Feature F1 Unlocked
TECH TUESDAY: Red Bull’s ‘gold dust’ that could help them tackle the challenge of Singapore
The Red Bull RB19's usual performance advantage is based upon its exceptionally efficient aerodynamics, namely it's superior downforce and drag trade-off. But, around Singapore, aero efficiency is not such a big differentiator as at conventional tracks.
With that in mind, how might that impact upon the competitive order at this weekend's Grand Prix?
Low-speed downforce, braking, ride and slow turn agility are the differentiators around this long, bumpy street track.
These are, of course, important at any track but the relative importance is greater here than at most other circuits.
In terms of sensitivity to lap time, each unit of downforce here brings over 62% more reward than Monza. In the downforce reward league table of the tracks all season, it ranks a close third behind Monaco and Zandvoort.
In terms of lap time sensitivity to drag, it is right down near the bottom of the table, ahead of only Monaco. Monza rewards each reduction in a unit of drag three times more highly than Singapore. A drag reduction that would be worth 0.6s at Monza would bring only 0.2s here.
Underlying the challenge of maximising downforce, braking, agility and ride are getting the tyres to work. This is even more of a focus around Singapore than at other tracks.
Just as high downforce and low drag are rewarded differently across the circuits, so too is the tyre’s grippiness. As a simplification, the grip generated by a tyre will be a multiple of its co-efficient of friction, the size of its contact patch and how much downforce is being fed into it (there are other complicating factors to do with the tyre’s construction and stiffness).
The co-efficient of friction (essentially how grippy the material is) is expressed by engineers as Mu. A 1% improvement in Mu is calculated as being worth 0.04s of Singapore lap time, but only 0.029s at Spa or 0.03s at Silverstone.
Singapore ranks as number three in that particular league table just behind the Hungaroring and Zandvoort. Baku is at the bottom.
Just because each team has the same three compounds from which to choose does not mean they will all have the same co-efficient of friction. To maximise that requires getting the tyres in the perfect temperature range.
Too cold and the tyre is not elastic enough and the bonds of the rubber to the track too brittle. Too hot and the compound cannot fully support the loads being put upon it.
Complicating things further, Pirelli typically permits a lower minimum pressure here than at tracks with high cornering speeds. Lower pressures increase the size of the contact patch and therefore the potential grip of the tyre.
They also allow more absorption of the bumps and a better ride (and therefore better aero performance). But with the lower pressures, there is more movement in the tyre – and this induces heat which, according to track conditions and car traits, can be a good or a bad thing.
Last year we saw Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari attacking the Red Bull of leader Sergio Perez hard at the start of the stints and in any restarts from safety cars or VSCs. But as soon as the Red Bull had got a few laps in its tyres came fully up to temperature and Perez was able to pull out a gap.
As always, a good front-rear chassis balance is performance gold dust, especially in the race as it largely determines how long the tyres can keep performing, which in turn has a profound impact upon strategy.
Downforce is heavily rewarded because it is at a premium with such low-speed corners (as a generality, downforce squares with speed). As ever, the teams want to run their cars as low as they can get away with, but the rewards of that are greater here than at most tracks. But so are the downsides.
With these ground effect cars the amount of downforce you can generate goes almost exponential as the car’s underside approaches the ground. But get too greedy with the highly-rewarded downforce and the car bottoms out, badly compromising its braking performance and the ability to ride the many bumps and kerbs.
The low tyre pressures also make the car more prone to grounding out if the ride height is too low. Any bouncing on the suspension is particularly bad news at this track given its adverse effect on braking performance which is such a crucial factor here. The lower the ride height, the greater the likelihood of bouncing being initiated.
It is in this particular conflict of demands where the Red Bull RB19 should be able to claw back much of what it might lose to the reduced effect of its superior aero efficiency. The car’s underfloor features a higher tunnel roof than others and its rear suspension has relatively long travel.
It’s a combination that gives a great spread of consistent downforce throughout the speed and attitude ranges. That is absolute gold dust around Singapore, making feasible a more adventurous ride height as the downsides are minimised.
That and its slow corner agility – a trait which Max Verstappen is particularly brilliant at fully exploiting – should ensure it remains a very powerful weapon around the Marina Bay circuit.