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Analysis

Was suspension choice the unsung hero to Red Bull's F1 dominance?

Much of the credit for Red Bull's dominance of Formula 1 last year focused on its aerodynamic concept, with a low-drag car helped by a clever floor and downwash sidepods.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

Photo by: Erik Junius

But it would be a mistake to think that the RB19 was so good just because of downforce, as there have been plenty of indications that suspension's impact on its vehicle dynamics was a critical element of its success too.

This isn't to say aero was not important, as it became clear just how much of a trendsetter Red Bull was in this area last year.

There were times when this was especially visible, like the underside of the floor. When this website got a rare look under the revamped Mercedes floor in Monaco, following Lewis Hamilton's practice crash, it showed similarities to the 2022 Red Bull.

A later crash by Sergio Perez showed that Red Bull had developed the floor considerably in the meantime, including a more complex profile of the underbody and kick points towards the rear of the floor.

It was not only the floor where the differences lay though. Because the sidepods are a defining element for the appearance of modern F1 cars, most attention goes to them.

This all means that suspension choice has been somewhat overlooked, but the role it plays in the overall concept of a car and therefore in its success cannot be underestimated.

The biggest variability in this area is between pull-rod and push-rod layouts.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19

Photo by: Jake Grant / Motorsport Images

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19

In the pull-rod suspension, the rod is positioned lower in the chassis and connected to a higher point on the wheel assembly. Over bumps and kerbs, the rod pulls on the torsion spring, which immediately explains the name.

The push-rod configuration is the exact opposite. The push-rod, together with all internal suspension parts, sits higher in the chassis and runs diagonally to a lower point on the wheel assembly.

When the wheel moves up in response to the track, the spring is pushed into compression by the pushrod. The rod therefore pushes the torsion spring instead of pulling it when a car hits the bumps or kerbs.

With the introduction of the current ground effect regulations, the pull-rod at the front of the car made a return.

F1 had previously last seen a pull-rod front suspension in 2013, after which from 2014 to 2021 push-rods dominated.

Pull-rod and push-rod suspensions have different advantages and disadvantages, partly related to where the weight of the suspension components are placed.

The pull-rod gets lower into the chassis, which can be seen in the image above - and therefore affects the weight distribution.
Because the springs and dampers are lower in the chassis, the centre of gravity is lower as well, which is considered an advantage in F1 terms.

On the other hand, the push-rod is generally seen as more practical, and among other things easier for mechanics because of the accessibility of the springs and the dampers higher in the chassis.

More important than all of this, though, is that suspension choices have aerodynamic implications. As they are directly in the airflow, suspension parts play a role in directing the air towards the front of the Venturi tunnels and the sidepods.

These aerodynamic implications are the main reason why teams make different choices and have different views on the ideal suspension set-up: the suspension must fit the aerodynamic concept of the entire car.

In early 2022 - when the technical regulations were introduced - Red Bull stood out, joined only by McLaren, in opting for a pull-rod front suspension and a push-rod suspension at the rear.

It was the exact opposite of what Mercedes and Ferrari, among other teams, had presented, and also the opposite of what was considered mainstream to that point.

At Red Bull, however, it works with the openings of the Venturi tunnels, the underside of the floor and the aerodynamic concept of first the RB18 and then the RB19.

The pull-rod at the front helps to get the centre of gravity as low as possible at the front of the car - and a sharp front end is exactly what Verstappen likes.

Jake Dennis, Red Bull Racing RB19

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Jake Dennis, Red Bull Racing RB19

Asked how important the suspension choice was for the overall car concept, technical director Pierre Wache told Autosport "It's a big part of the concept of the car, for sure. You have multiple aspects that play a role in the choice of the suspension.

"You have the aspect that is affecting the dynamics of the car, plus some dynamics in a different direction, and then also the efficiency of the car. But also an important aspect is the capacity to operationally achieve the stiffness that you want to achieve."

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The last aspect is complex but important.

The current ground effect cars need to be as stiff as possible to get the most out of them because they need to run consistently close to the ground. However, the regulations limit the possibilities teams have with the springs.

Wache added: "In these regulations, they've removed the J-damper [inerter] and the ride aspects changed completely.

"You only have a normal viscous damper now. You don't have acceleration-dependent damping, you have only speed-dependent damping.

"Then the choice of suspension gives you more freedom to have softer springs, a different type of ratio or a different motion ratio of the suspension."

The suspension choice, combined with the restrictions from 2022 onwards, also affects how stiff a car can be run. And it is that stiffness, as Verstappen has pointed out multiple times last year, that is so important.

One intriguing aspect looking up and down the grid is that Red Bull was almost an outlier in its suspension layout choice – with only McLaren also running a pull-rod configuration at the front.

And this is ultimately a decision that defines the rest of the car because the knock-on impact for aero is so important.

As Wache admitted: "When you select [the suspension], more or less every aspect going into the flow stream has an effect on your aero."

The suspension choice therefore strongly depends on what the team wants in terms of sidepods and floor design. It ties in perfectly with what Verstappen has said: copying one specific component does not work, as the whole concept is aligned.

At the rear of the car, Red Bull opted for a push-rod suspension, unlike most other teams on the grid. Again, this choice depends on different elements.

Firstly, the philosophy plays a role mechanically. And secondly, it affects the airflow at the rear. Again, suspension and aerodynamics work closely together here, in Red Bull's case for example with the airflow coming from the downwash sidepods.

Red Bull's suspension choice is the exact opposite of what most other teams have, as the table at the bottom highlights.

Many teams did use Red Bull's downwash sidepods as inspiration to a greater or lesser extent during the 2023 season, but logically still had their own - and therefore different - suspension choices.

As a result of that, it wasn't the full (aerodynamic) Red Bull 'concept' - as the sidepods and other aerodynamic designs interact with a different suspension component.

It will be fascinating to see then if any other teams jump ship and go down Red Bull's suspension route in F1 2024.

F1 teams and their 2023 suspension choices

Team: Suspension choice in 2023 F1 season:
Red Bull Racing Pull-rod front, push-rod rear
Mercedes Push-rod front, pull-rod rear
Ferrari Push-rod in front, pull-rod behind
McLaren Pull-rod front, push-rod rear
Aston Martin Push-rod front, pull-rod rear
Alpine Push-rod front, push-rod rear
Williams Push-rod front, pull-rod rear
AlphaTauri Push-rod in front, push-rod rear
Alfa Romeo Push-rod in front, push-rod rear
Haas Push-rod in front, pull-rod behind

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