Technical F1 Unlocked
TECH TUESDAY: The three key features helping make Red Bull’s RB19 so fast
Red Bull have won the opening two races of the 2023 Formula 1 season and their rivals are playing catch-up as we head into the Australian Grand Prix. In this week's Tech Tuesday, Mark Hughes looks at the areas on Red Bull's car that could be key to the leaders' dominant start to 2023, with technical illustrations from Giorgio Piola.
Red Bull’s increased performance advantage this season has had rivals studying the RB19 very closely – even if this year’s car looks similar to last year’s.
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The keys to the car’s aerodynamic performance are likely those which will crack the whole code of these regulations for everyone else. There were already several unique features on last year’s RB18 – notably the greater curvature of its tunnel roof and the extreme angle of its front suspension’s anti-dive geometry.
While we have not yet seen the RB19’s floor, we can see that it has retained the extreme angle of anti-dive in the front suspension.
We can also see that they have enhanced the level of anti-squat in the rear suspension – by mounting the rearmost top wishbone link even higher than before, to a structure above that of the gearbox to which it was previously attached.
Those three features – the curved tunnel roof, the extreme anti-dive front and anti-squat rear suspensions – and the way they all work in conjunction, are likely very closely linked to the Red Bull’s great performance.
To make a front suspension which resists a car’s natural tendency to pitch nose-down under braking, the designer will mount the front leg of the top wishbone to the chassis higher than the rear leg. The angle between the two mounting points in the Red Bull looks to be around 45-degrees – which is extreme.
The Mercedes, for example, runs around 15 degrees of difference. The greater the angle, the greater the resistance.
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Incorporating anti-squat at the rear is about resisting the car’s natural tendency to squat tail-down under acceleration. To do this, the suspension designer will mount the rearmost top wishbone higher than the forward leg.
There are certainly downsides. Anti-dive will make it easier to lock the front brakes and will tend to lose the driver some feel in the braking pedal. Anti-squat will tend to reduce traction. So why would a team be increasing these? Almost certainly because the benefits it brings to the aerodynamic platform of the car and the way the underfloor performs at different angles of dive, roll and squat.
When a car dives under braking, it works the front wing harder, bringing it further into ground effect. This has the effect of moving the centre of aerodynamic pressure forwards. As the car then levels out as the driver comes off the brakes, so the centre of pressure begins to move rearwards again, and even more so as he gets on the throttle. These effects are enhanced by the ground effect tunnels incorporated into the cars since last year’s regulation change.
What it made for last year – for several teams – was a generation of car in which the floors gave an over-powerful response in how the centre of pressure moved. Under braking they tended to feel unstable yet could be reluctant to rotate in the early part of the corner as they levelled out and the centre of pressure moved rearwards.
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A more curved tunnel roof – especially at the throat (the lowest point) – would probably tend to make this transition less sudden and more progressive, even if it did surrender some theoretical maximum downforce.
A car which resisted dive under braking would be easier to endow with a more consistent balance through a corner, as the centre of pressure would not move so suddenly forwards. A car which also then resisted squatting under acceleration would help make that through-corner balance even more consistent and the car more driveable.
Moving the front axle line forward by a tiny amount (which Red Bull appear to have done) should also have contributed towards giving better control of the ‘wheel wake’ (the airflow which curves around the wheels and which is being directed to the tunnel inlets). This would also help with consistency.
Red Bull are finding advantages also from how much drag they shed when using DRS – another area where the RB19 has made gains over its predecessor. Comparing its end of straight speeds with its rivals in Jeddah, its advantage was small under non-DRS conditions, but dramatically greater when both used DRS.
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It would appear that the aggressive beam wing gives a more dramatic loss of drag (and downforce) when the DRS flap of the main wing is opened, as the flow between the two wings breaks down, and this in turn slows the underfloor airflow, thereby reducing drag (and downforce) yet further.
This in turn is allowing Red Bull to run longer gearing to take full advantage of the reduced drag.
The escalation of all these developments are making for a car which, on current form, looks even more dominant than its predecessor.
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