By Stefan Kristensen
April 15, 2022

F1 Porpoising: What is it and Why Does it Matter?

Porpoising is caused by an increase, then a sudden decrease, of downforce on a Formula 1 car, resulting in the car bouncing or ‘hopping’ up and down. This motion is called ‘porpoising’ as it mimics the movement that a porpoise makes while swimming in water. 

This article will go on to explain the causes of porpoising in more detail, what things can be done to fix the problem, and how different F1 teams are trying to minimise the bouncing for their drivers.

The New F1 Regulations

In order to reduce the drag on cars, the FIA put restrictions on the aerodynamics of the 2022 F1 cars, largely to reduce the amount of dirty air in the wake of a Formula 1 car. These restrictions reduce the overall downforce.

Downforce is necessary for F1 cars. It allows the cars to stay on the track and not become airborne, like a plane taking off. This reduction in downforce also affects a F1 car's ability to take corners at high speeds and race along faster down a straight.

The FIA, in order to make up for this loss, suggested the addition of two large Venturi tunnels on the undercarriage of this season’s race cars, thus reintroducing ground effects back into F1 racing. 

When the car is racing on the track, it travels through the air which is propelled through these two ducts. The air produces a negative pressure, pulling the car downwards toward the ground. This is what is known as ground effect. 

The exiting air at the end of the vehicle is distrbuted by diffusers. These diffusers ensures that the car encounters little drag and the the air is cleaner. This means that other cars can follow more closely than they would otherwise. 

What is causing the F1 Porpoising?

As the downforce acts upon the car, it pushes it closer to the ground, creating the ground effect. The closer to the ground, the more ground effect and the faster the air goes through the ever decreasing gap, which causes the airflow to stall around the edge of diffusers.

The term stalling in this instance means a loss of downforce effect due to there being such a separation between the high pressure air above the diffuser and low pressure air below it. 

When the air stalls, this causes air to become trapped in the Venturi tunnels as the diffuser is no longer able to do it's job properly. This causes a rapid decrease in pressure. the car then loses most of its downforce, unloading the suspension, and causing the car to lift up rapidly.

However, with the car lifted up the air can now escape, allowing for air to flow through the Venturi tunnels once more, and starting the whole cycle again. 

Since this is happening at extremely high speeds, the car shudders and bounces up and down on the track. It's extremely uncomfortable for the drivers, and can be very dangerous if it happens around the corners. 

Is F1 Porpoising a new phenomenon?

 This is not new. Porpoising occurred in the 1970's and early 1980's, when engineers where first experimenting with ground effect in early models of race cars. In fact, the term 'porpoising' was first used in the 1970's by the famous racer Mario Andretti himself. 

Ground effect, although first used in the 1970's was later banned because it was too dangerous. Engineers understand how it works now much better than back then, and therefore has been reinstated but in a much safer manner, however, porpoising is still occurring.

Why is Porpoising a problem?

Porpoising can have several negative consequences on the racing performance of the cars, the drivers, and the cars themselves.

First of all, porpoising affects the overall performance of the car. Porpoising can have negative effects on overall lap times, making cars slower and underperform in qualifying and the race. This is because porpoising naturally slows the cars down on the straights. 

Moreover, the violent bouncing of cars can make it very difficult for the drivers to control the cars for the entirity of the race. If the porpoising were to happen on a corner, the car could become so unstable that the driver wouldn't be able to control it and crash. 

Not only this, but the violent bouncing on every straight during the race can cause headaches for the drivers. Charles LeClerc, a driver for Ferrari, has also stated that the constant bouncing makes him feel a bit sick to his stomach. 

Lastly, the constant bouncing of the cars can actually cause damage to the underside of the car.  If the bouncing becomes too violent, there is high risk of the floor of the car hitting the tarmac, and thus causing damage to major components that help the car keep speed, like the Venturi tunnels. This could in turn, create unsafe situations on track as the car loses speed.   

What Are Some Ways F1 Teams Can Combat Porpoising?

The most simple solution is the one that all of the teams really don't want to use and that is to raise the floor of the car up higher. It would stop the porpoising effect. However, it would drastically reduce the downforce, slowing the car down too much and making it virtually impossible to win races. 

Most of the teams are trying to find a sweet spot where the car is just low enough to get the downforce and the speed they need, while being high enough to avoid the porpoising issue. 

Another solution to this issue is allowing for the use of active suspension again. It was an automatic system that adjusted the height of the car automatically as it zoomed around the track. However, it was banned in 1994 as it was seen as too dangerous and effectively was considered a driver's aid. 

Porpoising is the top issue currently facing all F1 Racing teams. This issue is still ongoing and hopefully will be solved quickly for everyone.

(Feature Photo: One of the porpoising cars the Ferrari F1-75, EJ Mina, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Written by Stefan Kristensen
I have been passionate about motorsports ever since I was a little boy. Back then, I cheered on the racing cars simply based on their colors. Later I fell in love with the many technical features, strategic plays, humans and their stories that all together drives this amazing sport to make it as interesting as it is.
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