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Analysis

F1 tech review deep dive: How marginal gains made Red Bull’s RB19 so good

The dominance of Red Bull’s RB19 was record-breaking in Formula 1, with only McLaren’s MP4-4 from 1988 achieving anywhere near its win ratio. 

Red Bull Racing RB19 full view

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

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.

But while both cars missed out on clean sweeps by just one victory in their respective campaigns, what is perhaps most impressive is that Red Bull had to do that against the backdrop of 22 events rather than just 16. 

Rather than being an all-new design, the RB19 was an evolution of the RB18, because standing still in F1 is not an option. 

So, whilst the core DNA and design language of its predecessor were still clear to see, the RB19 needed to take another leap forward in order to stay one step ahead of its rivals, especially as many had already started to mimic some of its aerodynamic concepts. 

Red Bull Racing wheelbase comparison (Anti-dive, inset)

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull Racing wheelbase comparison (Anti-dive, inset)

Red Bull clearly used the information gathered during the first season under the new regulations to make small gains that on their own seem relatively small. 

However, they added up to something much more significant as part of the collective, with several important alterations made to the car for 2023.  

The team clearly identified the position of the front axle to be one of those, as it not only has a bearing on the functionality of the suspension and an influence over the aerodynamics, but it also impacts tyre performance. 

The front axle line on the RB19 is a little further forward than its predecessor, altering not only how the front wing influences the wake generated by the front wheel assemblies but also the distance at which that wake travels before it reaches crucial surfaces, such as the floor and sidepods. 

You will also note the angle at which the upper wishbone on the RB19 resides (inset, highlighted in yellow), a design factor that many have attributed solely to the anti-dive characteristic, which will help stabilise the car’s platform and which is undoubtedly important with this generation of F1 car.  

However, it’s also important to consider the aerodynamic ramifications posed by the suspension fairings, with every team on the grid looking for ways to better utilise them, without compromising their kinematic performance. 

Red Bull Racing RB19 chassis section
Red Bull Racing RB18 steering inset

The sides of the RB18’s chassis were already tapered to help improve the airflow’s passage beneath the chassis, but the team moved to reduce the cross-section in the lower half of the chassis even more for 2023.  

Comparably, the RB19’s chassis has more of a V-shaped profile, with the underside of the nose clearly altered to work in conjunction with this. 

Another area where Red Bull built upon the platform and learnings created by the RB18 is with the design of its brake assemblies.  

Notably, the disc fairing was increased in size when compared with the RB18, which itself went through many iteration changes during the course of 2022 in order that the team balanced its performance goals. 

Red Bull Racing RB19 front brake caliper (yellow highlights RB18 inset)

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull Racing RB19 front brake caliper (yellow highlights RB18 inset)

The fairing, a solution used by many other teams on the grid, encapsulates the majority of the disc and provides a means to better control temperature transfer between the various components housed within the brake drum.  

It also helps to manage the heat exchange between the brakes and wheel rim, which in-turn alters the impact on the bulk temperature of the tyres. 

The caliper also underwent a design evolution for 2023, as the team continued to look for ways to better manage temperatures whilst reducing the component’s weight.  

Red Bull was not the only team to have implemented small tube fins (highlighted in yellow) on the caliper’s surface this season, but it maximised their usage alongside a redesign of the other features on the caliper, including the windows in its spine. 

Something on the side… 

One of the most talked about aspects of this generation of cars is the sidepods, mainly because they are a very visible component, making them easy to differentiate one design concept from another.  

Red Bull, along with Alpine and AlphaTauri, chose the downwash ramp-style solution from the get-go, while the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes opted for very different concepts. 

As the entire grid converged on an arrangement similar to those first seen on the aforementioned trio, there’s also been a swing towards another feature, first introduced by Alpine, that incorporates deep gullies and waterslides sidepod bodywork geometry. However, Red Bull has not succumbed to it, yet.  

Red Bull Racing RB18 new floor

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull Racing RB18 new floor

The RB18’s sidepods did have a feature that more teams are now starting to be swayed by, which is their unique inlet arrangement.  

The lower lip of the sidepod’s bodywork, which forms the inlet, sits much further forward than the upper lip, both increasing the aspect ratio of the inlet and providing refuge from the airflow directed through the undercut. 

And, whilst others used their resources on the aforementioned bodywork alterations, Red Bull focused on improvements that could be made to the design of its inlet to help unlock even more performance, both aerodynamically and from a cooling point of view. 

The first of these modifications came at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix as the lower lip was raised and the bodywork widened, which maintained the inlet’s aspect ratio.  

