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Analysis

F1 2022 tech review: How Red Bull unlocked dominance from its RB18

Red Bull’s 2022 Formula 1 challenger, the RB18, will forever be remembered as a car that dominated the first year of new ground-effect rules.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18

Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

Giorgio Piola is the preeminent Formula 1 technical journalist. Born in Genoa, Italy, Giorgio has covered the F1 World Championship since 1969, producing thousands of illustrations that have been reproduced in the world’s most prestigious motor racing publications.

However, it would be wrong to say that such brilliant form was obvious when it first emerged, or indeed even when it first raced.

After having to give second best to Ferrari early on in the season, it was only an intense development push from the energy drinks giant that helped it go on to achieve a title double.

Let’s take a look at how Red Bull turned its RB18 into a championship winner.

Red Bull Racing RB18 front suspension

Red Bull Racing RB18 front suspension

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The RB18 featured a pull rod front suspension layout (adjustment point, right inset, red arrow) but retained the full width wishbone layout of its predecessors, albeit inverted (left inset).

Red Bull steering assembly

Red Bull steering assembly

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The revised suspension layout also resulted in the steering assembly returning to a more traditional location than it was with the RB16 and RB16B. This meant it was housed further back, within the chassis.

Red Bull Racing RB18 splitter detail with arrows

Red Bull Racing RB18 splitter detail with arrows

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The RB18’s bib featured a Belleville spring arrangement to help regulate deflection when the bib came into contact with the track surface.

Red Bull Racing RB18 floor stiffening

Red Bull Racing RB18 floor stiffening

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The RB18’s sidepod layout meant the lower SIS was housed within the floor, while the upper SIS resided between the sidepod inlet and the radiators. Notably the RB18 sported several beam-like supports, along with several internal metal stays, to help distribute the load across the floor.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

The RB18 that the team rolled out for the shakedown/first test at Barcelona featured a long, high waisted, deep undercut sidepod, with an open topped inlet and downwashing ramp at the rear.

Red Bull Racing RB18 sidepods detail

Red Bull Racing RB18 sidepods detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

However, the team quickly advanced its design with a swage (red arrow) added to the side of the bodywork, which allowed the airflow to perform differently.

Red Bull Racing RB18 rear detail

Red Bull Racing RB18 rear detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

A peek under the covers, without the engine cover in place, provides us a rare view of the internal flow conditioning bodywork sandwiched between the power unit and the external bodywork.

Red Bull Racing RB18 beam wing comparison

Red Bull Racing RB18 beam wing comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull approached the reintroduction of the beam wing differently to the rest of the field, as it opted for a bi-plane design, with one element stacked on top of the other. This allowed the two elements to work the airflow differently when compared with the sequential design (inset).

Red Bull Racing RB18 new beam wing comparison

Red Bull Racing RB18 new beam wing comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The team made modifications to the beam wing for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, as it looked to reduce downforce and drag for the prevailing track characteristics.

Red Bull Racing RB18 rear wing

Red Bull Racing RB18 rear wing

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The team also reduced downforce and drag with a new specification rear wing, featuring a mainplane and top flap that took up much less of the allowable box region than was available.

Red Bull Racing RB18 front nose

Red Bull Racing RB18 front nose

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

A look at the nose structure beneath the vanity panel, which finishes on the second front wing element, allowing the team to be able to make changes during the course of the season if necessary.

Red Bull RB18 front wing endplate comparison

Red Bull RB18 front wing endplate comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

A new front wing endplate diveplane was introduced in Australia and featured an ‘S’ shape profile, rather than the more simplistic curved element used before.

Red Bull Racing RB18  keel splitter

Red Bull Racing RB18 keel splitter

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Following in the footsteps of some of its rivals, Red Bull introduced a bib wing at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB18

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB18

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

A fantastic shot of the RB18 from above allows us to appreciate the various design aspects incorporated.

Red Bull Racing RB18 floor

Red Bull Racing RB18 floor

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Changes were made to the floor’s edge for the Spanish Grand Prix, with the inclusion of a Gurney ahead of the first cutout.

Red Bull RB18 floor detail

Red Bull RB18 floor detail

Photo by: Uncredited

A large blister was also formed in the portion of the floor under the frontal undercut, which when the floor was dismantled exposed a channel (red arrow).

Red Bull Racing RB18 floor detail

Red Bull Racing RB18 floor detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

An overview of the RB18’s floor when not attached to the car, which you’ll note features a similar Z-shaped cutout on the floor’s rear edge that we saw in 2021.

Red Bull Racing RB18 steering assembly (ARROW)

Red Bull Racing RB18 steering assembly (ARROW)

A look at the RB18’s chassis and nose shows how the two work in conjunction with one another. The pins on the chassis hold the nose and the cam-like adjusters can be tightened from the side (red arrows).

Red Bull Racing RB18 mini skirt detail

Red Bull Racing RB18 mini skirt detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull’s ‘Ice Skate’ solution can be seen poking out from behind the diffuser here. The metal surface was the team's interpretation of an edge wing, hung from the underside of the floor, rather than on the side. It was swiftly appropriated by others, as it realised the aerodynamic ramifications it presented but also how it could help improve rideheight sensitivity.

