Why McLaren avoided F1 porpoising headache at first test

McLaren was widely acknowledged to have been the team that suffered the least with porpoising during last week’s first Formula 1 pre-season test.

Why McLaren avoided F1 porpoising headache at first test

That has inevitably prompted some interest about what it was on the MCL36 that seemed to be working so well to avoid the problem that affected everybody else.

Much of the attention focused on the car’s floor, which features a more developed edge surface and ‘edge wing’ than some of its counterparts.

The design seen on the McLaren MCL36 takes advantage of the ‘edge wing’ that’s not only permitted under the regulations but is a design feature that we’ve already seen a variant of, as it was fitted to F1’s show car that was presented at Silverstone last year (inset).

McLaren MCL36 floor

McLaren MCL36 floor

The floor concept could be playing a critical role in helping better control the airflow under the car, so there is no stall as the car gets near the ground.

Granted, McLaren’s interpretation is much bolder (highlighted by the dotted line) but that is to be expected, with teams able to use their design ingenuity to exploit this region for performance.

The ‘edge wing’, as it’s referred to in the regulations, must also meet specific dimensional requirements, be it a single section that’s closed (ie: no slots or holes) and has to meet the tolerances demanded of it in terms of its proximity to the floor itself.

While McLaren appear to have been singled out, there’s one other team with a pretty similar solution, although perhaps it wasn’t noticed owing to its camo livery: Alfa Romeo had a similar and perhaps even more aggressive floor and edge wing than the one seen on the MCL36.

Alfa Romeo C42 floor edge

Alfa Romeo C42 floor edge

Comparing the two, the edge wing seen on the C42 is much longer and twists upwards at the front of the assembly. It also clears the path for a discontinuation of the floor in order that the rearmost section can be subjected to a different load profile.

The scrutiny on McLaren’s design was heightened by the porpoising issue faced by everyone. And while McLaren was still susceptible to its effects, it did seem to have more of a handle on the phenomenon throughout the course of the test than its rivals.

Teams quickly discovered by using DRS they could lessen the ill effects created by porpoising, as DRS takes load off the rear of the car, making it more difficult for the floor to be sucked close enough to the track to become overwhelmed.

Of course, this doesn’t solve the problem entirely. It only mitigates it and only in the sections of the track where DRS can be used.

We must also consider that the teams were learning on the job, as the 2022 batch of cars are not only different from an aerodynamic perspective, there’s all manner of changes that affect the car's behaviour associated with its mechanical performance.

This is especially relevant when we consider how different the cars are set up compared with their predecessors, as the teams are looking to run the cars as low as possible in order to build a better relationship, aerodynamically, with the track surface and the underfloor tunnels and diffuser.

As a consequence, the cars are also much more stiffly sprung, so that the rideheight remains more constant. However, where this is more of an issue for the teams is that they are no longer able to use inerters or hydraulic elements, both of which were tools that previously helped with suspension compliance and dampen oscillations.

One suspension mode that’s been hit by these changes is ‘heave’, with the vertical compression and decompression of the tyre under load one of the factors that has to be considered, along with how the heave dampers respond.

Without the suspension tricks that teams relied on in the past, they’re having to find other ways to compensate, something that might not be helped by a need to run in a more conservative trim for testing in order to hide their pace relative to their rivals.

The issue might also be exacerbated by the teams getting up to speed with the new 18” wheel rims and Pirelli tyres, of which the tyres have a much shorter sidewall than their predecessor. This will not only have an overall impact on damping but also oscillations that are created as the tyre deforms under load.

 

It will also create a different, perhaps peakier, tyre-squirt profile to the one the teams are used to dealing with. The tyre sidewall deformation can be seen in the video posted to F1’s official Twitter feed, which also shows off the larger porpoising phenomenon, as the car yo-yos up and down.

Tyre squirt was already a hot topic under the previous regulations, as finding aerodynamic solutions to dampen its effect on the diffuser were a constant source of development. Strakes, fins, cutouts, slots and fully enclosed holes mounted on or in the floor ahead of the rear wheel were all considered ways in which this could be achieved.

The majority of these solutions have been outlawed for 2022 though, and so solutions like the ones seen on the McLaren and Alfa Romeo will become one of F1’s development battlegrounds, as the teams look for ways to increase performance.

There have also been suggestions from some quarters that McLaren’s floor might be overtly flexing on the outer edge so it doesn’t necessarily need to run as close to the ground to achieve the same net result.

While this might be desirable, the floor is still subject to load and deformation tests and the FIA has already suggested that it will be monitoring this closely and can and will introduce more stringent tests if it feels there’s a need.

To round things out, here is a look at some of the solutions seen elsewhere on the grid, in order to see how they might also be dealing with the floor and edge wing, while also considering who might arrive with something very different at the second test.


How the opposition stacks up

Ferrari F1-75 floor detail

Ferrari F1-75 floor detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Ferrari installed a new floor on the F1-75 during the final day of the first pre-season test, which featured a cutout and small tongue-like protrusion. This is expected to represent a stepping stone in its development towards a more complex variant that will be mounted on the car during the second test.


Nicholas Latifi, Williams FW44

Nicholas Latifi, Williams FW44

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Williams had a more refined version of the floor edge treatment on the FW44 during the first test, with not only the cutout in a similar place to Ferrari but also a long triangular edge wing mounted ahead of it, which seemingly casts a different aerodynamic structure, in terms of direction, to some of the other solutions we’ve seen.


Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT03

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT03

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

AlphaTauri opted for a shorter edge wing placed much further upstream.


Red Bull Racing RB18 sidepods detail

Red Bull Racing RB18 sidepods detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

There was no detached edge wing on the Red Bull RB18 in the first test, with the team opting for a more simplistic approach, including two slots that allow a central panel on the edge of the floor to be twisted when compared to the sections forward and aft of it.


Mercedes W13 stiffened floor

Mercedes W13 stiffened floor

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

In order to improve the floor’s stiffness on the outer edge, Mercedes installed a metal stay on the last day of testing, in the hopes of reducing the floor's flex and minimise any porpoising it might have been seeing as a result.


Aston Martin AMR22 floor detail

Aston Martin AMR22 floor detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Aston Martin might not have had the most complex floor edge on display but it was eager to study the relationship between it and the track depending on rideheight, as it used sensors on the floor’s edge to monitor it.


Haas VF-22 rear detail

Haas VF-22 rear detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The Haas VF22’s arched floor edge features a cutout in a similar position to the one seen on the Ferrari.


Alpine A522 side detail

Alpine A522 side detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

No edge wing for Alpine in the first test but its floor did feature some interesting geometrical choices, including an abruptly rolled edge in the mid-section.


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