Red Bull Racing RB19 sidepods inlet comparison
Red Bull Racing RB19 sidepod detail, Hungarian GP

It’s a design decision that was taken to even further extremes at the Hungarian Grand Prix though (right image), as the team once again lifted the lower lip and widened the sidepod bodywork. 

This was not only in an effort to maintain the inlet’s aspect ratio but also as a means to improve the sidepod’s aerodynamic output in relation to the wake created by the front wheel assembly and how the airflow migrates around the sidepod to the rear of the car. 

The interesting aspect of the changes made by Red Bull is how it utilised the testing regulations to its advantage, given its reduced CFD and wind tunnel capabilities compared to the rest of the grid.  

To put this into perspective, Red Bull had just 70% of the coefficient at its disposal owing to its finishing position in 2022, whilst its 2021 cost cap breach resulted in a further reduction of 10%. 

Red Bull Racing RB19 radiator

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull Racing RB19 radiator

However, Red Bull used the regulations to its advantage here, as the sporting regulations permit teams to conduct an unlimited amount of wind tunnel testing on the development of power unit heat exchangers that reject heat to air, provided there are no direct nor indirect measurements of aerodynamic force during the test. 

This allowed it to focus more heavily on improving the efficiency of its heat exchangers without eating into its allocation, and then use the gains made to improve the bodywork’s aerodynamic output. 

It wasn’t just the sidepods that the team revamped as part of the Hungarian Grand Prix update though, as the engine cover architecture was also altered, with an emphasis placed on altering the shape of the outlet to create more of a downward facing nozzle. Additionally, the shark fin and upper outlet were also amended, with the shark fin elongated, whilst the outlet was shortened. 

Red Bull Racing RB19 engine cover comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull Racing RB19 engine cover comparison

Floored 

The floor on this generation of cars is doubtless the most important design parameter, and is often shrouded in intrigue owing to our inability to access visual confirmation of its appearance at will.  

Instead, we have to wait for cars to be stricken by a failure or crash out in order that they are lifted away by crane from the circuit so we can see underneath.  

Obviously, Monaco proved pivotal in this respect in 2023, as we were treated to images of not only the RB19 but also its closest rivals at the time, Mercedes and Ferrari. 

Upon one of these rare sightings, there’s a sense of instant gratification in being able to compare the various machinations of the given underfloor arrangements.  

However, in reflection, it's the comparison of those images with similar examples of the floors that came before them that probably explains each team’s route to their current layout more effectively. 

Red Bull Racing RB19 bottom view comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull Racing RB19 bottom view comparison

In the case of the RB18 and RB19, the design is one of evolution, although there’s clearly a distinguishable difference in the approach taken at the floor's edge, as the designers have been forced to mitigate for the changes made to the regulations in this region.  

Red Bull led the charge on the ‘ice skate’ solution that became prevalent during 2022 but the regulatory changes to raise the floor’s edge appear to have reduced the feature’s potency, leading to a rethink by everyone. 

In Red Bull’s case, it opted to use a more conventional edge wing design, occupying some of the space that had previously been cut away on the RB18 (yellow highlights). 

Red Bull Racing RB19 floor side detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull Racing RB19 floor side detail

And, at the Hungarian Grand Prix, we saw further changes to the underside of the edge wing, as it added a series of strakes to help improve flow conditions (red arrow).  

It is, of course, a design feature we’d already seen used by close rival Mercedes, as both cars had been hoisted high above the track in Monaco a few months earlier. 

Many had assumed that the transfer of knowledge from the RB19 to other teams would prove to be the most fruitful in this situation. But, as ever, Red Bull used it as a means to study features that were working elsewhere and apply them to their machine. 

The new strakes aside, this image also illustrates how complex the underfloor is on this generation of cars, not only in terms of the various contours being employed but also in how the designers are leveraging the different sections of the floor to work in tandem with the forward floor fences and help push the wake generated by the front wheel assembly away from the main, centralised flow. 

Red Bull Racing RB19 new floor comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull Racing RB19 new floor comparison

Meanwhile, on the upper surface, the edge wing is twisted along its length, with a C-shaped profile employed in the front section that sits above a similarly shaped cutout in the floor and helps magnify its performance.  

The twisted section of the edge wing has undergone several changes throughout the course of the season, culminating in another subtle change in profile and the addition of another vane to help with flow distribution as part of the Singapore update.  

The team originally shelved the update at that grand prix, as it returned to a well-known specification to aid in getting the car set up for a circuit that it was really struggling at.  

However, the floor re-emerged at Suzuka and remained on the car for the rest of the season. 

