Lewis Hamilton has been thrown a world title lifeline following a directive from Formula One’s governing body the FIA to review the aero regulations introduced this year that have proved so ruinous for Mercedes.
Following complaints from the drivers culminating in a difficult weekend in Azerbaijan, the FIA has issued a directive covering the short and long term with the aim of reducing the bouncing and bottoming phenomenon that has characterised the season.
The move is bound to infuriate the championship leaders Red Bull, who have been impacted far less by porpoising and bottoming out, and who saw in the complaints of Hamilton and team-mate George Russell a political dimension.
“If I wanted the rules changed, I would also start bitching over the team radio and make a very big thing out of it,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said after Max Verestappen’s victory in Baku. “It’s all part of the game. You can compare it to a footballer who goes down in the penalty area and would like a penalty. If you were to change the rules now, then you reward some teams that didn’t do their homework properly. That feels unfair to teams that did a good job.”
The FIA claim to be acting on safety grounds following concerns about the ability of drivers to concentrate at speeds of 300km per hour-plus. An FIA statement read: “The governing body of the sport has decided that, in the interests of safety, it is necessary to intervene to require that the teams make the necessary adjustments to reduce or to eliminate this phenomenon.
“In a sport where the competitors are routinely driving at speeds in excess of 300km/h, it is considered that all of a driver’s concentration needs to be focused on that task and that excessive fatigue or pain experienced by a driver could have significant consequences should it result in a loss of concentration.”
Hamilton could barely walk following the Baku experience and was considered a doubt for this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix. Though he declared himself fit to race the new development will not impact events in Montreal, where the FIA will be logging more data and trying to establish a framework for change.
In the short term, the FIA will focus on the behaviour of the floor’s skid block and planks to determine a safe ride height. In the longer term, the FIA will work with the teams collectively to determine how to erase the bouncing problem for good. How this impacts on the championship is to be determined but it can’t have hindered Hamilton’s chances of mounting a charge after a start so bad doubts about his ability to compete with Russell had begun to surface.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff’s Canadian entre involved fielding questions about the decline of the seven times champion. Speaking to Channel 4 (via Planet F1), Wolff mounted the defence: “He (Hamilton) is the best that has ever been. Between Abu Dhabi in 2021, dominating the last third of the season, to four months later, you are not losing your ability. They have been given a car that is a bit sub-par, each of them tries to develop the car further. They have both gone a different set-up direction. Lewis [in Azerbaijan qualifying] was again very experimental.”
The experiment extended to a new floor configuration that didn’t work. This led strategy director James Vowles to apologise to both drivers for the bottoming phenomenon. “We pushed the package and our drivers too far, we are putting them into significant discomfort and we simply can’t do that again.”
Soon, they won’t have to. Though the bottoming phenomenon is a new development that followed as a consequence of solving the porpoising, it has proved just as brutal and will be in play at the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit, which is not dissimilar to Baku with its combination of long straights and slower sections. Thus does another pain in the arse beckon for Hamilton and Russell, physically as well as figuratively.