Since the new ground-effect cars went out for their first runs at the pre-season testing in Barcelona at the end of last month, porposing has become the word of the paddock. Much like it happened in the 80s, once drivers reach the high-speed straights cars visibly start bouncing up and down.
Teams are at work trying to figure out a way to mitigate this effect before going back on track in Bahrain, but it seems that McLaren is the only team suffering very little from it.
“We had a couple of test items which appeared to promote it a bit more, but then removing them reduced it, so you can fix it aerodynamically as well,” explained Technical Director James Key to MotorLAT and other selected media.
“I think where we are, it hasn't really been a topic for us so far. It's not to say it couldn't come back with further development, of course. We suffer from it a bit, but it's not a major concern or a major distraction for our drivers right now.”
So what is so special about the MCL36?
According to Key it’s the overall stability of the car and quite a bit of luck.
“I’d love to make out that we've been super clever but the reality is this is very difficult to simulate. It involves tyre stiffnesses, and the heave modes of your car. Because clearly, if it's in tune with the chassis, that's when you really see it go off when you get a natural frequency. There is front mass as well,” he explained.
“So I don't think it's entirely luck. I think the stability of the car does play its role a little bit in this, and how well the car hangs on to load in various sort of ride height conditions to so on.”
“But I'd be lying if I said it was by design. I think it's a phenomenon we're all going to get used to from track running with these cars. And hopefully we can iron it out as time goes on and learn how to remove it as an issue.”
Key, however, is convinced it’s very unlikely that it can be solved for good, as it’s an inherent issue of these kind of single-seaters.
“I think there's probably always going to be a bit of inherent ground proximity reaction like that, because they are ground effect cars,” he commented.
“There's still an awful lot to find in these cars and a huge amount to learn. So I don't think the phenomenon can be eradicated, because it's a physical thing. But in terms of managing it, I think it can be significantly less of an issue and a talking point after a little bit of development work.”
The key of managing this porposing effect lies in “a combination of setup and aerodynamics”.
“Certainly, what we found, is that you can have a combination of things which kind of promote it, and then you can back out of that. As you'd expect, more often than not, promoting it is kind of theoretically the right way to go with a setup or an aero development, but then you find that it's kicking it off a bit more. So I think there's something to learn,” he said.
“I guess it will play out as to how far you can push your setup or your aero development.”
Definitely an advantage for McLaren not suffering much from it, however, Key is convinced it won’t make a significant difference as it won’t take long for teams to get on top of the problem.
“I'm sure it's something everyone will get on top of. It's a topic because it's very visible, but ultimately, there will be solutions there between the setup and aero development where you discover how to manage it."
“I wouldn't have thought it would be much of a talking point after the first five or six races,” he concluded.