MONTREAL — A few days after he gingerly climbed out of his Mercedes with what he called "excruciating" back pain, Lewis Hamilton joked half-heartedly that he's a little bit shorter this week due to spinal compression.
The seven-time Formula One world champion is at the centre of the FIA's directive to reduce the "porpoising" — or bouncing effect — of cars this season, which received mixed reviews from drivers on the eve of Montreal Grand Prix weekend on Friday.
"I cannot stress more how important health is for us," Hamilton said. "I think we've got an amazing sport here. But the safety has to be paramount. I can definitely say that I'm a little bit shorter this week. And my discs are definitely not in the best shape right now. And that's not good for longevity."
FIA's technical directive stated any team that cannot fulfil the requirements of a stipulated "safe setup" for their cars will have to raise the ride height by 10 millimetres.
Red Bull's Max Verstappen, who has a 21-point lead in his world championship defence, disagreed with Hamilton.
"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 it's correct," said the 24-year-old, who sat beside Hamilton in the morning news conference. "I don't think it's correct that now they have to intervene and start applying these kind of rules . . . it is very simple, just go up on ride height and you won't have these issues."
The 37-year-old Hamilton posted a photo on Thursday of him stretching with physiotherapist Angela Cullen, and said it was the first day he'd been able to go for a run since Sunday's Azerbaijan GP, where he finished fourth.
The British superstar said it takes the full week between races to recover these days, "because there's a lot more bruising in the body."
"I have empathy for the other drivers that have experienced it in a bad way," Hamilton said. "When you're experiencing 10 Gs on a bump, which is what I experienced in the last race, that's a heavy, heavy load on the lower (spine) and the top part your neck."
When asked about potential for micro-concussions, he said "I've definitely been having a lot more headaches in the past months . . . I've just been taking painkillers."
Moving to "ground effect'' — where the floor generates aerodynamic grip — for this season was meant to tighten the competition between the teams.
Hamilton doesn't believe just raising the height will help.
"We have raised the car and we still have bouncing," he said. "Porpoising is . . . about the flow structure underneath the car."
When asked about the potential for longterm health risks, Verstappen pointed out that there are "a lot of sports out there where you damage your body in general.
"Once you retire from your career, you won't be like you were when you were 20," he said. "That is simply how it is. Football players have problems with their knees. All sorts of injuries.
"Is (car racing) the safest thing to do? No. But we are willing to take risks. That's our sport. That's what I love to do."
Verstappen said the porpoising problem isn't "nice," but that some teams have been better able to handle the bouncing effect.
"So, I don't think we have to overdramatize what is happening at the moment," he said.
Hamilton's Mercedes teammate George Russell, who was third last week in Baku, called the FIA's directive "more of a sticking plaster (Band-aid) than the solution . . . and for even the team suffering the least, it's still an incredibly aggressive and bumpy ride."
Russell said it was disappointing that several drivers who complained early in the season have changed their tune about porpoising after some decent performances.
"Now that their performance seems to be strong, they obviously don't want changes because it can only hinder them," he said. "It is obviously a bit of a shame to see performance prioritized over safety."
Formula One is making its triumphant return to Montreal after the COVID-19 pandemic saw the race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve cancelled in 2020 and '21. Sunday's race is sold out, and with the construction of two new grandstands, organizers are expected a record 320,000 fans over three days.
"It's going to be great to see some Canadian flags in the grandstands," said Montreal native Lance Stroll.
Nicholas Latifi, who was born in Montreal but raised in Toronto, will wear a special helmet to mark his Montreal F1 debut. He said most of his family has never seen him race Formula One live.
"It's definitely a very special feeling to finally have the opportunity to be here and get to experience my home Grand Prix," he said.
Hamilton raced to his first Canadian Grand Prix victory in 2007 and has captured six more titles here since, races that had him and his dad Anthony reminiscing about in a phone call earlier this week.
"So, it's great to be back. I can't wait to drive this track because the track is awesome," Hamilton said.
Hamilton spent part of his first night in Montreal shopping in a second-hand video game store, saying he had "an itch" to play old games. He bought a Sega Genesis system and the "Ayrton Senna's Super Monaco GP II" game.
"I was like, 'Oh, this is perfect,'" he said. "So I've been spending the last couple of nights driving the Senna game, but I'm not that quick on it."
"Porpoising issues on the game, or not?" Verstappen joked.
"No, no porpoising," said Hamilton.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 17, 2022.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press