Red Bull’s latest leap forward could prove decisive

2012 F1 season

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Red Bull have stolen a march on their rivals in developing their car which could give them a decisive edge in the final races of 2012.

Sebastian Vettel’s victories in the last three consecutive races are the product of the performance gains Red Bull have made.

With the final four races coming up in the next five weeks, time is running out for Red Bull’s rivals to respond. Here’s how the performance of the teams has varied so far this year.

2012 F1 car performance chart

This graph shows the percentage difference between the fastest laps set by each team on each race weekend this year:

Red Bull0.8584347989920080.2515095771105540.60869839467625301.440513052737230.107670152487856000.2745017197044460.9247882895380140.5608192407940320.7613434597900830.805856445661220.40333953855700600
Force India1.639151221120561.723152391939241.257345906792411.177208889658321.735469421224651.503344504111651.158787813075990.441449340374761.066542254820060.7636109019328220.864699269946741.074619095869760.3499583382930350.8264229706098261.577516265040331.0530429238395
Toro Rosso1.645038976943551.729388166578331.904942126344350.5301767977321531.906813369723542.122447880916791.753767754526731.873865791244431.633990473813821.08728680327111.762751226020031.655619904622881.549815498154982.267727195803022.328295115534091.54460006992862

Red Bull seize the initiative

Red Bull’s introduction of their Double DRS upgrade was a masterstroke for the team both on and off the track.

They caught their rivals off-guard when they raced the upgrade in Japan, despite having previously used it in Singapore without it being noticed.

They were quick to master a concept some of their rivals have struggled with, such as Lotus. The E20 has sported a DRS-boosting device in practice but the team are yet to race theirs. The technology “really is tricky” according to technical director James Allison.

By introducing a device which will be banned after the end of the season – just four races away – Red Bull made a statement about the intensity with which they are pursuing the championship. This team is not concerned about saving costs at the expense of pursuing performance – a significant point in the context of the ongoing debates over the financial state of the sport.

Red Bull’s rear wing increases the power of the RB8’s DRS by using the airflow to stall the lower beam wing as well as the upper element, boosting its drag-reducing effect. Some have suggested they may also be using it to stall the diffuser for a further boost, though it remains to be seen if or how this is being achieved.

Their recent gains are not merely down to this one upgrade. Incremental development of their exhaust configuration has further increased its effectiveness. The latest configuration can be seen in the above image of Vettel taking the chequered flag in Korea.

Thanks to these upgrades Red Bull have been the quickest team over a single lap and on race pace at the last two Grands Prix. Their rivals have little time to respond, and the difficulty of importing parts in India due to customs restrictions may frustrate efforts to bring upgrades this weekend.

Do Red Bull have any vulnerabilities? Mark Webber has not disguised his dislike for the current generation of tyres and remains wary about the challenge they may pose in the final races. But a more realistic threat to their title ambitions could be unreliability. Vettel has already lost a potential win at Valencia and sixth place at Monza to alternator failure.

Ferrari’s wind tunnel trouble

“It is clear that we must make a step forward in performance to respond to the one made by Red Bull,” said Stefano Domenicali after the Korean Grand Prix. “We are well aware of that and we are working day and night to succeed”.

Fernando Alonso has urged the team to raise its rate of development on the car: “We must improve it and I expect to see some updates coming, right from the next race in India.”

As the graph above shows Ferrari’s one-lap pace is still not on a par with Red Bull or McLaren’s. However their race pace is strong – unfortunately Lewis Hamilton’s roll-bar failure in Korea kept us from seeing a straight fight between the two.

But Ferrari remain hamstrung by the problems with their wind tunnel. Domenicali has admitted this is why some of the upgrades they’ve introduced for their car have not worked as intended. Contrast that with the apparent ease with which Red Bull cracked the Double DRS.

Nonetheless Domenicali remains optimistic for the final races of the season: “At the moment Red Bull might seem unbeatable in everyone’s eyes, but I can remember the same thing being said about McLaren on Sunday afternoon in Singapore. The wheel turns quickly this year.”

McLaren not capitalising on their car

If ever a team’s season proved that you need more than a quick car to win races, it’s McLaren’s this year.

