Porpoising has become one of F1’s new catchphrases this season following the introduction of major changes to the technical regulations and a new generation of car over the winter, which have been seen bouncing at speed down the straights. 

Mercedes were plagued by porpoising issues early in the season but appeared to make significant progress thanks to an upgraded aerodynamic package at the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

However, the W13 once again struggled with extreme bouncing across the weekend in Azerbaijan, with Hamilton’s experience in particular so bad that he was concerned about crashing due to the car’s instability, or having to retire from the race because of discomfort in his back. 

In a post-race debrief video, Mercedes’ strategy director James Vowles admitted that Hamilton’s condition was exacerbated because the team had taken their set-up approach too far. 

Vowles also stressed the porpoising and bouncing are different phenomena.

“There is definitely a track by track element and it’s a function of how smooth the tarmac is and the layout of the circuit,” Vowles said.  

“I would say Baku certainly of the circuits we’ve had so far is on the worse end of it and conversely Barcelona probably on the better end of it.

“So, those two circuits definitely will highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the package. But it’s also worth putting a little bit of time into explaining porpoising, bouncing, bottoming – three words possibly being spoken a lot with a little bit of association of being the same thing but they are not quite.”

Having seemingly rectified its porpoising problem in Barcelona, Mercedes first encountered the bouncing issue in Monaco, the first of three consecutive street circuit events. The bouncing has been discovered as a direct result of Mercedes being able to run their car lower to the ground. 

“We definitely suffered porpoising in the earlier races and in Barcelona we didn’t,” Vowles explained. “And we’ve made a tremendous amount of effort on our package to make sure that we tried our best to resolve it, and I am confident we’ve made a step.

“In Barcelona the car was stable, robust and we could lower it and that’s the key, we managed to create a package were aerodynamically we were able to work with it a lot more, we could work with set-up and we could drop the cars in terms of ride height producing performance.

“Come now to Monaco and to Baku, what that unfortunately uncovered is a second issue that was being masked by the first. I’m confident we’ve made a step forward in terms of porpoising, but we very clearly have bouncing, and to the outside it looks almost identical, but there is a subtle difference between the two.”

More bottoming issues in Canada? 

Despite the bouncing, Russell was able to claim his third podium of the season in Baku as he continued his remarkably consistent start to 2022. 

But the Briton is expecting to suffer from more bottoming when F1 heads to Canada for the first time since 2019 this weekend, given the bumpy nature of Montreal’s street circuit. 

“I think the car has been feeling OK to drive, to be honest,” Russell said. “The balance is good. The challenge is just the bottoming. I think it doesn’t matter what boat you’re in either - you’ve got the porpoising and you’re hitting the ground. And if you don’t have porpoising, you’re running the car millimetres to the ground, and you’re bottoming out.

“Feeling it on the back at the moment. But nevertheless, we’ve got to keep on working hard to find more performance and understand what we need to do to unlock that. I don’t think we’ll have any major updates or anything to try in Canada, but maybe for Silverstone, we’ll have a better idea.”