise on a sea surface. The drastic change of aerodynamic regulations by the FIA has led to this phenomenon occurring in F1 cars. Porpoising is caused by the repeated loading and unloading of the underbody of the car. Because of the speed of an F1 car, this occurs at a very fast frequency. The bumping sensation felt by the driver is rapid and can cause him to lose control of the car.


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