They began the year with a quick car but a string of operational problems – errors during pit stops and the like – meant they squandered dozens of points. They got on top of them in the middle of the season by which time they no longer had the quickest car – particularly on wet weekends.

A major upgrade in Germany made the MP4-27 the car to beat once more. But since then a string of technical problems – some terminal, others not – have cost them yet more points. The net resault is the team are fighting for runner-up in the constructors’ championship instead of leading it.

But there’s more to McLaren’s problems than this. Neither driver has consistently extracted the absolute maximum out of their car. The MP4-27 was the fastest car at Spa, but Hamilton went the wrong way on set-up and put his seventh on the grid. Button has missed the mark more frequently in qualifying, failing to reach Q3 on four separate occasions.

It may also be significant that McLaren’s dip in form began at the Japanese Grand Prix, where the FIA introduced a revised front wing load test in a bid to stop teams using wings which rotated at speed to improve performance. However Martin Whitmarsh said he did not expect there to be “any particular problem for McLaren”.

The midfield contest

Having been in contention for wins earlier in the season, Lotus have gradually slipped backwards since the summer break.

They introduced their new Coanda exhaust in the last race on Korea, on Kimi Raikkonen’s car only, which brought an improvement in lap time at the expense of straight-line speed.

Williams’ performance has slumped alarmingly in the past two races. “The team have worked extremely hard to address the balance inconsistencies that affected both cars,” said chief operations engineer Mark Gillan ahead of this weekend’s race.

“We believe that we have found a solution and look forward to testing and optimising around the updated car,” he added.

Meanwhile Sauber continue to show good performance on high-speed tracks like Suzuka and Spa, but have not been as quick on more conventional circuits.

Having moved close to the midfield in the middle part of the season, Caterham have slipped back in the second half and are more preoccupied with their battle for tenth in the constructors’ championship with Marussia.

Over to you

Can anyone catch Red Bull in the final races? Can Alonso respond to Vettel in the drivers’ championship? Have your say in the comments.

2012 F1 season

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Images © Red Bull/Getty images, Red Bull/Getty images, Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo, McLaren/Getty images, Lotus F1 Team/LAT

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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40 comments on “Red Bull’s latest leap forward could prove decisive”

  1. what rbr DDRS is doing

    allowing higher downforce setup – quicker in corners but still competitive on straights(no loss due to drag)

    in quali the advantage is about .2/.3 sec as seen in s1 suzuka and s3 korea(high downforce setup)

    in race advantage is bigger as high downforce setup protects the tyres and rbr pulls away later in the stint (by about .5 sec)
    as others suffer tyre deg and laptime drop
    seen both in suzuka and korea- rbr,ferrari,mclaren,lotus have same laptime at start of stint but rbr pulls away at end of it

    good work by rbr team for ddrs, upto others to respond

    1. And even more so race pace is stronger than the others due to the fact that, rather unlike last years RB7, the RB8 seems to have better race than qualifying pace. The fact Red Bull are now able to lock-out the front row should instil fear in Ferrari , especially Alonso as his WDC lead has now vanished.

    2. This doesn’t add up with only the DRS modification. In the qualification they have the advantage of the improved straight line speed, which means they can use higher downforce and not be as disadvantaged on the straights. In the race, however, the DRS has virtually no effect, which means that it has nothing to do with their pace – higher downforce setting in itself isn’t an answer, since others could easily add more wing as well. The pace must come from other components, not DRS, which enable them to get more downforce with less drag.

      1. The Graph is based on the fastest lap set by each team, each weekend. This inevitably demonstrates single lap qually pace. The Red Bull car has been quite strong for most of the year, but was unable to qualify well.

        The DDRS has allowed them to put their car further up the grid, which, along with other developments has put them ahead of the other teams.

  2. Can anyone catch Red Bull in 2012? Possibly not.

    Winning in F1 is all about the best combination of drivers, team spirit and team work, a relentless pursuit of innovation, clever interpretation of the rules, capitalising on the misfortunes of one’s rivals, shareholders with the greatest passion and commitment, and just a bit of old fashioned good luck. RBR hasn’t got it right in every facet in every year but 2010 and 2011 have shown that they have done the best job overall of all the teams, and 2013 is now shaping up as more of the same.

