How can Red Bull dominance in F1 be contained?

After the dominance of Mercedes in the last technical era, Max Verstappen is now breaking records with this new generation of cars. This is partly thanks to a significant simplification of the cars in 2022, coupled with the budget cap – a significant financial limitation for the teams. In theory, these changes were designed to bring the field closer together.

After a season and a half, without ignoring the new regulations introduced last season (DT39) as well as this one, we can certainly say that the FIA ​​has failed to level the playing field so far.

New F1: The Ground effect is very difficult to optimise 

The most important innovations from this new generation of F1 cars can be associated with aerodynamics, which has changed significantly in nature.

There are now more simplified front wings, equipped with a maximum of four elements directly anchored to the nose, to eliminate any complicated airflow.

There have also been modifications involving practically the entire bodywork, greatly simplified with the (re)introduction of the ground effect

This is thanks to the new important Venturi tunnels and much-enlarged diffuser – playing a role in expanding the flow passing through underneath the car. 

FIA 2023 rule changes on floor and diffuser
2023 regulatory changes to background and diffuser – Illustration by Rosario Giuliana.

The ground effect this year is not coupled with side skirts, as seen in the late 1970s. However, the floor now has a greater impact than the previous generation of cars in producing downforce.

“If there were miniskirts, it would be much easier for everyone,” a technician from a top team informed us, “because the difficulty lies precisely in sealing the floor, something that the FIA ​​has further complicated for us with the new regulations of this season.”

In fact, on the 2023 cars, the external parts of the floor are 15 mm higher than on last season’s cars.

As a result, there is greater difficulty in controlling the airflow coming out of the Venturi tunnels, which instead must be guided perfectly up to the diffuser. 

The bottom of the Red Bull RB19 from the Monaco GP

To do this, Red Bull has recreated the side skirts through the interaction of the floor, sidepods and vehicle dynamics (suspension).

It is no coincidence that the RB19 can count on a very advanced and complex floor, which exploits a double Venturi effect and which has an incredible three-dimensionality, i.e. many changes in the slope – both at the front and in the rear.

“Certainly, the channels near the tunnels have the function of increasing the Venturi effect,” said Red Bull’s technical director Pierre Waché – speaking with the French newspaper L’Equipe:

“But that’s not the main purpose. In fact, the flow that enters the Venturi immediately wants to exit. For this reason, we have defined a vehicle concept that reduces these losses.

“The sidepods and all the changes in slope present below the bottom serve precisely to recreate the miniskirts symbolically,” concluded the French super technician.

New F1: with the tests on the track, Red Bull’s dominance would be more limited

The complexity is because the flow passing under the floor, which serves to maximise the Venturi effect, must be optimised when the car is at different speeds and different steering angles. 

Even factors such as more or less sustained wind and many other external variables, technical and otherwise. These things are very difficult to simulate in tunnels, where the air travels at a slower speed than the track. It is not possible to simulate crosswinds or where there are no bumps, for example. 

Sometimes, the teams test an upgrade in the tunnel which gives it far more downforce, put it on the simulator and even improve by 4-5 tenths per lap, but then they go out on the track, and it’s all too sensitive.

This is also what happened to Aston Martin on its AMR23. In the simulator and in the wind tunnel, the Spain-Canada package gave a huge improvement, but on track, it was very difficult to optimise.

The updates have made the bottom of their car much more sensitive, making them now find it very difficult to find that excellent balance that the green had at the beginning of the year.

An enormous difficulty in seeing on the track what good the teams see instead in the factory, which led Ferrari itself to be very positive about the SF-23, hence Vigna’s words of optimism at the 2023 launch,

The team soon realised in Bahrain the enormous difficulties in placing the SF-23 in the right operating window for the race.

From this point of view, even more so with this new generation of cars, “if there were track tests, we would certainly have a much more limited domination by Red Bull,” said the engineer.

In short, even if clearly impossible, to reduce Red Bull’s dominance, other than removing the DRS in qualifying: it would be necessary to reintroduce the tests on the track.

Perhaps giving a number of kilometres based on the position in the Constructors, as is the case for the aerodynamic development part and as one would also like to do for the development of the power units. 

However, there is some confidence in the recovery against the Anglo-Austrian team – due to the potential for rapid progress in these regulations

“I think Red Bull is not impregnable. While with the previous regulations, a similar gap would never have been possible to fill even in 2 or 3 years, with the latter solutions are more difficult to find, but if you find them, they give you an important advantage.”

The secret lies above all in making them work on the track, which is why top teams, such as Ferrari and Mercedes, have pushed the development of their 2023 cars much further than they ideally should have done, shifting more budget to the next car year, given the huge gap to recover against Red Bull.

Because only performance on track guarantees certainty in the concepts of these cars, so teams like Ferrari and Mercedes can be confident in their philosophy.

Author: Piergiuseppe Donadoni

Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang

Previous articleFerrari look to 2024 with optimism after a difficult season
Next articleF1 News: Alpine persist with 4th place target in constructors