The Red Bull RB16 of last year’s F1 season showed a lack of stability at the rear and needed to be addressed for any title fight this season.
Last year, Red Bull’s RB16 experienced rear-end difficulties resulting in too many races ending in the pit lane or the wall, while all four tyres (or three on one occasion) of the Mercedes W11 carried them all the way to the chequered flag.
However, with the new 2021 specifications in place, and after the blinding performance in Bahrain, will the new tech behind the cars change the fates for these two leading teams?
Regarding rear-end difficulties, late into the 2020 season Red Bull found that the vortices from the wing, nose, and cape could interfere with each other. As Adrian Newey and co. know all too well, this can lead to a sudden reduction of rear grip.
With that in mind, their aim this season is looking to make aerodynamic developments that will improve the airflow beneath the car without any interference. This will ultimately increase the downforce on the car thus the rear traction. But with the new reduced floor regulations in place, this could prove a challenge to any of the teams…
Combatting the absence of rear grip experienced in 2020, Red Bull has reshaped the cape beneath the nose to now be smaller and originate further back in the ‘B’ variant.
Another subtle adjustment made is to the sidepods, causing a significant impact.
The sidepods have been reshaped slightly to have a more aggressive downwards slope, they house the radiators which are not part of the car that can be compromised.
However, the more aerodynamically-efficient this area of the car is, the more downforce the car gains through the following sequence of events: being more aerodynamic causes an increased acceleration of airflow which then means the diffuser can create a greater pressure gradient to reduce the pressure beneath the car floor, and ultimately increase downforce to give more rear traction.
All in all – a smart move from Red Bull.
Despite the ‘smaller’ efforts to increase downforce and rear grip, if one thing is going to turn the tables this season between the two leading teams, it is the combination of the change in suspension and the rake angle of the cars.
Ingeniously, Red Bull has managed to curb the restrictions that may have prevented them from taking a leaf out of Mercedes’ book and have produced a suspension system similar to the W11, where the rear lower wishbone is located behind the track rod as opposed to in-front.
This allows for more volume of space through which the airflow can pass between the inner face of the rear tyre and the diffuser wall – a stunning contribution to increasing downforce and consequently rear grip.
If the first race of the season told us anything, it is that Mercedes are not handling the reduced floor regulations as well as Red Bull.
These regulations are of enormous aerodynamic importance when it comes to the battle between the Mercedes W12 and the RB16B.
To understand why this is, you need to know three things: 1) The larger the floor of the car, the more downforce it generates, 2) the higher the rake of the car, the more negative pressure it produces beneath the car and, 3) downforce is a multiple of the negative pressure and the surface area that the negative pressure is acting on.
With that in mind, the long low-rake body of the Mercedes normally has the advantage of a greater downforce on the high-speed straights (due to their large floor area). But, judging by the results of Bahrain, the Mercedes W12 is struggling to claw back the downforce lost from the reduced floor regulations.
On the other hand, Red Bull appears to have it all under control as the high-rake of the car is producing enough negative pressure, and thus downforce, to overcome the missing underfloor.
And how better to demonstrate Red Bull’s marvellous innervation than turning to the stats.
At the 2020 Bahrain GP, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen clocked his fastest straight at 317.4 km/h, a critical 2.5 km/h slower than Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton who achieved 319.9 km/h.
This year in Bahrain, Verstappen managed a fastest straight of 313.6 km/h. This is only 0.6 km/h slower than Hamilton’s 314.2 km/h and 0.2 km/h faster than the other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas!
So, as it seems…Red Bull’s rear traction problem? Sorted. Mercedes’ rear traction problem? Only just begun.
Red Bull’s RB16B is demonstrating that with the power of sublimely engineered rear-end suspension and the ability of the high rake to compensate for the reduced floor area, Mercedes is not as untouchable as we thought.
Could this year’s engineering be Red Bull’s ticket to the top of the constructors’ championship?