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The simple explanation for Red Bull's F1 DRS dominance

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.

Red Bull RB19 single element beam wing

Soon after the race, 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," he said. "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.

And 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 effectiveness of DRS between the teams depending on how they have shaped their wings.

While there's a mandated maximum gap of 85mm that can be opened between the mainplane and upper flap, which is checked by the FIA (below), its effectiveness can be tuned by means of the wings' overall design features.

Ferrari F1-75 DRS check

Ferrari F1-75 DRS check

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

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 demands.

As we know, 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 categorized 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 slotted into second place in the calendar, many teams didn't have a more bespoke option in their suite available just yet.

Red Bull RB19 rear wing

Red Bull RB19 rear wing

Photo by: Uncredited

Red Bull did though (see above), with the new wing following the same general layout as the version used in Bahrain.

However, it had adaptations to the mainplane, upper flap and endplate transitions in order to lower downforce and drag, while also shifting the DRS delta compared with the wing used in Bahrain.

Furthermore, Red Bull only ran one beam wing element, which not only has direct implications on the downforce and drag being generated but also results in changes to the behaviour of the diffuser and rear wing, given they all 'talk' to one another, aerodynamically speaking.

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

Mercedes W14 rear wing specs
Aston Martin AMR23 rear wing

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 Hamilton's Mercedes team, for example, was a trimmed upper flap.

While this would have provided a straight-line speed boost when DRS was disabled, owing to it producing less downforce and drag, it 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 it had at several races during 2022 when it opted for no cut-out in the upper corner and is something it is able to change quickly given its wing's modularity.

Mercedes W13 rear wing comparison

Mercedes W13 rear wing comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

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.

The changes made to the regulations for 2022 mitigated some of this in order 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 here that they 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 on to.

It was just a combination of it 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 you 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 anyway and this comes down to all of its design features working perfectly together.

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