What the hell is going on at Red Bull? From unbeatable in Formula 1 this year to also-rans in the space of two weekends. It’s pretty simple, actually…
FIA’s F1 Rulebook Article 3.2.2 states: “All aerodynamic components or bodywork influencing the car’s aerodynamic performance must be rigidly secured and immobile with respect to their frame of reference defined in Article 3.3 that defines bodywork as part of the sprung mass of the car. Furthermore, these components must produce a uniform, solid, hard, continuous, impervious surface under all circumstances.
“Any device or construction that is designed to bridge the gap between the sprung part of the car and the ground, is prohibited under all circumstances. With the exception of the parts necessary for the adjustment described in Article 3.10.10 (DRS), or any incidental movement due to the steering system, any car system, device, or procedure which uses driver movement as a means of altering the aerodynamic characteristics of the car is prohibited.
“The aerodynamic influence of any component of the car not considered to be bodywork must be incidental to its main function. Any design which aims to maximise such an aerodynamic influence is prohibited.”
The FIA clearly defines the issue
Enter FIA F1 Technical Director Ian Goss on last week’s new directive on flexi aero. “This is about where front and rear wing elements join the nose, join the rear impact structure, join the rear wing endplates. There have been several instances where teams have tried to make the most of the deflection allowance by permitting some bits and pieces to start moving relative to each other. And if you’ve allowed one piece to be decoupled relative to another, the bodywork might have to have some degree of local flexibility at that location.
“If there is local flexibility, we’re saying, clearly, that’s not compliant with being uniform, solid, hard, and continuous. Under the new Technical Directive, we have included various examples. Designs which we consider are not permitted and exceptions which we consider are permitted.” Now try to understand that. And that between the lines, Goss is referring primarily to the front wings.
Moving on, and looking at flexible front wings, what do they do? Well that’s pretty simple. In plain English, they meet F1 regulations and all the stress tests they get put through in the pit box. And in that state, they also produce great downforce. But wait! Downforce is drag. So now when thundering down the straights at 300 km/h, that same drag slows the car like a parachute.
How does flexi-wing work?
So this is where Adrian Newey and the clever F1 engineers come in. They design the wings, etcetera, to flex at speed. So the wings deliver the perfect double-edged sword. Static, and at slow speed, and for the FIA tests, the wings generate great downforce. And drag. But at speed they flatten out, pushing the wing elements back and around to steal that downforce and drag. To make the car slipperier and faster down the straight.
Back in the corners, like an elastic band, it all pops back up again and builds up downforce to push the nose (in the case of the front wings) harder to the ground. For great front-end grip.
So Newey developed a car with a violent front-end grip and balanced it off with an aggro rear end. But now it seems he was being very clever with flex to induce that grip. Enter our friend Goss and his new FIA measures and sticks, and all of a sudden, RB cannot use the flex anymore. Goodbye, violent front end. Hello, lack of grip and cheers to all that beautiful balance. Not even Max can tame the Bull anymore!
What has happened is that Red Bull appears to have lost its ability to make its beautiful RB19 work as its designed to. Because maybe it was designed to perform outside of the spirit of the regulations in the first place. Now the FIA has come along and tapped Red Bull on the shoulder and said fix it, or else. And all that marvellous pace is mysteriously gone. Join those dots!
The Red Bull Prognosis is not good…
The team put on a bewildered front in Singapore. However, Christian Horner made one small admission on the grid on Sunday that may have just given it all away. In the same breath as saying this is the same car that won last race, the race before and every race this year, bla, bla, bla, Christian almost coughed into his hand as he quietly added, “Besides maybe that small wing change”
The race never went much better. Max had good pace on reasonably new yellow marked rubber versus the rest on older whites and dragged the car to fifth at the end. Albeit helped by some attrition. Perhaps the real story is more where Perez ended up. Mercedes was also supposed to have an issue with the FIA’s flexible aero reminder. But it appears it was not affected. Ferrari and McLaren also seemed unaffected. And all this seemed to play into Haas’ hands.
Moving on to Suzuka this coming weekend, the world now waits to see if, and how far off the pace Red Bull will be. Verstappen suggests that the RB19 will be ‘quick’ again. In spite of that, whatever the issue was this past weekend, it was hardly as small as Horner alluded to on the grid at Singapore.
Has the FIA’s directive killed Red Bull’s golden goose?
For all intents and purposes, and judging by the continued evidence on Sunday, the Red Bull RB19 needs flex in the front wing to induce that violent turn in, in order to perfectly balance an aggro rear. Without that front bite, the rear wakes up too easily. Maybe Newey can find some way around it. But will Red Bull dominate the rest of the year as it did until Monza?
The long and short of it is that the FIA’s new directive on flexible aero seems to have caught Red Bull with its pants down. Singapore was the double champion team’s worst result in three years. And the prognosis does not seem very good going forward. So, let’s see as the season progresses. Sure, Max may drag it to a few more wins out of it, and he’s most unlikely to lose the title from here. But that’s just Max.
Looking at the bigger picture, however, somehow it seems that the FIA’s latest flexi aero directive may just have killed Red Bull’s golden goose…