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The cooling tweaks that opened the door for Red Bull's bold F1 sidepods

Red Bull’s aggressive change of sidepod concept with its new RB20 Formula 1 car has quite rightly grabbed attention ahead of the new season.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20

Photo by: Zak Mauger / 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.

While much of the focus has been on the visuals – and especially the inlet arrangement – what is actually just as fascinating are the changes made internally to allow the shift in design in the first place.

If Red Bull had not worked hard to alter the cooling arrangements hidden beneath the bodywork, then there would have been no scope for the designers to make such radical alterations.

In this respect, there’s been a significant change to how the team has positioned the various radiators and coolers under the RB20’s bodywork when compared with its predecessor.

This encompasses the position of these ancillaries not only inside the sidepod bodywork but also under the engine cover too.

To understand this, it would be best to take a closer look at the RB19 first, aided by an illustration of its internal layout. 

Red Bull Racing RB19 technical detail

Red Bull Racing RB19 technical detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Over the past few years, Red Bull has moved more of its cooling priority to the car’s centreline. In particular, it mounted a large saddle-style cooler above the power unit in order to take more responsibility off the sidepod’s shoulders.

This is not a new feature by any means, though, and many teams have ploughed this furrow down the years.

However, it seems to be something that Honda prefers, as each team that has been supplied a hybrid power unit by the Japanese manufacturer seems to head down that particular design route. 

That’s not to say the trend hasn’t emerged elsewhere too, with the area above the power unit seen as a sensible location in which to place coolers, albeit likely being regarded as suboptimal in terms of the mass being placed high up.

This could be part of the reason why we’ve seen Red Bull take more of a holistic overview to moving its ancillaries around within the confines of the engine cover and sidepods.

This is in order not only to meet their aerodynamic objectives but also fulfil their cooling needs and improve the distribution of mass around the car.

Red Bull Racing RB20 detail

Red Bull Racing RB20 detail

Aside from the reduction in size of the cooler mounted above the power unit (white arrow), there’s also a significant departure in the layout of the radiator and coolers housed within the sidepod, as they no longer simply lie tail down and slightly canted in series like they did last year. 

The new arrangement now has the charge cooler (red arrow) and radiator (blue arrow) sat in a V-shaped configuration atop one another. There is a more inward canter present to allow for a deeper midline cut beneath the sidepod from a bodywork perspective.

Again, this isn’t new, as teams have employed similar layouts before. The most recent example of this would be the Haas VF-17, but Sauber also has history in this regard, although you have to travel back to 2004 and the V10 era. The Swiss outfit coincidentally had Red Bull sponsorship at the time.

There might also be another weapon in the RB20’s cooling arsenal, as we know that the snorkel inlets behind the cockpit and beside the rear legs of the halo capture airflow (inset).

This is then ducted to the side of the engine cover (green arrow), but it also appears that the ducting lying between these two points is more of a housing and could enclose a small cooler of its own.

Red Bull Racing RB20 detail

Red Bull Racing RB20 detail

Photo by: Uncredited

Red Bull Racing RB20

Red Bull Racing RB20

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

So, while the focus on bodywork has been laid squarely at the inlet’s feet, it’s also worth taking a look at how the team is focusing its efforts on rejecting heat too, with the conventional rear-facing central engine cover outlet not the only means by which the RB20 is cooled.

There are also supporting roles for a small outlet on top of the engine cover’s spine and in front of the rear suspension legs further down in the junction between the sidepod and engine cover bodywork.

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Furthermore, there’s an interchangeable cooling louvre panel behind the aforementioned exit for the snorkel-fed outlet, which has also been blanked off during the test.

Meanwhile, the team also has the option of opening up a section of the engine cover’s gulley, with several gills appearing in this area throughout the course of testing.

Watch: Time for the Debrief - F1 2024 Pre Season Testing Day 3 Reaction

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