Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis
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Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

Revealed: The Red Bull F1 updates that left Mercedes on the backfoot

Max Verstappen and Red Bull’s dominance at Formula 1’s Styrian Grand Prix has left rival Lewis Hamilton in no doubts that his team desperately needs some updates.

Revealed: The Red Bull F1 updates that left Mercedes on the backfoot

But with Red Bull having been spotted unloading from the back of vans a bunch of new parts at the Red Bull Ring, Mercedes says it has already stopped work on developing its 2021 F1 challenger.

While Mercedes is convinced that its approach is best for the long term with a view to next year's all-new cars, it has left the door open for Red Bull to unleash design tweaks that have allowed Verstappen to pull away.

So let's take a look at what Red Bull has done to its car that has allowed it to step clear – both in Austria last weekend and earlier in the campaign.

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Serrated diffuser

For the Styrian GP, Red Bull updated its diffuser once more, taking the design it introduced at the Monaco Grand Prix and taking it to a whole new level.

The design, which adds a serrated edge to the Gurney-like flaps, was only on the outer corner in the first version of the upgrade.

The new parts that arrived at the Red Bull Ring saw those serrated edges wrap further around the diffuser's periphery, with the two flaps above the diffusers trailing edge featuring serrations from the outer corner to the central point under the crash structure.

Meanwhile, the sloping section beside the crash structure on the uppermost Gurney-like flap also has a row of serrations now too (much like we've seen Mercedes do in the past).

The serrations are used to help turbulate the flow slightly and improve circulation around the trailing edge of the diffuser and the Gurney-like flaps to improve the overall performance of the diffuser.

Red Bull RB16B diffuser detail

Red Bull RB16B diffuser detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull only had enough parts at its disposal to fit one of its cars with the new parts. With Verstappen leading the championship, it was decided he would receive the upgrade first, whereas Perez would continue to utilise the previous specification.

These constant small tweaks haven't gone unnoticed by Hamilton either, as he's hinted that Mercedes also need to dig a little deeper for 2021.

"We need to find some improvements, whether it's upgrading the wing or engine, I don't know," he said.

Mercedes had a difficult start to 2021, as it was on the back foot almost immediately when it arrived at pre-season testing. Having managed to sort those problems, nearly all of its gains have been found in set-up and understanding the tyres.

Meanwhile, Red Bull has been relentless, updating the RB16B throughout the course of the first eight races in order to put itself at the top of the standings.

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On top of this, there have been suggestions that it has been running its first set of power unit components at a slightly reduced output, owing to a vibration that had become worrisome when it first tested the car during pre-season testing.

However, with the introduction of the second power unit in its allocation, it has been able to fix that issue and unlock some additional performance - thought to be in the region of 10-15bhp.

This, allied to its ability to run with less rear wing because more of the downforce from its high-rake concept can be generated by the floor/diffuser, has given it a crucial straightline speed advantage over Mercedes.

Mercedes W12 diffuser comparison
Mercedes W12 floor comparison

With Mercedes having only brought very small developments this season (aside from the Monaco specific front suspension arrangement), most of which were corrective measures for the issues faced during the pre-season test, you have to wonder if it has any tricks up its sleeve, especially as we're still to identify where it spent its tokens too.

As an interesting aside, the year is essentially split into two segments in regards to the CFD and wind tunnel sliding scale, with June 30 representing the cut-off point.

In the opening half of the year Mercedes has only had 90% of the CFD / wind tunnel allotment available, whilst Red Bull has enjoyed 92.5%.

This 5% differential will now swing in Mercedes' favour going into the second half of the season, given it's based on the running order of the constructors' championship, and will give Mercedes a further edge with the all-new car design for 2022.

Given the onus placed on Red Bull's development in the opening eight races of the season, let's take a look back at what the team has been up to during that period...

Red Bull Racing RB16B gearbox suspension

Red Bull Racing RB16B gearbox suspension

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull spent its two development tokens at the rear of the RB16B, altering the gearbox casing and rear suspension in order to configure it to be more aerodynamically favourable for the surrounding flow structures.

Red Bull Racing RB16B rear suspension

Red Bull Racing RB16B rear suspension

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

A new winglet appeared on the underside of the RB16B's aerodynamically faired side impact protection spar during pre-season testing.

Red Bull Racing RB16B rear suspension

Red Bull Racing RB16B rear suspension

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

It followed this up with new outwardly angled fins on the juncture of the Z-shaped floor and two more just ahead of the rear tyre. These alterations worked as a way of correcting and enforcing the pre-existing flow conditions on the edge of the floor and the team's attempts to drive airflow across and around the rear tyre to improve the performance of the diffuser.

Red Bull Racing RB16B front nose comparison

Red Bull Racing RB16B front nose comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

A skirt has also been added to the section of the cape that lies beneath the chassis for 2021, boxing in an area of the car that would normally allow airflow to merge into.

Red Bull Racing RB16B new bargeboard detail

Red Bull Racing RB16B new bargeboard detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull unleashed a sizeable update for its bargeboard cluster and sidepod deflector array in Portugal, with attention paid to the fins mounted on the bargeboard's footplate, both vertical elements in the deflector array altered and the Venetian blind-like flaps also increased in number and adjusted according to their new surroundings.

The old specification sidepod deflector array arrangement for comparison

The old specification sidepod deflector array arrangement for comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull Racing RB16B diffuser detail

Red Bull Racing RB16B diffuser detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull also updated its diffuser in Portugal, slimming down the central transition portion (white arrow) to free up more space in the channels.

Red Bull Racing RB16B rear detail

Red Bull Racing RB16B rear detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

As a comparison here's the much wider central transition that the RB16B's diffuser featured ahead of the changes.

Red Bull Racing RB16B rear wing comparison

Red Bull Racing RB16B rear wing comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The furore around flexing rear wings began at the Spanish Grand Prix when Red Bull switched from the more traditionally shaped and high downforce rear wing it used on Friday to its lower downforce spoon-shaped solution.

Red Bull Racing RB16B rear wing

Red Bull Racing RB16B rear wing

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The high downforce rear wing reappeared at Monaco but unlike the rest of the field it wasn't paired with a T-Wing, as Red Bull is clearly comfortable with the balance of their car this year.

Red Bull Racing RB16B diffuser comparison

Red Bull Racing RB16B diffuser comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The aforementioned diffuser upgrade at the Monaco Grand Prix saw metal serrated inserts used in the outer corner to help with extraction.

Red Bull RB16B rear wing comparison, Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Red Bull RB16B rear wing comparison, Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Rear wings were under the spotlight once more in Baku, as the new load tests were due to be introduced just a round later in France. Red Bull introduced a new design though, retaining the spoon-shaped mainplane but with even less load present. It also reverted to a very plain endplate design, with the louvred hanging vanes, upwash strikes and serrated cut out all removed.

Red Bull RB16B rear wing comparison, Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Red Bull RB16B rear wing comparison, Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

In Baku it gave us a glimpse into its even lower downforce option, as it tested an upper flap that was cut back even further at the outer sections during free practice. However, for qualifying and the race it returned to a more conventional trailing edge, albeit without the Gurney flap shown on the trailing edge in the main illustration.

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