BARCELONA, Spain — Carlos Sainz is concerned about the long-term health impact of racing the latest generation of Formula One cars after experiencing intense stiffness in his neck and back after races this year.
New technical regulations for 2022 have opened up the possibility of generating immense amounts of downforce from the car’s underfloor aerodynamics, which had effectively been outlawed under the previous regulations by mandating cars with flat floors.
However, the new focus on underfloor aerodynamics has resulted in a knock-on impact for driver comfort as the teams have to run suspension settings low and stiff in order to extract maximum performance from the floor of the car.
What’s more, the new car designs are prone to bouncing at high speed on the straights as the floor gets closer to the track surface and the underfloor aerodynamics momentarily stall. This is known in F1 as porpoising and has been so extreme on some cars that drivers’ heads have been visibly bouncing against the cockpit headrest.
After the fourth race of the season in Italy, Mercedes driver George Russell said he had experienced chest and back pain because the porpoising was so bad on his car, and a number of drivers have spoken about how uncomfortable it is to drive the current cars.
Sainz believes the issue needs to be discussed at a rule-making level.
“We need to consider how much of a toll a driver should be paying for his back and his health in a Formula One career,” the Ferrari driver said. “With this kind of car’s philosophy we need to open a debate more than anything.
“I have done checks on my back and neck tightness and this year it is tighter everywhere, I am already feeling it. I don’t need expert advice to know that ten years like this is going to be tough.”
The current regulations were introduced to improve the racing spectacle by tidying up the airflow coming off the rear of the lead car so that the chasing car can run closer without losing downforce. However, Sainz believes future rule changes should take into consideration the drivers’ health as well as the show.
“To run as stiff for our necks and backs as we are having to run lately with this car mass, it’s a question for F1 and everyone to think about,” he said.
“How much a driver needs to pay a price in his career and his health in order to combat it. I am thinking long term.
“There is the interest of the teams, of overtaking, of the show you need to factor in the equation but what if we for the first time also factor in the driver? It could be interesting.
“It will get to a point that if we decide to go in certain direction the FIA needs to get involved. It’s still a new idea for me and I need to talk to other drivers like George that are struggling with the same phenomenon, to sit together to see what we can offer or propose.”