“We won’t put a pillow in the car” … the porpoise phenomenon shakes the paddocks

A Lewis Hamilton who pulls himself out of the seat of his Mercedes with great difficulty, holding his back for a long time, before pouring his pain into the microphone of Canal +: “It’s the most physically difficult race of which “I’ve never noticed so much pain in a car. It’s usually just physical in normal racing. But there, it hit me, I had permanent pain points.”

It wasn’t until halfway through the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, finally won by Max Verstappen, to hear the seven-time world champion complain on the radio: “Argh! My back hurts like hell. “Normal, you’ll tell me, when you’re in your forties. the first pre-season tests of Formula 1 in Barcelona, ​​with the introduction of new aerodynamic regulations and flat ground effects. “By definition, the lower the car, the more aerodynamic load there will be, which entails this pumping effect at high speeds, ”he explains. 20 minutes Stéphane Chosse, former Williams team engineer. “This year, the suspension is simpler, which makes the car stiffer. The mechanical parts moved down, which lowered the center of gravity of the cars. The 18-inch tires, which are almost small in size, no longer offer the same cushioning, and the weight has increased even more, ”adds Alain Chantegret, FIA’s Formula 1 medical delegate.

Concerns reported to the FIA

It was no surprise to find this porpoise in Baku, a rugged city circuit, unlike traditional circuits, with a long straight in which single-seater cars reach very high speeds. Lewis Hamilton is not the only one who has suffered the consequences of these rebounds: the Spanish Ferrari driver, Carlos Sainz, or the Frenchman Pierre Gasly, from Alpha Tauri, even alerted the FIA ​​to this question.

“I did a physiotherapy session before and after each session, just because my vertebrae were suffering. The team tells me they can compromise the setup, but I’m compromising my health by performance. I don’t think the FIA ​​has to “We put them in a position where we have to choose between health and performance. We warned them of this problem and we tried to ask them to find solutions so that we wouldn’t end up with a cane at 30,” said Pierre Gasly.

Many thought that the porpoise would disappear as quickly as it seemed, as Alpine technical director Pat Fry suggested during the pre-season tests in Barcelona. But almost four months and eight Grands Prix later, those rebounds continue to limit most teams. Hence the concern of the pilots in Baku. A concern also shared by Toto Wolff, the head of Mercedes. “It simply came to our notice then. I haven’t seen it or talked about it since, but you can see it’s not just muscle anymore. It really goes to the spine and can have consequences, “he said of a possible Lewis Hamilton package for the upcoming Canadian Grand Prix.

Discomfort rather than danger

If Lewis Hamilton finally does well in the start on Sunday in Montreal, this porpoise is not without effect on the body of the pilots, as Alain Chantegret collects in 20 minutes. “All these vibrations reverberate. They sit in the pelvis, where the spine ends. The vibrations can accentuate the damage to the disc, which causes lumbago or sciatica. There can also be repercussions on the hands and wrist, which will cause pathologies that can be found in workers who make pneumatic hammers, with numb hands and tingling, at the top are the neck and head, on which is the helmet, and all this is fixed to the spine. “They can have cervical injuries, torticollis, even bull’s necks. These vibrations will also cause visual fatigue with the eyes popping out. In two laps, it’s okay, for a whole weekend, it’s starting to do a lot.”

A whole list of possible consequences, but the doctor wants to reassure you anyway. Because pilots are not normal people. “A rider is above all a high-level athlete, young, in great shape, very well trained, with the muscles of an athlete. They can charge things that Mr. Lambda would not accept. If you were in his place, you wouldn’t have finished the race, you would have had sciatica and he would have had anti-inflammatory drugs “, he compares. The high-level sport has, therefore, a certain price, according to him:

“The tennis player who will play at Roland-Garros will have pain in the joints of his hand, in his neck. Our concern is not in the comfort level, we will not put a pillow on the cars. It would be preferable for one of the pilots to have an injury, such as paralyzing sciatica. Then we would automatically press the red button. “

It’s certainly not a red button, but the FIA ​​still took the lead on Thursday, ahead of Sunday’s Grand Prix. He therefore called on the teams to make the “necessary adjustments to reduce or eliminate this phenomenon.” Commissioners are going to “examine the floors and pontoons more closely” of the single-seater, and a “limit to the acceptable level of vertical oscillations” of the chassis could come into force.

“Every team has a choice,” a very political issue

For Christian Horner, the head of RedBull, this porridge story goes a little too deep, and the Mercedes driver’s complaints are directed at him: “There are remedies for this, but it’s to the detriment of the car. So the easiest thing to do is to complain from a security perspective, but every computer has a choice. if it only affects isolated people or teams, it’s something the team potentially has to deal with. “

Stéphane Chosse: “As long as the teams drive very low, they will drag this problem for a long time. If they drive higher, these harmful effects will decrease, but it is the performance that will be affected. It’s a compromise between performance and comfort. ” A seemingly simple solution, therefore, but unimaginable for many teams, which will always favor performance, like Pierre Gasly.

If Alpine’s technical director, Pat Fry, was amused by the challenge posed by the porpoise phenomenon, he doesn’t seem willing to be tamed by the teams. “The problem is that among the people who work in teams no one has experienced this phenomenon. No one has ever faced it. I myself did not know F1 with a ground effect “, recalls Stéphane Chosse, in Formula 1 from 1996 to 2012.

Fortunately, this should not happen again in each of the remaining 14 Grand Prix. But after a three-year absence linked to the Covid-19, pilots are no stranger to a new surprise in Canada, a fast circuit.

Leave a Comment