Lewis Hamilton says porpoising injuries are unacceptable before Canadian GP

The Canadian Grand Prix has long been a happy hunting ground for Lewis Hamilton. The seven-times champion counts it as one of his favourite meetings but this year, while a win appears as far off as ever, Hamilton is at least taking some pleasure from the FIA’s determination to eliminate the porpoising of the cars that has been identified as a potential long-term health risk.

Hamilton said he has been suffering from headaches since the season began. After a bruising weekend in Baku, where the porpoising – a vertical jarring of the car – was particularly violent, a variety of drivers called for the FIA to intervene.

On Thursday the governing body issued a directive stating it would examine the problem and implement rule changes on safety grounds, in the short-term likely mandating teams to run their cars with higher rear ride-height.

At 37 and in his 16th season in Formula One Hamilton wears his years of competition well but at the circuit Gilles Villeneuve was explicit that the toll the porpoising was taking was severe regardless of age.

“I have not spoken to a specialist on [spinal] discs but I can feel mine,” he said. “I am a little bit shorter this week and my discs are not in the best shape right now. That’s not good for longevity. There is no need for us to have long-term injuries.There’s a lot more bruising in the body after the race nowadays, it is taking more of the week to recover and you have to do a lot more to do it. I don’t think that’s to do with age, it’s because the bruising can be quite severe.

When you experience up to 10-Gs on a bump which I had in the last race that is a heavy, heavy load on the lower and top part of your neck. I have had a lot more headaches in the past few months, I am not taking it too seriously. I am just taking painkillers, hopefully I don’t have any micro-concussions.”

The FIA’s position has dominated discussion in the build-up to the Canadian GP, with a majority of drivers welcoming the proposed changes. However, championship leader Max Verstappen, showing superb form in a Red Bull that has all but eliminated the porpoising problem, was less enamoured of a mid-season regulation adjustment.

That is not surprising given that a driver in a potentially title-winning car would not welcome any variables changing.“Regardless if it’s going to help us or work against us, these rule changes in the middle of the year I don’t think is correct,” Verstappen said. “I understand the safety part of it but if you raise your car you will have less issues.”

The problem was raised intently at the drivers’ briefing in Baku and Hamilton intimated that Verstappen may have simply been reiterating a Red Bull party line in public. “It’s always interesting seeing people’s perspective and opinions in different lights,” Hamilton said.

“In front of the media it’s one thing. In others, in the background sometimes people say different things. Ultimately safety is the most important thing. It’s not about coping with the bouncing for the next four years, it’s about fixing it and getting rid of it so all of us don’t have back problems moving forwards.”

The expectation was that an enforced raising of ride height would be detrimental to Hamilton’s Mercedes, designed to run quickest low to the track, but the British driver and his teammate George Russell insisted that it would not solve the problem and that a fundamental change is required. “We have raised the ride height and we still have the bouncing,” Hamilton said. “We can’t go any higher, we are limited by the rear suspension. The porpoising is caused by the disrupted airflow beneath the car.”

How it is dealt with by the FIA is of real concern for Mercedes and may prove crucial in their decision of whether to continue with this design concept for next year or opt for a different approach. Doing so would in effect write off any commitment to upgrading this year’s car since it would require shifting resources into next year’s model.

Verstappen had the edge in first practice in Montreal on Friday, topping the timesheets from Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, with Hamilton in eighth. In the afternoon session the Dutchman continued in fine form, beating Charles Leclerc into second. However, having had an engine failure in Baku, Leclerc suffered a further setback when the team announced he would be taking his third control electronics unit – one more than permitted – and will receive a 10-place grid penalty.

With Mercedes experimenting with changes to their setup under the FIA-approved adjustments to combat porpoising, Hamilton struggled. He was 13th and in the closing stages described the car as undriveable.