The simple explanation for Red Bull's DRS dominance in F1 Jeddah GP

When Max Verstappen blasted past Lewis Hamilton with ease in Formula 1's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, it left an immediate impression about the scale of Red Bull's straight-line speed advantage.

Soon after the race, Mercedes driver Hamilton said he had never seen a car have such an edge over the opposition as the RB19.

"I've definitely never seen a car so fast," remarked the seven-time world champion after finishing 25s behind the Dutchman in fifth, despite starting seven positions ahead thanks to the Red Bull's Q2 engine issue.

"I think when we were fast, we weren't that fast. I think it's the fastest car I've seen, especially compared to the rest."

Hamilton's comments prompted a great deal of speculation regarding Red Bull's top-speed superiority and just how it was being achieved.

While it is clear that Red Bull's car has tremendous aerodynamic efficiency, much of the focus has been on the speed boost improvement that Red Bull appears to get from having its DRS open.

Contrary to the belief of many, there can be and are differences in the potency of DRS between the teams. A mandated maximum gap of 85mm can be opened between the mainplane and upper flap, which is checked by the FIA using a spacer, but its effectiveness can be tuned by means of the wings' overall design features.

But rather than there being some trick element to what Red Bull is up to, the answer appears to boil down to something very simple: having a wing that was perfectly suited to the Jeddah circuit's demands.

Ferrari F1-75 DRS check

Ferrari F1-75 DRS check

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Teams create a suite of rear-wing designs for the variety of tracks that F1 visits throughout the course of the season. These are often categorised as low, medium and downforce wings. However, there are often many more options in the suite of wings available than just one type for each level of downforce.

For many teams, the resource restrictions and cost cap have resulted in a reduction in the number of bespoke wing solutions when compared with the previous regulatory era. And with a low downforce, high-speed venue like Saudi Arabia featuring so early in the calendar some teams didn't have a more bespoke option in their suite available just yet.

Red Bull did however, with the new wing following the same general layout as the version used in Bahrain but featuring adaptations to the mainplane, upper flap and endplate transitions to lower downforce and drag.

Furthermore, Red Bull only ran one beam wing element, which also results in changes to the behaviour of the diffuser and rear wing. This relationship also has a bearing on how the car performs when DRS is enabled and disabled, meaning it's always a trade-off between how the car will perform in traffic and whilst running in free air.

Trimmed flaps

While Red Bull's wing was perfectly suited to the high-speed demands of Saudi Arabia, its main rivals were all using modified versions of what they had run in Bahrain.

The main area of change at Mercedes was a trimmed upper flap. This would have provided a straight-line speed boost when DRS was disabled, owing to it producing less downforce and drag, but was unlikely to have offered any additional performance when DRS was open compared with the standard flap.

Having tested the trimmed flap during free practice, Mercedes actually opted to run its higher downforce option and instead focused its attention on changes to its endplate cut-out. This follows the approach Mercedes had at several races during 2022 when it opted for no cut-out in the upper corner and is something it can change quickly given the modularity of its wing.

This area of the wing is particularly sensitive to the drag being generated, as there's a strong vortex that's created as the various pressure gradients collide.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

The changes made to the regulations for 2022 mitigated some of this, to improve the ability for cars to follow one another. However, it's still an aerodynamic conundrum to solve and one the teams all have varying solutions for given they now have fewer tools at their disposal.

Mercedes had a new solution that it raced in Saudi Arabia, with the trailing edge of the tip section and cut-out panel trimmed back.

Wing options

Ultimately, there doesn't appear to be a big secret hidden away with Red Bull's DRS that the other teams haven't caught onto.

It was just a combination of Red Bull having a rear wing, beam wing and DRS delta more specific to the circuit, whereas the others adapted what they used in Bahrain. This is the trade-off, both in design and in terms of how teams manage development over the whole year against the backdrop of the resource restrictions and cost cap.

Others should find more performance, relatively speaking, elsewhere throughout the course of the season as they will have wings better suited for other venues. That said, it's also clear that overall the RB19 is head and shoulders above the rest right now, the result of all of its design features working perfectly together.

Previous article Wolff fully committed to seeing Mercedes back to front of F1 grid
Next article 2023 F1 Australian GP – How to watch, session timings and more