    Many people dismiss them as “just a soft drink company”, but that just disrespects the experience and skills of the people in the team who have learned their craft during the Stewart and Jaguar days. A lack of years in the game (like, say, Ferrari), doesn’t discount the fact that, collectively, they have what it takes to race and win at the highest level.

    I don’t like domination (the Schumacher years turned me off F1 for a looong time) and I truly hope that Ferrari, McLaren and Lotus find that something extra to take the battle to RBR in the last four races. F1, particularly this year, has a habit of surprising, but at the end of the day I’ll happily celebrate RBR as 2012 champions if, once again, they do the best job of all the teams in stringing together all those success factors.

    1. @pault – I don’t think people dismiss them because they’re a drinks company and not a car manfacturer.

      I think a lot of people dismiss them because they can’t respect Red Bull. And they can’t respect Red Bull because their attitude stinks. They’ve been at the centre of three or four technical rows this year alone (it’s hard to keep track of so many), and they’ve gotten away with it on every single occasion simply because their car exists within a grey area of the rule book, obeying the letter of the law, but brazenly ignoring the spirit.

      It’s one thing to expect you will be competitive based on the car you know you have. It is another thing entirely to assume you will be competitive regardless of how you are performing. Red Bull fall into the latter category far more often than not. And that’s why people don’t respect them – they’re happy to talk about the future of the sport and make the sport more competitive, but given half a chance, they will pounce on the opportunity to dominate the season. And then they’ll expect us all to thank them for it.

      1. What’s wrong with obeying the letter of the rules but not the spirit?

      2. Totally agree with this. Their attitude, whilst not illegal in the terms of the letter of the law, does not endear fans or other teams to them. They are so fiercely defensive, to the point of arrogance, when questioned about something that it creates a feeling of mistrust, which is the basis of cheating.

        So no, they are not ‘Technically’ breaking the rules, but they are the first to threaten taking their ball home when something doesn’t go their way. I cannot understand why they need to behave like this. They cannot be under anywhere near as much pressure as McLaren, Ferrari and Williams when it comes to success. They have a huge opportunity to portray themselves as the giant-killing, plucky underdogs and waste it all by bickering, whingeing and ******* off everyone else in the paddock with their constant lack of team spirit and camaraderie.

      3. @prisoner-monkeys – that is a ridiculous argument. If teams’ didn’t exploit the rules then everybody would be driving the same cars with the same performance. McLaren went against the intention of the rules with their flexi-wing, did anyone dispute that? No, because if McLaren win the general public enjoy it. If Red Bull win there is an outcry that they must be doing something illegal when the fact is they never are.

  3. I desperately hope Ferrari and Mclaren could respond in terms of performance again. I want performance shuffle rather than just seeing cruising Vettel. Until now, this season has been great. But it would be ruined in the end if Red Bull dominates remaining races.

    If Ferrari’s updates for last 6 month didn’t work and they’re still up there, another big step might be possible. I am cautious whether it actually happen though.

    1. Ferrari has made an aerodynamical test this week in Spain. I hope it works.

      1. @oskar Do you mean this one, at Idiada last Thursday?

        1. yes, this one. Sorry, last week.

  4. It won’t be McLaren that catches them – and I say that as a disappointed fan of theirs. Losing HAM twice to the same (own manufactured) component is pretty poor on top of the pit stop failures of the earlier part of the season. RBR deserve this championship, the last 3 races have shown their domination of this sport.

    1. It took several years of hard work, but McLaren finally cracked Hamilton’s motivation. Seeing him defending his position in Korea was kind a sad thing for me.
      Anyway, no one can argue with the fact that RBR is doing a great job, it’s just that their dominance causes Really Boring Racing (RBR).

  5. Vettle to become 2013 champion…..

    1. Wow… 4 in a row? :P

    2. At this stage, It’s probably not that far fetched a bet to make.

  6. I doubt Red Bull’s DDRS is the only upgrade which they have brought to the car; obviously they have refined their front wing design and exhaust layouts but I think there is probably something else on that car.