124-23 Red Bull Diffuser comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

124-23 Red Bull Diffuser comparison

Now, whilst the underfloor is clearly the key ingredient in unlocking performance for this new generation of cars, we must also remember that solid design choices made here are all for nought if the diffuser section doesn’t take advantage of them. 

In Red Bull’s case, it made a change to its design fairly early-on in the season, having taken inspiration from one of its rivals.  

This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, as teams routinely monitor the designs seen up and down the grid, in order to find small pockets of performance that they have yet to investigate. 

In this instance though, it’s a design aspect that’s been taken by a front-running team from one towards the back of the grid, with that inspiration coming from Williams. The design solution in question first appeared on the RB19 at the Spanish Grand Prix, with the upper corner of the diffuser pinched inward (red arrow). 

This has an impact on the airflow and pressure distribution both inside the diffuser and externally as it flows into that corner, and required the team to find the right geometries not only for the pinched section but also the diffuser's sidewall and the ramped ceiling.  

The change made to the ceilings contours can be seen in the comparison (above), with a narrower but longer expansion channel near the trailing edge that requires real estate to be purchased on the upper surface to accommodate it. 

Red Bull gives you wings, obviously… 

Red Bull Racing RB19, detail front wing

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull Racing RB19, detail front wing

Red Bull was known for expending considerable resources under the previous regulations on both front and rear wing designs, not only as a means of generally increasing performance but also as a means to cater for the various downforce levels required during the course of a season. 

And, whilst there’s still been a focus in regards to the latter, the team hasn’t felt the need to make significant concept changes here during 2023.  

That’s not to say there’s nothing of note, as it, like a few other teams, added a blade style winglet in the rear corner of the front wing endplate to assist in the generation of outwash. 

Red Bull Racing RB19 
 endplate comparison Singapore GP

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull Racing RB19 endplate comparison Singapore GP

Meanwhile, at the rear of the car, Red Bull followed in the footsteps of almost the entirety of the grid in Singapore, as it introduced its own version of the open-ended rear wing endplate solution.  

Two main groups have emerged in this design space, of which Red Bull opted for a similar route to Alpine, AlphaTauri and McLaren, all of which had already been racing a variant of its own for some time. 

The use of this open-ended design configuration, no matter which variant, is at its core a means to disrupt the intent originally imposed by the new regulations, which looked to better control the vortex formed at the wing’s tip by removing the forward section of the endplate entirely and have it merge with the flaps. 

Creating discontinuity in this region not only alters the design of the tip section, but it also changes the rear cutout and provides the designers with a new set of parameters when it comes to drag and downforce that can be generated by the wing.  

In Red Bull’s case, it opted to use the open-ended arrangement with its higher downforce configurations, in order to reduce drag. 

Rolling the dice… 

This leads us onto the team’s approach when it comes to lower downforce arrangements, of which Red Bull has tended to concentrate less on this season.  

Instead, it was focusing its efforts on balancing downforce and drag levels by altering its beam wing arrangement. More often than not, this resulted in just a single, lower element being employed, whilst a rear wing more consistent with a higher downforce configuration was installed. 

Red Bull Racing RB19 rear wing comparison, Las Vegas GP

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull Racing RB19 rear wing comparison, Las Vegas GP

The team also chose not to create a bespoke low downforce configuration for Monza, as is traditionally the case, likely due to it knowing how much of a drain on resources it would pose, for what might be a fairly negligible gain. 

However, whilst it’s unusual for a team to take this approach, even though it’s a specification we rarely see used anywhere else in a season, many teams chose to use that same rear wing option in Las Vegas, as it suited the circuit layout and the challenges posed by it.  

This left Red Bull in a slightly sticky spot, as without a bespoke low downforce option on tap at the new venue, it still needed to find a way to boost performance.  

In response to this challenge, it decided to set its cars up with different configurations, with an alternative upper flap variant used on Verstappen’s RB19, whereby the trailing edge was trimmed and a Gurney added. 

Red Bull Racing RB19 full view, United States GP
Red Bull Racing RB19 full view, Las Vegas GP

Red Bull’s last update of the season arrived at the Mexican Grand Prix but was only a new cooling outlet panel for the engine cover, in order to help cope with the temperatures the car was exposed to at altitude.  

Therefore, the last significant updates for the RB19 arrived at the Singapore Grand Prix, leaving livery refreshes at the US and Las Vegas Grand Prix the only other changes made to the car in the last five rounds of the championship. 

And, whilst the rest of the grid will be looking to close the gap to Red Bull in 2024, it’s unlikely that we’ll see it make too bold a step with the RB20.  

Instead, as has tended to be the case with Red Bull down the years, it’ll be about refinement and chipping away at the underlying performance that can be gained during this regulatory era. 

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