By James Broughton, June 21, 2022
Like two domineering alpha male apes battling for territory over a bamboo plantation, Toto Wolff and Christian Horner were reportedly involved in a heated behind-closed-door debate over the issue of porpoising. We can not verify the claims because the alleged dispute between the bosses of Mercedes and Red Bull is based on hearsay. Nevertheless, being a journalist I will believe everything I am told without question or critical thought.
The seeds of the alleged dispute were sown in the new regulations that were agreed upon by all teams for 2022. The major change pertains to the re-introduction of ground effect cars. In layman’s terms, ground-effect aerodynamics litterally sucks the floor of the car to the ground.
In order for the ground-effect aero to function the ride height of F1 cars need to be lowered as close to the ground as possible. When ground effect was first introduced in the 1980s teams discovered that by using a side-skirt, wrapped around the side-pods and floor, trapped escaping air and considerably improved performance.
For 2022, the FIA banned side skirts and teams focused their aero development on the design of the floor. The side effect of getting the floor design wrong is porpoising. In layman’s terms, the floor of the car is bouncing on high-speed turbulent air rushing underneath the car generated at race speeds.
It appears Red Bull is the only team to interpret the 2022 regulations without facing the issue of porpoising. Ferrari does suffer porpoising but not as severe as Mercedes. The remedy is to raise the ride height, but then performance is lost. So one must ask what is the point of ground-effect?
Nevertheless, Mercedes has been the most vocal about regulation changes in order to minimise porpoising for the benefit of driver safety. Naturally, Red Bull is opposed to a new regulatory mandate and argues that those teams facing porpoising issues either must find an engineering solution or raise the car’s ride height.
The FIA introduced a safety directive at the Canadian Grand Prix, initially to monitor porpoising with the view of collecting and analyzing data and mandating changes as and when required. The FIA may then introduce a regulation instructing those teams suffering excessive porpoising to raise their cars ride height.
When team bosses convened a meeting at the Candian Grand Prix “fireworks” reportedly erupted between Toto Wolff and Christian Horner. This was a clash of the alpha males. Wolff delivered his message powerfully if not excessively according to various people present at the meeting. The diminutive Horner stood his ground.
Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto apparently intervened, telling Wolff it is up to Mercedes to find an engineering solution rather than force through a change to the regulations.
As much as I have criticized Red Bull over the years, I find myself agreeing with Horner and can understand why he is so vexed at Mercedes. Horner is always vexed about something. Mercedes have got their floor design wrong and must find a solution rather than engineer a change to the regulations they signed off on.
However, in the interest of driver safety, the FIA has to act, ironically updating the regulations to minimize porpoising will affect Mercedes the most, then what next will Toto Wolff plan?