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The Red Bull F1 updates that helped it beat Mercedes at the Styrian GP

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.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, on the grid

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, on the grid

Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

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 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.

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 generate slight turbulence in the flow and improve circulation around the trailing edge of the diffuser and the Gurney-like flaps to improve the overall performance of the diffuser.

 

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, while Perez would continue to use 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 setup 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.

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 30 June representing the cut-off point.

In the opening half of the year Mercedes has only had 90% of the CFD / wind tunnel allotment available, while 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.

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