    But of course the DDRS gives a great advantage in qualifying, as they are able to run a higher downforce set-up which will help immensely through the corners and under braking without their being a penalty on the straights. Couple that with the RB8’s strengths of traction and race pace and Red Bull have a formidable package for Ferrari to contend with.

    The constructors is almost a given, the drivers’ isn’t so clear-cut; I think Vettel can pull through to win the championship but Alonso is notorious for getting the best out of every situation. This will probably go down to the wire!

    1. It’s not. There’s been updated sidepod bodywork (not so much exhaust layout), new suspension, new front wing. New rear wing endplates.

      Their aero updates have generally not been aimed at generating downforce per se, but more on airflow management, moving the downforce generation to the more efficient downforce producers

      1. I think Newey’s done something more than refinement though, the media just don’t knew about it. I doubt they’ve suddenly gained so much ground on their rivals, considering their position relative to McLaren before Japan/Signapore.

        1. Newey is very rarely more than refinement when it comes to rule stability though. Generally he has one killer app, but that’s it. The rest are fundamental refinements.

          1. There are other people that make the car go faster beside Newey; he is only the best, because he also works with the best; Peter Prodromou and Rob Marshall are also very key people

        2. @xjr15jaaag I realize that. My point was – a big step in laptime doesn’t have to come from a big upgrade package. For example they had a relatively minor change to their front wing, but that changed how air was fed into their diffuser – and that change alone would have been worth at least a couple of tenths as their diffuser then had more air to work with.

          Trust me on this. I keep archives of wing/diffuser/floor/sidepod pictures of every car from every race weekend :P

  7. I really hope that vettel doesn’t win this years championship. I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve because all drivers do and red bull proofed their dominance last year and the last three races for that matter. I don’t Vettel to win because I want another driver to win this years championship. As a lotus fan I would love it to be Raikkonen but realistically Alonso deserves it more than anyone. The car was appalling at the start of the season yet he won a race. In fact more than one race. At least things will be close for the next four races.

    1. The Ferrari was always good in the wet, and anyway wet weather is a great equaliser of cars. The car he had in Spain was vastly better than the one he was driving in Australia, in fact it was good enough for the front row of the grid (and crucially quicker than the Red Bull).

      Yes he has driven incredibly well and yes he has probably driven well enough to merit the championship, but he was incredibly lucky up until Belgium & Japan. His win in Valencia for example, which essentially gained him 32 points on what would have been his championship position had Vettel won.

      1. Well yes Alonso has had his fair share of luck and Vettel has had some bad luck too valencia springs to mind. If Vettel does win the championship I will be pleased for him but if Alonso or Raikkonen won I would ecstatic.

    2. Kimi Räikkönen
      23rd October 2012, 9:41

      Lets hope for a repeat of 2007, mate!

  8. I think you are a little harsh on Hamilton saying that part of the problem is neither Mcalrne driver getting the most out the car. Spa is the one time he made such a set-up mistake (Suzuka was down to the suspension problem). Other than that he has been by far the best qualifier of the year, consistently getting everything out of the car (spa aside) and is the only driver to make every single Q3.

    1. I have lately been thinking about set-up mistakes and how much they are the drivers or the teams “fault” @jleigh; for McLaren I would now tend to think at least it is a problem of the team.
      The 8 race spring slump by Button, together with the car losing relative pace, HAM not being able to get set-up in Spa right, but also having big issues in Japan and Korea (suspension issue they didn’t find!) they all show the team sometimes isn’t able to fix things when they go wrong somewhere on Friday/Saturday.

      I think it might be that McLaren rely too much on simulations before the race, and if unexpected things come up (rain …), they don’t have the ability to deal with it (bc. they usually have so much data to work with).

  9. Common Fernando! I still have faith.

  10. OmarR-Pepper (@)
    22nd October 2012, 19:25

    V E T T E L WINS YEAH baby!!!!!!!!!!

