‘Porpoising’ is F1’s new buzzword… but what does it mean?

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Russian GP cancelled, Haas to decide on Mazepin (0:59)

Laurence Edmondson reports from testing as F1 announces the cancellation of the 2022 Russian Grand Prix. (0:59)

5:09 AM ET

  • Laurence EdmondsonF1 Editor

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      • Joined ESPN in 2009


      • An FIA accredited F1 journalist since 2011

BARCELONA, Spain — One theme that has emerged from the opening three days of F1’s preseason testing is the unusual behaviour of the 2022 cars when travelling at speed on the pit straight. As they reach top speed, almost all the cars have been spotted bouncing up and down on their suspension — a phenomenon known as porpoising.

The name describes a car mimicking the movement of a porpoise as it travels through water.

Porpoising is linked to F1’s rule changes for 2022, which have allowed teams more freedom to generate downforce from the underside of the car through the use of ground-effect aerodynamics. Essentially, the length of the car is treated as an upside-down aeroplane wing with the lower surface profiled to generate low air pressure under the car and suck it to the track.

The idea of using the floor of the car to create significant amounts of downforce is nothing new. In the late 1970s and early 1980s F1 teams started to better understand the potential of ground effect aerodynamics, leading to a sudden increase in cornering performance but also problems similar to the ones experienced by teams in testing this year.

As the car becomes fully loaded with immense levels of downforce it pushes down on its suspension, running the risk of the floor getting close or making contact with the track, which has the potential to stall the airflow underneath. The sudden loss of downforce due to the stalling floor results in the car lifting back up on its suspension, which in turn allows the floor to start working again and force the car back down.

It can be triggered by bumps or the car simply running too low a ride height, but once it starts to happen it results in the odd visuals of the car bouncing up and down on the straight before the driver hits the brakes, knocking off significant speed that allows the airflow under the car to reattaches and returns to normal.

It can be avoided by running less extreme setups but teams naturally want to chase lower ride heights as, in theory, they should produce more downforce. Teams were aware it might happen, but none expected it to be as extreme or regular as it has been.

However, most technical directors believe it can be fixed with updates, albeit ones that were not part of the original development plans. McLaren’s James Key suspects it will be less of a talking point by race five or six once teams have had time to solve the issue.

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