BAKU, Azerbaijan – Lewis Hamilton said he woke up in pain on Saturday because this season’s Mercedes car tends to bounce up and down at high speed. Now seven-time Formula One champion and new team-mate George Russell has questioned whether the new 2022 rules will force them to compromise their safety.
The move to ‘ground effect’ – where the ground creates aerodynamic grip – for this season should intensify competition between cars. However, some teams struggle with cars hopping up and down at high speed – a phenomenon dubbed “porpoises” – or touching down and slamming against the track surface.
Mercedes is among the hardest hit. Hamilton said his “back was a real mess” after Friday practice and credited performance coach Angela Cullen with getting him in shape for Saturday’s qualifiers.
“Thank god Angela gives me physio and acupuncture every night. I woke up in quite a bit of pain this morning,” Hamilton said.
With ground effect potentially persisting until at least 2026, Hamilton indicated he would support rule changes to reduce ricochet.
“I think it can certainly be a safety thing,” he said. “There’s not really a lot we can do to stop that and we can’t have the car for four years, so I think they have to work on that.”
Any rule changes could face a backlash from teams that designed more stable cars. Some believe Mercedes could reduce the problem with setup changes; Mercedes could sacrifice a bit of speed by not driving their cars as low to the ground to squeeze out more power.
Title contenders Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc are among the drivers who have expressed less concern about the issue.
Hamilton’s teammate Russell complained of back and chest pain earlier in the season and suggested the bouncing and rattling on Saturday could lead to a serious crash.
“It’s just brutal out there being shaken to pieces and you hardly see where to brake at the end of a straight because we’re bouncing around so much,” said Russell.
“I think it’s only a matter of time before there’s a major incident. A lot of us can barely keep a car in a straight line over these bumps,” he continued. “We’re going around the last two corners at 300 mph and bottoming out… With the technology that we have in today’s environment, it just seems unnecessary for us to be driving a Formula 1 car at over 200 mph, millimeters over the ground, and it is a recipe for disaster.”
Mercedes was optimistic about making progress after appearing to reduce ‘porpoise’ at last month’s Spanish Grand Prix, but at the next race in Monaco it struggled with the bumpy road surface. The track in Baku is also on public roads, but the races are driven at much higher speeds than in Monaco.
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