Technical F1 Unlocked
TECH TUESDAY: The secrets behind Red Bull’s former world-beating F1 designs – 10 years on from their ‘quadruple double’
The advent of the hybrid power unit formula in 2014 lost Red Bull their previous dominance of F1 and paved the way for the Mercedes era. It took a long time for Red Bull to regain their status as F1’s top team but that era is now firmly in place as Max Verstappen chases his third consecutive world title…
The team’s previous era of domination – when Sebastian Vettel scored four consecutive titles – was based upon a landmark design, the RB5 of 2009. Although that car lost out to Brawn GP for title honours that year, it set the template for F1 design for the next four years. It also established Red Bull as a top team for the first time in their short history.
The title-winning cars which formed F1’s first Red Bull era each had their own crucial technology advantages over the competition as the regulations were continually tweaked around them. Here we take a look at them.
2009 – RB5
17 races / 6 wins / 16 podiums / 5 poles
All-new regulations for 2009 attempted to limit downforce, stipulating (among other things) a lower diffuser angle. This big regulation change allowed Red Bull’s design guru, Adrian Newey, the opportunity to fundamentally re-evaluate, wiping away the accumulated advantages of the bigger Ferrari and McLaren teams.
Newey re-introduced a feature not seen in F1 for years – pull rod activation of the rear suspension. This moved the suspension rockers from the top to the bottom, exploiting more fully the space available for the newly-restricted diffuser. It allowed the gearbox to be lowered and exposed the upper wishbone, which could be given an aerodynamic profile that linked to the beam wing.
The coke bottle profile of the lower bodywork widened out at the top like a fishtail, manipulating the air pressure to accelerate the airflow over the top of the diffuser, causing it to work harder. The nose was high at its tip, creating a big volume beneath to feed the underfloor.
That nose was U-profiled in section, reducing the frontal area of the car with the corner points respecting the dimensional requirements. This combination became the generic F1 car of the next few years, but in 2009, it made the RB5 stand out visually.
However, Red Bull missed the double diffuser trick exploited by Brawn, whereby an extra diffuser chamber above the standard one was created by a slot gap in the underbody. Red Bull later added this and a better version was then made for Silverstone, with the rear axle moved further back (and the front axle, too, to retain the same wheelbase) to create a bigger diffuser area.
2010 – RB6
19 races / 9 wins / 20 podiums / 15 poles / 2 world titles
The design aim of the 2010 car was all about maximising the area of the twin diffuser – so there was a new longer gearbox casing, increasing the area available for the diffuser.
Red Bull created a huge inlet to the upper diffuser by making an extreme angle on the forward lower wishbone (which had the effect of making any bodywork invisible when viewed through the slot from below and therefore legal), with the beam wing acting as an extractor.
The monocoque became even more V-shaped and thus created more airflow to feed the underbody. A step-up mechanism moved the gearbox up out of the way to create yet more airflow volume in the upper diffuser.
This all made the advantages of an exhaust-blown diffuser (which had been used in F1 on and off since 1983) greater. In this way Newey amplified the RB6’s aerodynamic superiority. The exhaust exited into the side of the upper diffuser, keeping it invisible from below and therefore in compliance with the regs.
Late season, Renault Sport provided more intricate software to keep the exhaust gases flowing to the diffuser even when off throttle. The exhaust flow allowed a lot of downforce to be retained even at the high rear ride heights seen at low speed. As such, it enabled Red Bull to develop the car’s aerodynamics around a high rake angle.
As well as giving the floor its own diffuser effect, it allowed the front wing to run in ground effect and therefore be much more efficient. This was all facilitated by the first use of FRICS (front-rear interconnected suspension) introduced on the car in Malaysia early in the season.
2011 – RB7
19 races / 12 wins / 27 podiums / 18 poles / 2 world titles
For this first year of Pirelli tyre supply (and the Drag Reduction System), the double diffuser had been banned, so exhaust blowing around the new single diffuser became even more important.
On the RB7, the exhausts exited low, ahead of the rear wheels. This energised the tyre-squish area, redirecting it to the diffuser, giving a huge downforce increase which even offset the losses incurred by the double diffuser ban.
The gains were maximised by the blowing continuing off-throttle. The throttles were kept open even off-throttle – pumping the gases through to the diffuser regardless – and control of the power was done electrically, with spark plug cut.
Red Bull’s engine partner Renault Sport developed some super-intricate software, which later encompassed hot blowing, whereby fuel injected into the exhausts off throttle was ignited, increasing its blowing velocity, though Red Bull didn’t use it until late in season as the rear tyres were the limitation.
This was the first Red Bull with a Kinetic Energy Recovery System (though with only 60% of the permitted battery size for packaging reasons). The car only failed to score pole once all season and won 12 races. It even won at the low-drag venues of Spa and Monza, previously bogey tracks.
The car carried so much downforce it could overwhelm the Pirellis on fast, long-duration corners. The team had to sometimes take downforce off the car just to get good stint lengths.
2012 – RB8
20 races / 7 wins / 14 podiums / 8 poles / 2 world titles
For this season, there were big regulation restrictions on exhaust blowing, causing Red Bull – which had gone further down the exhaust blowing route than anyone else – some difficulty. There were also tighter front wing flexibility tests. The more extreme of the trick engine software had been outlawed as well.
The regs defined where the exhaust could exit, much further forwards than before, theoretically destroying its blowing effectiveness. This led to the Coanda-effect exhausts, exiting at the bottom of the sidepod ramps.
Red Bull’s were more sophisticated than others, with a letterbox channel to direct airflow from the bottom of sidepod to an opening ahead of the diffuser, with the Coanda-effect exhaust flow coming in over the top. Also, there was a triplane of wings around the driveshaft-beam-rear wing arrangement.
This allowed the RB8 to regain a reasonable proportion of 2011’s rear grip. It wasn’t such a counter intuitive car to drive, so Mark Webber was much more competitive against Sebastian Vettel, who had mastered the technique to fully exploit exhaust-blowing.
The enhanced inlet tunnels seen from Valencia onwards meant that as the diffuser began to stall at the lowest ride heights, the floor sucked harder on the inlet tunnels instead. From Singapore onwards the car had a double DRS system, with channels inside the rear wing endplates which were revealed when DRS was activated.
The car worked brilliantly at all ride heights because of the inlet system and this allowed the DRS gain to be bigger. It enabled the team to get back onto the high-rake route and by India was working almost like the 2011 car despite the regulation restrictions.
2013 – RB9
19 races / 13 wins / 24 podiums / 11 poles / 2 world titles
This car worked the delicate 2013 Pirellis too hard in the first half of the season and it was only occasionally a winner in that period. But after the Silverstone tyre blowouts Pirelli reintroduced the stronger 2012 tyres and, from then on, the RB9 was unbeatable.
On this car the exhausts exited from a more sharply descending sidepod ramp and it retained the airflow inlet tunnels below. Renault Sport made a map which varied off-cylinder cut from one bank to another according to which way the steering was turned.
Sebastian Vettel secured the title in India, with three races still to go, and radioed to his team, “Remember these days. They won’t last forever.” It would be another eight years before a Red Bull driver won the title again.