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At its launch and throughout testing the red bull maintained a simple aero philosophy. In a season when aerodynamics have been freed up, it was much expected that the Adrian Newey lead design team would come up with something clever. The update for the race shows this isn’t the case. After a strong performance moving back up to second in the championship last season, Red Bull were tipped to be able to bridge the gap to Mercedes for 2017 with the new Aero rules and a major update to the Tag Heuer (Renault) Power Unit. Yet the cars initial appearance, for all the surprise of the nose hole (which I explained here drivetribe.com/p/V5JVEhLoTxCUbBx5oUyHjA?iid=ETjpizhrTkG9VQC50ddfmQ), the RB13 disappointed in how sophisticated the cars bodywork appeared to be. Fans and media alike all therefore presumed the BIG update would be for the first race and that there was something clever the team were hiding. During free practice for the Melbourne GP, the Red Bull had new parts fitted, these were largely the bargeboard set up and some power unit updates. However, the update is far from radical and brings into question what the team are up to. Red Bull follow a unique design philosophy that’s based around the working practice of the team technical director Adrian Newey. Newey schemes out the car’s layout on a drawing board, not on a CAD screen. This creates the essential design of the car and then the layout is digitized and the rest of the design team work around this concept. Thus, it will be the fundamental design laid out by Newey that the aero team lead by Dan Fallows, will tackle and develop into a fully resolved set of surfaces for the finished racecar. This approach continues for all other areas of the car, such as structures, suspension, electronics and power unit installation etc. With the new rules widening the wings, increasing the diffuser and floor size and freeing up the bargeboard area, this gives huge range to try different approaches and add a hugely complex bodywork to gain more performance. However, the RB13 doesn’t go the complex route. This hasn’t only confused the fans and media, but also rival teams, who are at a loss to explain the innate simplicity of the design. Perhaps the complexity is in the Zen-like simplicity of the car? Have they found a simple way to get the air to work the way they want to, rather than cutting it up into hundreds of micro flows as with Mercedes? Also, is it the overall concept of the car that provides the performance, rather than the details?
Last season the RB12 chassis was a match for the Mercedes, perhaps solely let down by the power unit. Yet the comparison of the Mercedes AMG W07 to the RB12 is just as stark as with this season’s cars. The 2016 Red Bull was sleek and organic looking, whereas the Mercedes had slash cut every surface into multiple parts to control the airflow. The other overriding concept difference was the attitude of the car. The Red Bull raked into an aggressive nose down set up, while the Mercedes was nearer horizontal to the track. With the raked set up, the RB12 can create more downforce from the front wing and diffuser, while somehow being able to compress the rear end of the straights to reduce the drag of the car. In this guise the car had the aero set up good for corners and another god for the straights, perhaps this is the ‘complex’ philosophy that Red Bull have been perfecting. Melbourne update The changes to the Red Bull car for the first race are widespread, with the aero, suspension, power unit all different.
Despite, what the team might publically admit to, the car has had to switch its suspension set up. From mid-way through last season a complex inboard suspension set up, based around hydraulics to the springs and dampers, allowed the rear of the car to ride lower on the straights and then ‘pop up’ under braking. This solution working with the raked set up that is central to the car’s pace. Red Bull were later with this tech, than Mercedes and probably gained less from it, but several tenths of lap time is lost because of the reversion to the simpler older suspension set up, that can’t react on the straights in the same way. Looking at the car in the Albert Park pits, it’s clear the front heave damper, part of the hydraulic set up is not the later specification with the complex hydraulic connections.
On the aero side the bodywork changes are quite limited in terms of parts that have visually changed. Yet, we should be mindful, as with the car throughout last year, that changes are not always visible, the differences being in the minute detail of the geometry, rather than big visual concept differences. So, the key differences are the bargeboards and the vanes around the sidepods. The bargeboards are still quite similar, the large panels differ only in that they have a step formed along their top edge, rather than a diagonal line.
Around the sidepods the pod vanes are much larger and the upper section is quite large and mimics the sidepod shape. So, clearly these are small tweaks to aero and not a new solution.
Another aero factor is the floor around the rear tyres, according to the rules there needs to be clearance between the floor and tyres. An open gap in this area will cost performance as air upsets the floor sealing and the low pressure within the diffuser. So, this gap teams will want this gap as small as possible. In free practice, it was clear that Red Bull had gone as far as possible with this area. When jacked up, the suspension droops and the rear tyre not only contacted, but bent the floor. Clearly when resting on its tyres or at speed with the airflow pushing the car closer to the track, this clearance opens up. Going so extreme in this area, may be a response to the limitation in rear suspension set up, caused by the FIA technical directive over the winter. But, this is a case of how much is too much and perhaps the FIA might need to have a look at this area. Otherwise the floor and diffuser look much the same as the specification tested in Barcelona.
On the power unit, the Renault package had several failures over the winter tests. These were related to the MGUK, which is the electric hybrid device that provides the car with its 160hp ERS boost, which had issues with its internal insulation. These problems had already appeared on the dyno and revisions put into production, but the new parts were not ready for testing. So, the power units installed in Melbourne have the updates and the new Renault power unit appears to be a good step up from the unit raced in 2016.