Mercedes is starting a debate about the ground effect cars. With the reference that the constant ups and downs are not pleasant for the drivers and that they are bad for their health. The competition reacts with a cold. The FIA intends to take on the issue.
It was noticeable. After each session, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell complained about their cars. The drivers didn't like the hopping over the many bumps of the Baku City Circuit. It shook her like she was in a washing machine. Her silver arrow moved up and down at such a high frequency that it hurt just to watch.
Lewis Hamilton complained about back pain. He gritted his teeth to even get through the 51 laps of the race. "I can't put into words the pain you feel, especially on the straight here." After the end of the race he was helped out of the car. Whether he needed the help or not, the picture made an impact. Teammate Russell reported a 90-minute battle through every corner and down every straight. And the young Englishman had already raised the question of whether Formula 1 can continue like this in the next four years - and wants to.
Sainz is also complaining
Russell believes that the low-flying aircraft will inevitably be levered out by a bump at some point, and a serious accident could then occur. Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff supported his drivers after the Azerbaijan GP. "Lewis is perhaps the driver who is hit the hardest." This is because the record winner often drives experimental setups of a more radical nature in the service of the team.
"We are at a point where it's not just about the muscles. The hits go to the core. We have found that forces of up to 6g act on the drivers. That goes on the spine, the hips and has certain effects on the head," believes Wolff. With these statements, the team boss and driver start a debate about the modern ground effect cars. They have to be driven deeper and harder than the previous generation until 2021 in order to achieve a lot of contact pressure via the underbody.
The spring travel has been reduced. The chiropractor has to go. Thoughtful words can also be heard from Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz. Maybe not without ulterior motives. Since switching to the new cars, the Spaniard has been behind his teammate Charles Leclerc – by several tenths per lap. In the paddock, Mercedes is also assumed to have a certain agenda.
FIA is conducting investigations
But one wonders what the subscription world champions wanted to achieve. A mandatory increase in ground clearance, for example, would in all likelihood not help Mercedes. Because the aerodynamics concept only works when the car is crouching on the ground and when there are no bumps that could cause unrest in the chassis.Ferrari and Red Bull have much more good-natured cars with a wider range of work. Maybe Mercedes wants changes to springs and dampers. As of this season, these elements are conventional. Last year, the Silver Arrow had the most sophisticated suspension system.
It is said that the FIA takes the concerns seriously. The world association wants to launch an investigation to get to the bottom of the matter, reports the paddock radio. The FIA is trying to talk to the drivers and the technical directors. The latter probably falls on deaf ears. Nobody will back down voluntarily. Ten millimeters more ground clearance cost several points of downforce. And nobody wants to give it away.
The FIA, it is said, wants to get a comprehensive picture, consult specialists and collect data from other racing series. For example from rallying, where the drivers don't drive on flat tracks, but where the speeds are lower.
Only three drivers speak
Mercedes team boss Wolff hints that the drivers are in agreement. "As far as I understand, almost everyone has said that something has to happen." You hear the opposite from the drivers' briefings from other sources. Only three pilots are said to have made really critical and active comments on Friday after the two training sessions. Hamilton is said not to have been one of them. As the English say, most people don't seem to be as concerned with the subject of bouncing and bottoming as Russell or Sainz, for example.
Why should it? One has the feeling that for the most part only Mercedes is really bothered with the side effects of the ground effect cars. Aston Martin found a way to drive softer with its B version. Red Bull doesn't affect rocking that much anyway. Sports director Helmut Marko explains: "It doesn't seriously affect our drivers." Ferrari has some up and down movement in the vehicle but is able to control it better. Or it hardly costs any performance. It's not as high frequency as Mercedes.
Alfa Romeo had no bouncing at all in Baku. Alpine can more or less turn it on and off. McLaren only has it to a small extent, Alpha Tauri better in control than at the start of the season, Haas is coping by increasing the ride height and Williams just doesn't have enough downforce. It must be said that several pilots complained about the Baku race. For example Alpha Tauri pilot Pierre Gasly. The problem in Baku, however, was less about the aerodynamic bouncing and more about the bumps, i.e. the bottoming - this brutal touching down with bumps. The Baku City Circuit is a mogul track. Poison with rock-hard chassis.
"Should Mercedes drive higher?"
The competition takes the Mercedes statements with a dose of sarcasm. "They should just drive higher," says the opponents.According to team manager Toto Wolff, this is not easily representable. "At high speeds, our car hits bump stops. Even if we jacked it up, the bouncing would remain somewhere."
A voice from the paddock says: "If everyone had the problem, it would be a different story. Then Formula 1 would have to do something. Especially if it would pose a danger. Here it mainly affects Mercedes." Sounds like this: Why should you change anything then?