Technical F1 Unlocked
TECH TUESDAY: How Red Bull cleverly interpreted the 2023 floor regulations to hit the ground running in Bahrain
How did Red Bull manage to overcome the 2023 floor regulations and gain so much pace over last year's car? Mark Hughes has a look, with technical illustrations from Giorgio Piola.
Red Bull’s advantage over the field in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix appeared to be even bigger than at the end of 2022.
Although the respective design concepts of the top three teams of last year are fundamentally unchanged, they have each found more performance – despite the new regulation increasing the floor height ahead of the rear wheels – as can be seen from the table below.
Bahrain 2022 vs Bahrain 2023 best qualifying times
|2022||1m 30.681s||1m 30.558s||1m 31.048s|
|2023||1m 29.708s||1m 30.000s||1m 30.340s|
What is immediately apparent from that table above is that Red Bull have made the greatest gain. Key to Red Bull’s performance last year was their aerodynamic efficiency, in that they created good downforce throughout the speed range with a lower cost in drag than either the Ferrari or Mercedes.
The inference from this is that the Red Bull’s underfloor was more effective than those of their rivals, the car thereby needing less drag-inducing wing area for equivalent downforce.
The challenge for Red Bull in 2023 has been to maintain that floor advantage while incorporating the regulation change.
Increasing the height of the outer edge of the floor ahead of the rear tyre by 10mm and the diffuser by 15mm was done to reduce the sensitivity to porpoising. The closer to the ground the floor edge and the throat of the underfloor tunnel’s diffuser, the faster the airflow of the whole underfloor will be pulled.
Manipulating the air pressure in this way creates more downforce. Increasing the permitted minimum height will have the effect of reducing that pull. So in trying to reclaim the losses incurred by the regulation change, Red Bull have sought a different way of accelerating the airflow through the underfloor.
It is permitted to use a single wing profile along each floor edge, and last year Red Bull cleverly interpreted that to place the wing beneath the floor, just ahead of the rear tyre. Nicknamed the 'blade wing' because of its shape, its placement there meant Red Bull could not use a wing profile on the upper surface of the floor edge.
The increase in height of the floor will likely have made the blade wing less effective than before, and a new way of energising the airflow has been found by moving the mini-wing to the upper surface – just aft of the single vortex-inducing cut-out permitted by the regulations.
The mini-wing will create a very small amount of downforce in its own right, but the more important function is that the low pressure on the wing’s underside will increase the energy of the adjacent vortex, inducing the airflow from the front of the floor to be sucked through harder, increasing its speed.
To get that mini-wing working as hard as possible, the sides of the floor behind it have been cut away, so as to give the airflow on the wing’s underside more expansion space. Although that loses the floor some downforce-producing surface area, the cut-away section enables the wing to work harder, which in turn increases the energy of the vortex, which in turn speeds up the airflow from the front of the floor.
Although the Red Bull’s enhanced performance will have been derived from many areas, the floor edge adaptation to the regulation change will have been a critical part of the whole.
As Red Bull explained in the official car changes document in Bahrain: “Regulation change enforced a geometry change from last year to raise the minimum height of the outboard edge. It is not a change the team chose to pursue, nor was it beneficial to car performance so the resulting geometry was aimed at minimising the incurred loss.”
What the regulations have taken away, ingenuity has more than clawed back.