As the Red Bull RB19-Honda is now about to help Red Bull set a new all-time record of consecutive victories, it’s a good time to look at how Red Bull’s design has evolved since Max Verstappen gave the team their first title success of the hybrid era in 2021.

    In the Giogio Piola images below, we see a direct comparison of the 2021 Red Bull RB16B and the current RB19, in particular the Honda power unit installation.

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    The ‘21 season was the last of the flat-bottom technical regulations before the all-new ‘ground effect’ rule set came into force. However, despite the convenient name tag, even the flat-bottom cars derived their underbody downforce from the ground effect principle.

    The whole floor was used to create a low pressure area to pull the car down, with the forward edge of the floor running close to the ground and forming a throat, and the diffuser at the back accelerating the airflow. The closer the throat to the ground, the greater the ground effect.

    The current cars use tunnels either side of a central flat area – like the original ground effect cars of the late 1970s/early 80s – and these create a much more powerful version of the same effect.

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    Red Bull’s aerodynamic philosophy under the previous regulations was to run the car with a lot of rake, whereby the rear ride height was visibly much higher than the front. This accentuated the ground effect.

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    But with the current regulations, the throat is within the tunnel, much further back, and it’s therefore no longer advantageous to run a lot of rake. The rear of the car now needs to run low to accentuate the power of the throat and diffuser in accelerating the airflow.

    This has had a profound effect in the packaging of the power unit, as can be seen when comparing the two drawings above. As a generality, teams mount the mechanical components as low in the car as possible so as to lower the centre of gravity.

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    Other things being equal, a lower centre of gravity will increase the grip of a car, as the acceleration of cornering load to the outer tyres is lower.

    How the 2021 high rake RB16B (top) compares to the ground effect-dominated RB19 (bottom)

    But all things are not equal. Downforce trumps centre of gravity – up to a very high point, anyway. If an F1 design team is given the choice between more downforce or a higher centre of gravity, downforce will invariably win. So it is with the 2023 car compared to its ’21 ancestor.

    With the flat-bottom ‘21 car, we can see that everything is mounted as low as possible, but in the current RB19 (and with last year’s RB18 car too) many of the mechanical components have been moved up and out of the way to create space to optimise the shape of the ground effect tunnels on each side of the floor.

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    Red Bull’s competitiveness has increased year-on-year since 2020, and through two fundamentally different sets of technical regulations. A Red Bull victory at Monza this weekend would create a new record of 15 consecutive Grand Prix victories.

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