McLaren brought a further updated MCL60 to Singapore, but it was that team’s previous big update – in Austria – which seemed to have triggered a light bulb moment in other teams, judging by the very similar updates brought here by Alfa Romeo, Alpine and AlphaTauri.

    When McLaren lifted up the forward part of their sidepod – and with it the floor tunnel inlets – with the Austria update, it hit upon probably one of the Red Bull RB19’s secrets and gave the McLaren a huge performance boost.

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    Essentially Alfa Romeo, Alpine and AlphaTauri brought to Singapore variations of that same update. All four cars now feature much enhanced undercuts to the front of the sidepod, enabling a greater downward slope for the beginning of the tunnel.

    The downforce-generating tunnels are at the heart of the ground effect principle in this generation of car. The air entering the tunnel inlets is accelerated down that slope and towards the ‘choke point’ (where the tunnel walls are at their closest point to the ground) towards the back of the tunnel – before then opening out into the upward sweep of the diffuser, which returns the air to expand into the atmospheric pressure outside.

    The combination of shapes within the tunnel creates differences in air pressure and the air rushes towards the lowest pressure – which is the tiny gap between the floor and the ground at the choke point.

    The lower the pressure relative to the atmospheric pressure above the floor, the harder the car is sucked into the ground. The harder that airflow is accelerated, the greater the downforce.

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    The hazard of a choke point which is too close to the ground is that it can stall the airflow, reducing the ground effect. Accelerating the air as much as possible before it reaches the choke point makes the flow less prone to stall.

    The various cut-outs on the floor sides help to do this by inducing vortices which accelerate the air around them. The initial sweep of the tunnel from the inlets toward the ground also helps accelerate the flow, and the steeper the better.

    With their RB19, Red Bull were able to maximise that sweep by re-siting the radiators higher than on last year’s RB18. The reprofiling of the sidepod front this made possible also gave greater separation to the airflow used for radiator cooling from that used to create downforce.

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    Once the car reaches a certain speed the radiator inlets are no longer big enough to accept all the incoming air and so there is an airflow spillage down the body. Aerodynamicists seek to keep this spillover airflow from interrupting that travelling down the floor sides.

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    Red Bull have an internal channel for the excess radiator airflow with an exit hole near the back. Other designs use a ‘water slide’ channel to control this excess.

    With their Austrian Grand Prix update McLaren moved their radiators to create a steeper tunnel sweep by raising the front of the sidepods to create more volume beneath. For Singapore there was a similar increase in the downward angle of the tunnel between the inlets and the ground on the Alfa Romeo, AlphaTauri and Alpine.

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    McLaren in turn had developed further, with a widened water slide, enhancing its capacity to channel the spillover radiator inlet airflow. Simulation in the wind tunnel suggested this was worth over 0.3s of lap time.

    Now that more teams seem to be homing in on what might be Red Bull’s secret ingredient, are we set for a truly competitive 2024?

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