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The AlphaTauri tweaks the team tried to hide

Formula 1 car launches have long been shrouded in secrecy, with each team looking for new and inventive ways to deceive their rivals ahead of the actual car appearing at the first test.

The AlphaTauri tweaks the team tried to hide

However, this year, both of Red Bull's teams have gone the extra mile to try to keep things out of the public eye as much as possible.

In Red Bull's case, it deliberately did not release any images of its new RB16B when it conducted a filming day shakedown at Silverstone last week.

And sister team AlphaTauri appears to have tried to keep secret the details of a front suspension overhaul by the launch images of its car showing something completely different.

Having admitted in its press material that it had spent tokens on changing its front suspension, the images of the AT02 that were released did not feature these new parts.

However, any subterfuge the team planned was short lived, as outside sources were able to capture images of the AT02 as the team conducted a shakedown and filming day at Imola and we could get a proper glimpse of the elements they did not want us to see.

AlphaTauri AT02 nose detail

AlphaTauri AT02 nose detail

Photo by: Davide Cavazza

In these images, the AT02 had its new nose installed, which, in keeping with a trend that's emerged on the grid, features a narrower body and wide nose tip.

The front wing pillars defy the usual convention though, as they are placed outboard of the tip, perhaps in order to facilitate a slightly different aerodynamic effect than what the rest of the field have been looking for. However, they remain in line with how the car's overall aerodynamic map will be affected by the new rules.

In step with this, the team has also adjusted the section of the front wing where it connects to the neutral section too. A curl has been made at that juncture in order that the Y250 vortex that's shed from it is more attuned to the narrow nose and cape assembly.

Even more interesting than the nose and front wing alterations are the hardware changes made, with the team switching to components used by Red Bull in 2020.

There had been an expectation that Alpha Tauri would switch to the gearbox and rear suspension arrangement used on the RB16 without having to use up any tokens. However, it's at the front of the car where it has deployed this logic, opting to use the rather novel rear mounted steering assembly that's on the RB16 & RB16B.

AlphaTauri AT02 front suspension detail
Red Bull Racing RB15 front suspension

Alpha Tauri had previously mounted its steering assembly in line with the lower front wishbone arm - a common tactic deployed by the designers to minimise the disturbance that the suspension arms have on the airflow as it passes by.

Placing the steering assembly further back likely has some direct aerodynamic drawbacks, as the arm is placed in the free stream.

However, whilst it removes the obstruction created at the nose and chassis joint and makes it easier to slim the nose, it's also likely that it's able to give a cumulative boost to the ride height control that the team has already been developing with its pushrod on upright solution, with Red Bull making use of this throughout its 2020 campaign.

As an aside, the multi-link upper wishbone arrangement first used by Red Bull in 2019 (right) and subsequently adopted by Alpha Tauri last year remains a feature of the AT02.

What was Red Bull hiding?

Red Bull also took to the track last week, completing a shakedown and filming day at Silverstone with both the RB15 and RB16B in attendance.

Unfortunately the RB16B was kept out of the eye of external photographers, so the team managed to keep some of the finer details of the car out of the spotlight a while longer.

However, what has become clear from the studio shots is that whilst Alpha Tauri has made a concerted effort at the front of their car, Red Bull has concentrated on the rear, with the team appearing to have spent its two tokens on a new gearbox carrier.

The choice to spend its token allocation here is a belief that it offered it the most return - allowing it to slim down the coke bottle region of the RB16B and tie in with the changes made to its rear suspension layout.

Red Bull Racing RB16 and RB16B rear suspension comparison

Red Bull Racing RB16 and RB16B rear suspension comparison

Photo by: Red Bull Racing

The studio image reveals that Red Bull has rearranged its lower wishbone arrangement, placing it behind the pull-rod, rather than in front of it as was the case on the RB16.

This would also suggest it has taken a similar approach to Mercedes last year with the W11, mounting the lower arm as high and far back as possible with the track rod mounted at the front of the assembly instead.

Mercedes AMG F1 W11 rear suspension

Mercedes AMG F1 W11 rear suspension

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

This reverse layout used on the W11 was capped off by the mounting of the lower rear leg of the wishbone on the rear crash structure (red arrow) rather than on the gearbox carrier.

This results in the leg being placed up and out of the way of the diffuser ceiling which, under the 2017 regulation change, was allowed to start its rise ahead of the rear wheel centre line, rather than on it.

Diffuser rules

Diffuser rules

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

This has led to teams using a more abrupt transition in the height of the floor and diffuser (red arrow and green highlight) as they're shaped to maximise the performance that can be extracted from the regulations.

As you can see, this has resulted in a hump ahead of the rear wheel centreline (dotted white line), rather than the cheese wedge-like transition we're used to seeing.

This ate into the space occupied by the suspension elements above the transition and led to the teams raising the elements in order that they don't choke the airflow's route into the coke bottle region.

In response teams use upright extensions to lift the upper wishbone out of the way and allowing the lower suspension elements to be raised as a consequence. The limitation here though is the geometry and placement of these elements when taking into account the teams' desire to shield the driveshaft, as it can be harmful, aerodynamically speaking, if left exposed.

Ferrari SF71H rear suspension comparsion
Mercedes AMG F1 W09 rear suspension

The changes made by Mercedes and Red Bull are an attempt to make good on all of these problems and make further gains by positioning the wishbone in a more aerodynamically favourable position over the diffuser section of the floor.

Red Bull's adoption of this solution also goes to show the kind of potential it offers, with the Milton Keynes outfit having been reluctant to follow in others' wheel tracks in the past, instead preferring to forge its own path.


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Series Formula 1
Teams AlphaTauri
Author Matt Somerfield
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