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Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

The updates that have helped Red Bull close in on Mercedes

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The updates that have helped Red Bull close in on Mercedes
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Co-author: Matt Somerfield

Red Bull has made significant changes to the RB16 in the races leading up to Portugal and its progress is clear as once again Max Verstappen pushed rival Mercedes hard.

The team’s development has been nothing short of relentless this year, with new parts arriving at pretty much every race in an effort to rectify both the problem areas that the car originally had whilst also unlocking extra performance.

Red Bull Racing RB16 rear suspension
Red Bull Racing RB16 rear suspension detail

At the rear of the car, Red Bull began the season with a very innovative suspension layout. The upper wishbone pickup point had been extended to encourage a larger anti-squat geometry.

Meanwhile, the rear arm of its lower wishbone was also pitched rearwards in an unconventional manner in order that it mounts to the crash structure, rather than the gearbox casing. 

This arrangement allows the rear arm of the wishbone to be pitched upward more acutely, providing its own aerodynamic advantage.

Red Bull RB16 rear suspension detailed

Red Bull RB16 rear suspension detailed

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

At the Eifel GP, the team honed in on this area as it installed a new rear upright that clearly drew inspiration from a design we’ve seen used by Mercedes and subsequently adopted by Racing Point this season. With it, the shape of the upright forms an inlet.

It is a fascinating development because, if we think back to the start of the campaign, Red Bull arrived in Melbourne seeking clarification from the FIA on the use of this exact design feature that had already been on the Mercedes last season. 

This led to Mercedes and Racing Point having to make changes to their designs to comply with the FIA’s interpretation of the regulations. They had used an ancillary inlet to divert airflow to the brake drum to cool it. In turn this helped alter the temperature of the wheel rim, and as a consequence helped to manage rear tyre temperatures.

Mercedes AMG F1 W11 rear brakes duct detail
Mercedes AMG F1 W11 rear brakes duct detail

The solution, after FIA considered the original concept to be contravening the regulations, required both teams to either blank off the inlet, or create a similarly sized outlet at the rear of the upright in order that airflow could simply pass through.

For Red Bull, the FIA’s decision was a double win as, whilst the clarification reigned in its rivals, it also opened the door to the possibility of it being able to use the upright as another piece of aerodynamic furniture.

As such, its latest upright design features a revised shape and includes this channel. It allows airflow to be directed rearward with more precision and, as a consequence, should improve flow to other surfaces, such as the brake duct winglets mounted behind (see 1 below, also).

Red Bull Racing RB16 old rear suspension detail
Red Bull Racing RB16 rear suspension detail

Red Bull has also continued to optimise all of the other aspects of the RB16 at a rapid rate too.

The rear wing has been adjusted in the central portion to reduce drag without compromising the amount of downforce that can be generated (4).

Meanwhile, a concerted effort has been made to tighten the bodywork at the rear of the RB16, with the Honda powerunit clearly allowing it to take advantage of the aerodynamic gains that can be made as a consequence.

Comparing the two specifications, it’s easy to see how much more tapered the lower section of bodywork has become, with the coke bottle region tightened significantly. This has also led to it being able to deploy a much smaller outlet too (2).

Red Bull Racing RB16 middle fins

Red Bull Racing RB16 middle fins

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The RB16 already featured some novel design solutions in and around the cockpit, halo and airbox when the car was launched, with the large scoop-like fins under the airbox inlet used to redirect the air that filters off the halo and drivers’ helmet. 

Red Bull Racing RB16 cooling

Red Bull Racing RB16 cooling

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Flaps also appeared on the transition ramp inside the halo, and more recently the team has since paired this with a very clever feature that uses an inlet on the outside flank of the halo to capture cool air (blue arrow) and then reject some of the heat created within the sidepods out of an outlet on the inner flank (red arrow).

This solution is favoured over the louvred cooling panel usually found beside the halo (inset) and likely improves the aerodynamic output of the sidepods when in use.

Red Bull RB16 halo fins

Red Bull RB16 halo fins

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

To further enhance flow in this region, Red Bull has now also added some small fins on the outer surface of the halo. These are added to the fairing and offsets some of the aerodynamic instabilities that are created by the safety structure.

While Red Bull don’t have the larger winglets atop its halo fairing that some of its rivals do, the fairing is designed to have an aerodynamic impact, something these fins will assist further with.

Not all that glitters is gold.

Red Bull’s progress hasn’t come without complications though, as its car has been a handful at times this season.

In a bid to overcome that issue, Red Bull showed itself to be measured in its approach and it started to conduct back-to-back tests of new and old parts to get a better understanding of where it had gone wrong. This even meant discarding some ‘upgrades’ when it turned out they were not giving the performance gain that was expected of them.

Red Bull Racing RB16 front wing

Red Bull Racing RB16 front wing

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

For example, it introduced a new narrower wing pillar design at the Styrian GP (V2) that was quickly discarded in favour of a hybrid version of the nose that featured the new nose tip and inlets but with the old pillar design.

It takes a lot of character to admit you’re wrong and turn your back on what is considered a new development path, especially when you know how much time, money and resources have been expended on it.

But, knowing exactly when to push on and develop, or turn back and try again, has always been a strength of the Milton Keynes based outfit.

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About this article

Series Formula 1
Event Portuguese GP
Author Giorgio Piola