  11. I think that so far, Red Bull should win team of the season, with McLaren winning the wooden spoon; they really should have used their car at the beginning of the season, and now it’s been overtaken in terms of performance, they’re nowhere.
    Ferrari have done fairly well, but seriously, having a wind tunnel that diesn’t actually work, and iven that very few of the upgrades have worked, that is a bit ridiculous to be honest.
    Lotus should have done much better than they are doing; they should be around Ferrari or Mclaren, and they should have had a win by now; the car is good enough for it to happen.
    Mercedes are the disappointment of the season for me; they are struggling to make it into Q3 nowadays, and that pole lap from Michael seems so long ago now that it isn’t funny anymore. They are resembling Toyota in that respect: they have the necessary resources to win, but they can’t, and it’s a great shame for me.
    Sauber are probably the surprise of the season; their car has been very fast all year, but no-one has really noticed it, as their qualifying pace is comparitively poor at the moment, with them on most occasions struggling to make it into Q3. I think that if they sort out their qualifying woes, then they could have won at least 2 or 3 races this year.
    Williams are quite frankly well behind in terms of the development race. pastor maldonado and Bruno Senna both bring along very significant sums of money, and that should have enabled WSilliams to at least break into the points more often than not. Furthermore, their strategy team need to rethink what they’re doing; Maldonado went onto about lap 40 or so before he made his first stop, and he was losing time hand over fist. Credit where credit’s due though, that win at barcelona was really quite brilliant.
    Fore India are doing much better in the latter part of the season in comparison to the first stage. Nico Hülkenberg is performing outstandingly, and is consistently overshadowing Paul Di Resta, and they are sort of reminding me of Toro Rosso in 2008; in the latter part of the season, they found a lot of speed, with Hülkenberg reminding me of vettel in particurlar in 2008; he’s outperforming his team mate at most race meetings in the second half, and he can finish in the top 5 or 6 more often than not.
    Toro Rosso are doing quite well, although they really need to sort out their qualifying pace; they were actrually very good in part 1 of the season, with 6th for one of them at Bahrain. I feel that they may need a bit more financial muscle behind them to progress further up the field, although I can understand why they will have to drum up their own sponsorship rather than getting more money from Mateschitz. All in all, I feel there is more to come, although with 2 drivers in their first full f1 season, and bearing that in mind, they’re doing really very well.
    Caterham I feel need to get more financial backing to improve the car, as they have 2 brilliant drivers, and their technical team reads like a who’s who of technical brilliance; Mike Gascoyne, for a start. They have underperformed, and they desperately need that 10th place in the constructors, perhaps at a changeable track like Brazil.
    marussia have done extremely well; Glock and Pic are very evenly paced, and they are both excellent drivers. However, like Caterham, they need a lot more financial muscle behind them, but the potential to do well is definitely there.
    HRT are not as slow as it first appears; at the beginning of the season, they were there or there abouts with the marussias, but they seem to be a team that’s really struggling for survival, and they need a new technical team to be perfectly honest with you (in my opinion anyway).

  12. I can visualise it now…

    Horner: “You have won the 2012 world championship. Well done Seb.”
    Vettel: “Yes. Yes yes yes yes yes yes.”

    Please lord make it not so!

    1. LOL.

      ‘yes baby! we did it. thank you boys so much. YES!’

  13. If it was McLaren in Red Bull’s position I would still say that it was an open fight, but if you can guarantee any team to dominate when they all the tools available to them, it’s Red Bull. They rarely make the mistakes that McLaren do, nor do Ferrari, but I just don’t see them being strong enough.

  14. Looking at the performance charts history, Ferrari will lose a little ground this week and do better the next race. If this happens, it’s over. I don’t say that lightly as a life long Tifosi. No matter how much I want Ferrari to win it, it looks like RBR have it in the bag. The only chance Alonso has is if the “Alternator Fairy” strikes again, or maybe a rain storm at the last few races. :)

    1. Renault have been talking to the suppliers of the alternator Magneti Marelli about the fault, and they have found the defect component and made alterations. Hopefully that fixes the problem and we can have a championship battle based purely open driver and team skill, not mechanical failures and crashes.

  15. Certainly it looks like a tough ask for anyone to beat Red Bull now, and from how that team has been able to strengthen their already good car in the last couple of years does not give much hope of seeing them fall back.

    But given that we have seen Ferrari from being over a second off the pace to lead the championship and McLaren being fastest for much of the year but not even being in the title hunt anymore with their drivers, I won’t predict anything quite yet.

    It will be a tough ask for anyone, but it would make for an epic last 4 races!

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