Technical F1 Unlocked
TECH TUESDAY: The design features that made the Red Bull RB19 so special
The Red Bull RB19 goes down as a contender for the most dominant car in F1 history, having won all but one of the 2023 season’s 22 races, setting new records for consecutive victories along the way.
Before the season got under way, it was widely expected that Red Bull’s big advantage of last year would be reduced into the second year of the new ground effect regulations as other teams got a fuller understanding. But in fact, Red Bull’s advantage increased significantly. How did they do that with a car which looked, at first glance, very similar to that of ‘22?
There is great significance to that similarity. Part of the RB19’s aerodynamic potential was baked into it by its predecessor, the RB18.
Adrian Newey, the team’s Chief Technical Officer, has a great history of coming up with great conceptual solutions to new regulation sets – the ’98 McLaren and 2009 Red Bull being just two examples – and while Newey is only part of a very talented team of aerodynamicists and engineers which form Red Bull’s technical group, he did have some valuable first principle inputs into last year’s RB18.
The combination of the aerodynamic platform of the car with the suspension platform and getting the two to work in harmony turned out to be absolutely the key to a quick car under these regulations – and it was Red Bull which understood this far better than any other team.
Newey actually designed the front and rear suspension of the RB18 himself, to give the sort of ride required to maximise the potential of downforce generated by the floor without inducing porpoising or bouncing.
“We put a lot of work into the fundamentals of the RB18 in terms of looking at architectural layouts, front and rear suspension layouts, trying to get those right, but didn’t really start putting all our efforts in developing the aero of last year’s car until quite late in the ’21 season,” Newey explained.
There was a lot of aerodynamic development potential built into the RB18, not all of which was fully exploited. The RB19 took the basic building block of the ’22 car and added plenty of aerodynamic development.
It was also a much lighter car, through more careful analysis of build and component design. The RB18 ended the ’22 season 14kg overweight (when its rival Ferrari was on the weight limit). The RB19 began this season right on the weight limit, which accounts for over 0.3s of lap time in itself around a typical circuit.
Liberating more aero performance from the car was facilitated by a few key changes, most of them not very visually obvious, but all of them quite powerful.
The central part of the RB19’s chassis, as can be seen in Giorgio Piola’s drawings above, was more vee-shaped in section than that of the earlier car. That shape continues through the length of the chassis and has implications on the mass airflow volume which the tunnels at either side can accommodate.
It also allowed the bodywork side around the front of the sidepod to be deeper. This could bring two potential benefits: it could allow a more powerful vortex propagation as the air beneath the radiator inlets tumbled down the sides towards the floor edges. This in turn would speed up that airflow, which plays a crucial part in how effective the underbody is in creating downforce.
It also facilitated a greater separation of the airflow being used for the radiators from that being directed to the floor edges. Red Bull used this to greater depth to move the radiator inlets upwards and to angle the tunnel inlets to give a bigger downward ramp.
The power of the front wing would also be enhanced by this chassis shape. With more space behind it, the airflow over the wing would be faster. “As the cars have become better understood the downforce has gone up and quite often that means a bigger front wing demand,” says Newey.
Part of the RB18’s great aerodynamic platform control was provided by an extreme degree of anti-dive geometry on the front suspension, minimising the attitude changes of the car as it brakes and accelerates, so in theory allowing it to be run lower, to the benefit of underbody downforce.
This was continued on the RB19, but in combination with a greater degree of anti-squat on the rear suspension. This was facilitated by taking the top forward wishbones from the gearbox and mounting them instead to a structure above the gearbox.
Such a combination of anti-squat and anti-dive could ensure even better control of the car’s attitude and in the process make feasible softer spring rates. The ground effect cars are forced to run super-stiff suspensions to keep them within the very limited ground clearance at which the tunnels deliver the most downforce. But this can induce the bouncing phenomenon.
Being able to run the suspension softer while still having good control of the car’s platform would be a valuable asset, again potentially allowing the car to be run lower than others.
The RB19 featured a super-strong DRS boost, especially on circuits with a relatively low rear wing demand. Rather than just stalling the rear wing, teams try to induce a stalling of the whole underfloor-beam wing-rear wing sequence. Red Bull would appear to have done this more successfully than any other.
The reason could be to do with the double kick of its diffuser ramp. Rather than the straight upward ramp of other diffusers, the Red Bull’s was subtly contoured, with a small dip along its length before a continuation of its initial angle.
It is speculated that this might allow the airflow to become detached from the diffuser’s ceiling when DRS is used. This would have the effect of partially stalling the floor’s airflow, reducing drag further.
At higher wing levels it could be less effective as the low pressure of the wing’s underside may still exert enough pull on the beam wing to keep the diffuser’s flow attached. But if a smaller wing reduced that pull by enough to stall the diffuser, it could give a big advantage. The Red Bull’s DRS advantage was always most obvious at low-downforce tracks.
Red Bull continued to develop their floor/sidepod combination through the year. The underfloor design – with a higher, more domed, roof than its rivals and a more angular ‘canoe’ shaping of the flat floor in between the tunnels on each side – marked out the RB18 from its rivals.
It was already a much more complex three-dimensional shape than those on other cars. Development of that basic theme continued, giving the RB19 the same great spread of bounce-free downforce at all corner speeds as its predecessor.