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F1’s super-stiff ground effect cars ‘not great’, says Allison

Mercedes technical director James Allison feels the super-stiff low ride height demands of the current ground effect cars is ‘not great’ for Formula 1.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14

As part of an effort by grand prix racing’s chiefs to improve overtaking, F1 switched to a ground effect rules concept from the start of the 2022 season. 

But the nature of the cars means that they produce their peak downforce close to the ground – which forces teams to have to run them as low as possible, and with super stiff suspension settings. 

This has left teams boxed into a corner with hard-to-manage set-ups and means drivers are left racing cars that are not much fun. 

Speaking about the difference between the old rules set and this one, Allison said: “You guys [the media] used to carry on endlessly about high-rake, low-rake cars as if that was the beginning, end, and middle of everything.  

“A high-rake car was around 140mm [rear ride height]. A low-rake car would be like 120mm or whatever. Well, both of them are stratospheric ranges compared with these cars.  

“These are all cars that are setting off in the 60mms. There might be a few millimetres of difference between them, but they're all just on the ground.”  

Allison suggests that the narrow operating window of the current cars leaves teams and engineers a bit too hemmed in in terms of what they can do. 

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Speaking about the difference to the previous rules set, Allison said: “Well, you could have a car that was a little bit more one-dimensional at tracks that are a bit more one-dimensional. So if there isn't a big speed range, then you could maybe set your car up such that the corners coincide with where your good bit is, and you don't suffer horribly for it dropping away either side.  

“But when you go to a place that's a bit more of a broad test of a car, like Austin for example, where you've got real fast stuff, some slow stuff, and some in-between stuff, and some decent straights, and some bumps, then that's going to test the bit where it's falling off the back end of the performance. It's going to test the end of straight [downforce] failure, it's going to need to stay strong in the fast [corners].  

“And it's hard to persuade the car to do all of those things with a set of rules that basically don't want to do anything except be near the ground.” 

Allison said that it was a situation that he did not particularly relish – and he reckoned that even someone who is enjoying success in the current era like world champion Max Verstappen is not especially happy. 

“I'm sure I bang on about this because it's been a bug-bear of mine, but I personally don't think it's a great thing. I don't think it's good having the cars operating, when they leave the garage, with that much space to the ground," he said, signalling a few millimetres with his fingers. 

“You get the person who's winning the championship by one of the biggest margins ever, and has every reason to love his car to bits, and I doubt he'll tell you it's a lovely thing. It is not like it was a couple of years ago.”

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