What does it mean when a Formula 1 car is ‘porpoising’?

So you were watching a Formula 1 race the other day and the very excited announcer yelled, “Look, the Mercedes car is porpoising!” But as much as you squinted, you couldn’t identify any aquatic mammal-like activity on the part of Lewis Hamilton. Fortunately, this last bit of F1 lingo is relatively easy to remember: porpoise is simply when a car’s aerodynamics cause it to bounce up and down like an airplane in turbulence. Interestingly, Formula 1 drivers haven’t had a porpoise problem in a generation – this very dangerous problem is due to teams struggling to adapt to the new 2022 car.

What is porpoise?

A “porpoise” Formula 1 car generates so much downforce that it gets too close to the track surface for its aerodynamic elements to work. When this happens, it stops creating downforce and quickly rises to a higher ride height. It then creates downforce, descends, and the cycle continues.

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