How Red Bull's 2021 F1 car is more than just new stickers

At first glance Red Bull's new 2021 Formula 1 car looks very similar to last year's machine, but closer inspection reveals there's more to the Red Bull RB16B than meets the eye.

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When Red Bull released two images of its new RB16B Formula 1 car on Monday, it left many struggling to pinpoint where things had been changed.

With no in-your-face design differences and a near identical livery, the most obvious change between the new car and its predecessor, the RB16, was that Aston Martin’s stickers had been replaced by Honda.

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But while the RB16B clearly carries the DNA of last year’s challenger, especially with a large percentage of the car carried over in to 2021, there are plenty of subtle differences that set the two apart.

Here we look at where Red Bull has refined and improved its car over the winter.

The nose was one area of the car that Red Bull appeared to struggle with during the first part of 2020, and this has once again been treated to a makeover for the start of this season.

The main difference is that the cape has been pushed back down the body of the nose in order to capture and influence the airflow in a different way.

As a consequence, the inlets on either side of the nose that feed the ‘S’ duct have been recast too, with their appearance altered to accommodate their new surroundings.

Red Bull Racing RB16 front wing Austrian GP
Red Bull Racing RB16 front wing, Turkish GP

It’s perhaps worth remembering that Red Bull had shifted to the narrow nose body and cape design last season, which led to a general shift in the behaviour of the airflow around the front end of the car.

If you combine this fact with correlation issues that the team was having between its simulation tools and the real world counterparts, then that was a recipe for trouble.

However, the team worked diligently to find the fault, as it halted development, conducted back-to-back comparative tests and adjusted its development path accordingly.

As part of this re-evaluation process, the team ran a new nose design with a narrow wing pillar arrangement at the first race of the season, but it was quickly cast aside.

However, it received just one more cameo appearance at the last race of the season, when the team tested it in combination with the revisions made to the cape and front wing at the Turkish GP (right).

The presentation of the new car suggests that the narrow pillar solution has been abandoned for good, but that will only be borne out if it doesn’t appear in testing or the early races.

 

The RB16B’s brake ducts have been optimised for 2021, with the lower half of the inlet slimmed down to improve flow around what is a significantly sized aperture if compared with many of the other challengers on the grid (red arrow).

Meanwhile, in the same vicinity, it also looks like the team has altered the shape of the front suspension’s pushrod cover too (blue arrow), slimming down the section where it meets with the upright extension bar.

The bargeboard cluster has also been treated to some attention, with a geometrical alteration made to the slots in the upper surface of the main bargeboard element, as they’re now cut in at more of angle.

The boomerang winglet design deviates from past iterations too, with now just a singular element, which splits into two midway along its length.

The sidepods and engine cover should be the reserve of cooling and aerodynamic gains for every team on the grid this season owing to the new power units they’ll install.

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Significant gains have been made in this respect but the team had already boosted performance with an update that arrived in the middle of last season. This means any comparison with the launch image from last season, in the upper corner, should be taken with a pinch of salt. However it does offer an idea of the general direction that the team has been heading in.

It’s clear to see how the new bodywork clings to the sidepod’s internal packaging, which in-turn allows the designers to make use of contouring that favours their aerodynamic goals.

It appears the role that the bodywork plays has been given a more deliberate feel too, with the airflow from the sidepod drawn down to the floor much earlier than before.

Meanwhile, the shape of the upper cooling outlet is hunched over more deliberately too, not only to invoke the transit of airflow beneath it into the coke bottle region, but as a means of creating a ledge of sorts that the airflow exiting the halo’s trailing extension can follow to the rear of the car (light blue arrows added as a generalisation for flow direction). 

Some of last year's cooling solutions made it onto the car on a race-by-race basis.

Some of last year's cooling solutions made it onto the car on a race-by-race basis.

Red Bull Racing RB16 cooling

The halo became home to a number of cooling and aerodynamic trinkets during last season, but none appear to have made their way onto the 2021 car so far. That being said, all of these were easily added or removed throughout the course of the season depending on what configuration the team opted to run in, and so they could easily return or be refined further still for 2021.

The 2020 RB16 ended up featuring winglets on the halo, which are absent on the launch version of the RB16B.

The 2020 RB16 ended up featuring winglets on the halo, which are absent on the launch version of the RB16B.

At the rear of the car, the team has retained the upright extension design that it introduced in the latter phases of last season, featuring the hollowed out upright extension. This is where the team is believed to have used some of its token spend, in changing the forward leg of the lower wishbone to now be behind the pull rod.

Looking at the exhausts, having revised it wastegate layout in the closing stages of the season, Red Bull subsequently introduced a single pillar configuration, both of which can be found on this year's car too.

The RB16B also carries a similar floor specification to the test item that it experimented with from the Portuguese GP onwards last year.

This features the obligatory diagonal cut-out on the floor’s edge and is devoid of the fully enclosed holes and slots that had become a common feature on every car.

It does however have a large guide strake on the outer perimeter of the floor which is not only curved from front to back but also has an interesting top to bottom geometry that can be seen on the trailing edge.

This, along with the already carefully shaped trailing edge of the floor, will help the team to recoup some of the losses that have been accrued as a result of the regulation changes for this year.

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