F1 teams struggle with porpoising

TEST T1 SPAGNA F1/2022 - VENERDì 25/02/22credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Back in the 1970’s, Formula 1 teams were experimenting with ground effect aerodynamics and as they created better and better low-pressure pockets underneath their cars, the better the performance through corners. The car was literally sucked to the ground.

They discovered that as the car was sucked closer and closer to the track, eventually the airflow would stall causing the car to lift back up on its suspension where the ground effect would work again and start pulling the car back down. This left the cars doing a sort of up and down motion called porpoising due to the similar nature of a porpoise traveling through water.

This year, the move back to ground effect meant that teams would surely have known this porpoising was a possibility but from the first test, there seems to be a lot of this happening and it is interesting how the teams didn’t design it out of their cars or overcome it during the test.

There is little doubt the team would want to car to run as close as possible to the track in order to create maximum downforce but small bumps and deviations in the track surface that bring the underside of the car too close to the track causes the airflow stall.

Some team bosses suggested that this could be solved and would be solved over the first few races when updates were created. It’s interesting to me that they surely know this phenomenon and understand it perfectly. They have the some of the world’s best CFD design equipment and yet they still struggled with it in reality.

I wasn’t anticipating this as being an issue like it was back in the nascent era of aerodynamics given the brainpower of the designers at a current F1 team. This tells me that they simply chose to push the envelope to the closest point to get the maximum downforce and it’s going to be interesting to see how they react as each track is different. How quick they get on top of the porpoising will also be very interesting. Will they fix it by the next test or will it take a few races? Also, with cost caps, this may suck up some resources they weren’t planning on using for porpoising.

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Jack H

“…the team would want to car to run as close as possible to the track in order to create maximum downforce…”
No. Downforce is what causes the car to run lower…creating maximum downforce is what causes the car to run as close as possible to the track.
They want the car to run low to minimize air resistance (drag).


Some late nights ahead to update the CFD and simulator software.