What Makes Porpoising A Problematic Phenomenon In Formula 1

Moment when Alpine's car was suffering from the porpoising phenomenon during a race.

Formula 1 is a sport in that cars must be fast, agile and stable. 

However, even the most advanced technology cannot prevent a bouncing phenomenon known as porpoising. This occurrence is a common struggle for many racing teams and drivers that can put health and work at risk.

In this article, we will explore the science behind porpoising, why it is a problem, and how teams act to address it.

Uncovering The Effect

Essentially an up-and-down motion, porpoising occurs when the suspension of a car is unable to maintain its stability, causing the car to jump up and down uncontrollably. The movement is similar to a dolphin or a porpoise moving in the water, hence the name. The phenomenon links to the modernised version of the ground effect, which helps to leave the car more glued to the asphalt.

While cars travel at high speeds, the air flowing underneath the car can create an area of low pressure. The front of the vehicle lifts, reducing the downforce on the front wheels. As a result, the back of the car may dip down, increasing the downforce on the rear wheels.

When this happens, things can be dangerous since it can cause the driver to lose control of the car, leading to a crash. In that case, it is more likely to occur on bumpy tracks or tracks with elevation changes.

Amended 2023 Season Regulations 

Every season regulations are changed, in smaller or larger proportions, to improve some flaws found in the rules and also to try to promote more disputes between teams.

Henceforth, regulations for the 2023 season have been revised with four new rules. The height of the cars has increased by approximately 15mm, and the diffuser’s edge has been strengthened while being elevated. Additionally, machines are required to have a porpoising measurement sensor equipped.

If the device detects abnormal and unsafe bounces, the teams must raise the cars even more. If the problem persists, cars will be out of competition.

Teams Addressing Porpoising

Being a threat to F1 teams, every engineering department is constantly looking for ways to address it. One of the most typical ways to combat porpoising is to adjust the suspension system. 

Teams can change the stiffness of the suspension or the ride height of the car to reduce the likelihood of porpoising. They may also adjust the aerodynamics to create more downforce on the front wheels, which can help keep the car stable at high speeds.

Another way to address porpoising is to adjust the weight distribution. By shifting the weight towards the front of the car, teams can increase the downforce on the front wheels, reducing the likelihood of porpoising. They may also adjust the tire pressure to ensure the car is balanced and stable.

Until recently, downforce was mainly generated by the front and rear wings, fairing and diffuser. Now, the focus is on the floor, which has the venturi tunnels. These parts accelerate air passage through the floor to create a low-pressure zone.

Solving The Problem

While teams can take steps to reduce the likelihood of porpoising, it is impossible to eliminate it. The best way to solve the problem is to train the driver to handle porpoising when it occurs. Drivers must be able to react quickly and make settings adjustments to regain control.

Using simulation technology is also beneficial to help drivers prepare for porpoising. With a simulated environment, drivers can practice reacting to it and learn how to handle the effect in a safe and controlled atmosphere.

Final Thoughts

Porpoising is a significant challenge for F1 teams and drivers, and its impact can be severe on the track. Teams must understand the science behind porpoising and invest in the right technologies to prevent accidents. With the ever-evolving technology in F1, we can expect to see further developments to address porpoising and make the sport even safer for drivers and spectators.

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