Red Bull Racing RB18 extra brake cooling detail

Red Bull Racing RB18 extra brake cooling detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

For 2022, teams were required to vent the heat created under braking via an inboard, rear facing outlet, rather than out through the wheel face as had been the case for several decades. Red Bull modified its arrangement in order to increase the brake cooling capacity for Monaco. 

Red Bull Racing RB18 cooling detail

Red Bull Racing RB18 cooling detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

A look at the elongated but narrow louvre panel on the RB18’s engine cover that the team used when additional cooling was required.

Red Bull Racing RB18 floor

Red Bull Racing RB18 floor

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The floor is a crucial performance factor under the new regulations, with the underfloor especially important in helping to deliver a consistent level of downforce over a range of rideheight conditions. Red Bull had several tricks up its sleeve in this regard, from the scalloped ridges carved into the forward keel section [1 and 2], the curved tunnels flanking it, the revetted surfaces used in the boat tail section [3] and the outer floor edge treatment, including the ‘Ice Skate’ solution [4].

Red Bull Racing RB18 floor comparison

Red Bull Racing RB18 floor comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

To help increase the floor’s rigidity, a floor stay was finally added at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, albeit Red Bull’s was much shorter, with the metal stay only traversing the gap between the outer floor spat and the ramped section.

Red Bull RB18 Floor comparison

Red Bull RB18 Floor comparison

Photo by: Uncredited

Modifications were also made to the floor where it meets with the chassis (red arrows) and to the shape of the cutouts in the outer floor fence (blue arrows).

Red Bull Racing RB18 beam wing comparison

Red Bull Racing RB18 beam wing comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

In combination with the lower downforce rear wing, and in order to reduce drag further, the team only installed the lower beam wing element at Baku.

Red Bull Racing RB18 new floor detail

Red Bull Racing RB18 new floor detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull followed Ferrari’s lead with the introduction of a new feature on its floor at the British Grand Prix. Protruding out from a cutout made in the floor’s edge, a horizontal fin was added to the side of the ‘Ice Skate’. This fin would then move vertically with the skate, rather than at the height that the rest of the floor around it might be moving, resulting in another tool to help combat the tyre squirt phenomenon.

Red Bull Racing RB18 sidepods detail

Red Bull Racing RB18 sidepods detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Steps were also taken to improve the aerodynamic and cooling properties of the RB18’s sidepod and engine cover bodywork at Silverstone, as the team introduced a shelf-like protrusion that worked backwards from the trail leg of the halo to the cooling outlet at the rear. 

This also changed the make-up of the louvred cooling outlet panel too, as it became shorter and sat astride the shelf.

Red Bull Racing RB18 new cooling detail

Red Bull Racing RB18 new cooling detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The update also resulted in a new opening being made in the engine cover’s spine at the Austrian Grand Prix.

Red Bull Racing RB18 detail

Red Bull Racing RB18 detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Some optimisations were also carried out on the floor fences in order to make them work more effectively over a wider range of rideheight conditions.

Red Bull RB18 front brake assembly

Red Bull RB18 front brake assembly

Photo by: Uncredited

The ongoing development of the front brake disc fairing continued in Austria too, with some additional volume added (red arrow) to help improve the temperature relationship between the various components. In the lead up to this, Red Bull had taken to coating the fairing and caliper with a different paint, too.

Red Bull Racing RB18 new floor detail

Red Bull Racing RB18 new floor detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

If you described the two outer floor fences as married in their configuration up until this point, you’d now consider them divorced, as Red Bull ditched the novel solution at the French Grand Prix.

Red Bull Racing RB18 beam wing detail with arrows

Red Bull Racing RB18 beam wing detail with arrows

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

To help reduce downforce and drag, the beam wing’s upper element was amended for the French Grand Prix (black arrow), while it’s also worth noting the oil breather pipework was placed on top of the crash structure.

Red Bull Racing RB18 beam wing detail

Red Bull Racing RB18 beam wing detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull finally relented and introduced a more conventional beam wing layout for Hungary, as it looked to increase how much downforce it had at its disposal.

Red Bull Racing RB18 beam wing comparison

Red Bull Racing RB18 beam wing comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

A comparison showing the various beam wing specifications that Red Bull had employed.

Red Bull Racing RB18 engine cover comparison & floor indent

Red Bull Racing RB18 engine cover comparison & floor indent

The bodywork between the sidepods and engine cover was amended for the Belgian Grand Prix, with a bulge added to help optimise the airflow’s passage. The lower suspension fairing was also adjusted to better suit the team’s requirements, with the indent in the floor (blue arrow) already in place to help matters.

Red Bull Racing RB18 rear wing comparison

Red Bull Racing RB18 rear wing comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

At the Italian Grand Prix, the team experimented during FP1 with a cutout in the rear wing to help reduce drag. It returned to its usual configuration for the rest of the weekend, though, as it didn’t offer the balance required.

Red Bull Racing RB18 diffuser detail, Singapore GP

Red Bull Racing RB18 diffuser detail, Singapore GP

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The high downforce beam wing layout made another appearance at the Singapore Grand Prix, as the team once again sought to increase downforce.

Red Bull Racing RB18 rear cooling outlet comparison

Red Bull Racing RB18 rear cooling outlet comparison

The challenges posed by the altitude and temperatures in Mexico led to the team increasing the size of the engine cover’s rear cooling outlet.

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