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Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis
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Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

Under the skin of Red Bull’s F1 quest to catch Mercedes

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Under the skin of Red Bull’s F1 quest to catch Mercedes
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Red Bull wanted to be quick out of the blocks in 2020, but has openly admitted that the RB16 hasn’t been good enough in the opening rounds of the championship.

Pre-season testing highlighted how nervous the car could be under certain conditions. However, it reacted swiftly to arrest that slide, with updates arriving weekly throughout the course of the first five races.

Until Silverstone’s British GP, the team had been fighting an instability issue that made the car difficult to manage for its drivers, something that had even more of an impact when the car needed to be driven on the edge, especially during qualifying.

Red Bull Racing RB16 front wing

Red Bull Racing RB16 front wing

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

In an attempt to fix these issues there was a two-pronged attack at the front of the car. Red Bull introduced the third iteration of its nose solution, with the new design comprising features present in the two designs that had gone before in 2020. 

The current nose uses the original design that the team started the season with (V1) and had switched back to when their second design (V2) hadn’t lived up to expectations. However, the ramped section in the central portion of the structure now has just one inlet like the second version, rather than the two that featured previously.

The team has a new front wing design, which features an entirely re-profiled footplate complete with a Gurney tab on the trailing edge. The footplate’s shape is subtly different at the front end when compared with its predecessor, but more importantly it encroaches on the endplate’s territory on the upper surface, creating more of a curvature.

On the underside, the internal wall of the endplate steals back some of that real estate in order that the flow under that section of the wing remains relatively unchanged. These changes will alter how the pressure, airflow and vortex structures build in that region, but it will be fascinating to see the underside of the wing, when possible, over the next few races to really see the various inflection points.

The overall intention of this change is clear: Alter the wake turbulence created by the front tyre and improve the performance of the car downstream. But it’s also about improving how the airflow is pushed across and around the front tyres. This is particularly crucial when we consider how the deformation of the tyre can destabilise those airflow structures, reducing the overall performance of the car.

These changes have been made to try and improve the RB16’s sensitivity under certain conditions but reducing the car's absolute peak performance as a consequence.

Keeping cool under pressure

Red Bull Racing RB16 cooling

Red Bull Racing RB16 cooling

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

An interesting update arrived on the last day of pre-season testing when Red Bull added an entirely new panel in the transition region around the tail of the halo (old configuration inset). Whilst the inlet itself is noteworthy, as usually this region is reserved for outlets, the other aspect of the design change to note is the longer ramped section (white arrow). The inlet tends to go away when track temperatures go down, but the length of that bodywork remains unchanged.

This appeared to be an effort to add additional cooling support for the Honda power unit and its ancillaries, but more modifications have been made – so it’s clear that this is part of a wider scheme by the team to improve aerodynamic flow through over and around the sidepods too.

Red Bull Racing RB16 cooling

Red Bull Racing RB16 cooling

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

This has been supported, when needed, by an additional outlet in a cleverly-positioned region inboard of the halo structure. This will not only eject heat from the sidepod into a less aerodynamically-sensitive region comparative to the solution used last season (inset), it also takes some of the responsibility away from the main cooling outlet at the rear of the car too.

It also remains open on the car even when the team opts not to use the additional inlet, further establishing its role in evacuating heat from the sidepods, rather than it just being considered an airflow loop.

This has also allowed the team to make some subtle changes to the sidepods’ contouring and the size and position of the rear cooling outlets in the last few races too, improving their aerodynamic output both internally and externally.

Rear-ended changes

Red Bull Racing RB16 rear wing comparison

Red Bull Racing RB16 rear wing comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The team has also produced a string of different rear wing configurations, with various levels of downforce and drag normally suited to the given track characteristics. Although during the difficult opening phase of the season, especially when light on the number of parts available, we have seen these traded between both drivers as they searched for their ideal balance.

The car of Alexander Albon, Red Bull Racing RB16

The car of Alexander Albon, Red Bull Racing RB16

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Alexander Albon, Red Bull Racing RB16

Alexander Albon, Red Bull Racing RB16

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

Red Bull added additional winglets in the central stack of the diffuser at the second pre-season test (red arrow, left image) and a pair of winglets behind the rear leg of the lower wishbone were added in Austria (white arrow). 

These are likely acting as more of a supporting role to the lower rear suspension and driveshaft fairings (red arrows, right image), which are stacked in series and upwardly angled to help influence flow at the rear of the car and improve diffuser extraction.

For the higher downforce venues the team don’t just have the usual upper T-Wing available to them, but a lower one too (blue arrow, left image), which is carefully shaped in order to work in conjunction with the upper wishbone leg and the shape of the cooling outlet.

Still pushing hard to catch those Mercs...

The RB16 certainly seems to be in a much better place than it was just a few races ago but the search for more performance continues apace for both Red Bull and Honda, as they look to reel in the clear advantage that Mercedes still possess over them and the rest of the field. 

Check out some of the stunning photos that our photographers have been able to capture over the course of the first six races that encapsulate the technicality of the RB16.

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Alexander Albon, Red Bull Racing RB16

Alexander Albon, Red Bull Racing RB16
1/14

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Alexander Albon, Red Bull Racing RB16

Alexander Albon, Red Bull Racing RB16
2/14

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16
3/14

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16
4/14

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Sparks fly from Alex Albon, Red Bull Racing RB16

Sparks fly from Alex Albon, Red Bull Racing RB16
5/14

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

Red Bull Racing RB16 front suspension detail

Red Bull Racing RB16 front suspension detail
6/14

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Alex Albon, Red Bull Racing RB16

Alex Albon, Red Bull Racing RB16
7/14

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Alex Albon, Red Bull Racing RB16

Alex Albon, Red Bull Racing RB16
8/14

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

Alex Albon, Red Bull Racing RB16

Alex Albon, Red Bull Racing RB16
9/14

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Red Bull Racing RB16 rear wing endplate

Red Bull Racing RB16 rear wing endplate
10/14

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The Alexander Albon Red Bull Racing RB16 is worked on in the team's pit garage

The Alexander Albon Red Bull Racing RB16 is worked on in the team's pit garage
11/14

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16, floor

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16, floor
12/14

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull Racing RB16 front suspension

Red Bull Racing RB16 front suspension
13/14

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull Racing RB16 side

Red Bull Racing RB16 side
14/14

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

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About this article

Series Formula 1
Teams Red Bull Racing
Author Matthew Somerfield