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TECH TUESDAY: How Red Bull extended their straight-line speed advantage over Ferrari in Baku
As can be seen from the numbers in the table below, Red Bull’s spectacular performance in the DRS zones was again on display at Baku last weekend, where the RB19’s advantage over Ferrari was even greater than had been the case around the similar demands of Jeddah two races earlier.
At such tracks featuring so much flat-out running, teams are prepared to accept a reduction in the usual level of downforce as the concomitant reduction in drag is worth more lap time than is lost from the downforce reduction.
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But the choices extend far beyond just what rear wing level is chosen - especially when combined with the regular development of the cars. A case in point at Baku was Red Bull, who introduced a new wider but shallower radiator inlet in the bodywork which was not specific to Baku but part of the car’s aerodynamic development programme.
Red Bull vs Ferrari straight-line speed comparison
|Jeddah back straight||338km/h||332km/h||6km/h|
|Baku end straight||342km/h||333km/h||9km/h|
This change, which Red Bull claimed better manipulated the air pressure being fed into the radiator and therefore allowed a smaller radiator exit at the back, will have improved the car’s aerodynamic efficiency compared to Jeddah so any rear wing choices will have accounted for that.
By contrast, Ferrari had very few development additions on the car at Baku. Other than a deeper aerodynamic sheath around the rear upper forward wishbone to better align the airflow to the aerodynamic surfaces behind (brake ducts and diffuser wall), the only change since Melbourne was the Baku-specific low-downforce rear wing.
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The twin-pylon wing Ferrari used at Baku is from a different family of wings to that used at the similar demands of Jeddah. It was, in fact, exactly the same wing as Ferrari used in Baku last year, with a straight-edged and shallow main plane, cut away at the outer corners.
The single pylon wing used in Jeddah had a deeper-dished main plane which will have created more downforce and drag. In other words, Ferrari were running a lower downforce setting at Baku than it had in Jeddah despite the similar demands (Jeddah 80% of the lap at full throttle, Baku 75%).
Red Bull’s Baku rear wing was very similar to that used in Jeddah and was more in line with Ferrari’s Jeddah wing than the lower downforce Ferrari Baku wing. As in Jeddah, Red Bull had removed one of the two elements of the lower beam wing and Ferrari had trimmed the outer edges of its beam wing.
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In the comparison between Charles Leclerc’s pole lap and Max Verstappen’s second-fastest time for Red Bull, we can see that along the long 2.1km kinking ‘straight’ which completes the lap, the Ferrari is actually faster for much of the distance. This would be consistent with its lower wing level.
At the circuit’s 4.5km mark (which is about 400 metres after Turn 16 onto the straight), the Ferrari is travelling at 291kph, the Red Bull at 286kph, and although the Red Bull gradually gains parity in the next few hundred metres, it is only as the DRS flap is activated that the Red Bull suddenly has a big speed advantage.
In just that short stretch of DRS, the Red Bull claws back 0.231s of lap time. It claws almost a further 0.1s back in the second DRS zone before Turn 3.
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Because the Red Bull is carrying more wing area than the Ferrari at Baku compared to Jeddah, more drag is being dumped on the Red Bull than on the skinnier-winged Ferrari. The Red Bull always gains more than the Ferrari (and any other car) in the DRS zones, but in Baku that gain was bigger.
Leclerc said that in Melbourne the team had made good progress with the set up of the car, allowing them to run it in a different way to how they had in Bahrain and Jeddah. It’s believed he was referring to the team’s discovery that it was possible to run the car lower than before without inducing porpoising.
At Baku the Ferrari could be observed to be sparking its underbody more than at previous races. Running lower will increase the underbody downforce, meaning less rear wing will be needed for the same total downforce. It will mean a more aero-efficient car. But the smaller wing will mean the DRS will be less effective, as there is less drag to dump.
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Whichever way Ferrari configured it, the Red Bull still had it covered. Its DRS boost allowed Verstappen and Sergio Perez to easily pass Leclerc in the race’s early stages and its greater wing area will have played its part in how it controlled its rear tyre temperatures better than the Ferrari, allowing it to be much faster through the race.
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