In Podcast #327, Todd and Grace were discussing Mark Webber’s departure from the team, and how the vacant seat was likely to be in demand for next season as Adrian Newey wouldn’t forget how to design a car. Now this is correct of course, but it got me thinking about the current Red Bull dominance of the championships (Drivers and Constructors) and how it has been achieved.
From what I have read, it appears that the Red Bull makes the best use of the exhaust gases to seal airflow around the diffuser. It has done this ever since 2009 (the beginning of the current rule generation), and only didn’t win that year’s championships because of Ross Brawn’s creative interpretation of what is and isn’t a hole.
Sealing the airflow around the rear of the car allows Red Bull to run with considerable more rake in the car (the rear ride height is much greater than the front). This helps rear down force by effectively steepening the angle of the rear diffuser, it also helps front down force by allowing the front wing to run much closer to the floor. This is possible because all measurements on the car are with respect to the reference plane (which is the level of the ‘plank’ at the bottom of the car) and not to the ground. So if the rake can be increased, the whole car can be tilted, bringing the front lower and the rear higher.
Next season however, with the introduction of the new 1.6 litre turbo power unit, the exhaust outlet changes. Instead of having two exhausts (one each side) forward of the rear wheels, there is a single exhaust exit much higher and further back. There doesn’t appear to be the opportunity to exploit this gas flow to seal the floor in the same way.
Of course the Red Bull domination hasn’t just been about the car, Sebastian Vettel has been able to adapt to the somewhat counterintuitive driving technique required to extract the best from this car design. If the rear of the car is unstable through a corner, more throttle is required to provide greater exhaust gas flow, this is perhaps not what most drivers have experienced up until this point. Vettel’s mastery of this technique has allowed Newey to design perhaps a more extreme car which gives greater down force to those who can master it.
So what does this mean for 2014? Well I would expect the cars to run with less rake than this year, and with a narrower front wing as well, we should initially see a reduction in overall downforce. With the ERS boosting the power for significantly longer than KERS does this season, the overall power available to the driver may not be that different to what they have now. We may therefore see cars that are as fast or faster in a straight line but need to go slower in the corners. This can only help the racing. Will Red Bull still be at the front? Well, they still have Adrian Newey and even if the FIA have taken away one of the tricks he has used to make his cars better than the rest, he will still design a quick car. Someone else though may get to the key to unlocking the ultimate performance from this regulation set first.
The FIA technical Regulations are published here:
Have a read of them and let me know what you think, what are the areas you think will be exploited next season?