Red Bull rear comparison: France and Austria 2019

The Red Bull-Honda tweaks which helped break Mercedes’ stranglehold on 2019

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Red Bull and Honda’s development programmes were rewarded last weekend as they became the first team to break Mercedes’ stranglehold on success in 2019. However the car that parked behind the P1 sign at the end of the Austrian GP was a mix of new and old developments.

The Red Bull Ring may well be a power-sensitive track, but this win was by no means a sign that the group at Tochigi have completely closed the gap to Mercedes and Ferrari. There were other factors in the win: Mercedes struggled with heat management and the Red Bull chassis made superior use of the Pirelli rubber on a scorching day.

This, of course, was Honda’s first win in the V6 hybrid turbo era, after years of hard lessons with McLaren and, later, Toro Rosso. Honda’s research and development programme has been fast-paced this year: A major update was introduced at Baku and another in France.

Having introduced three 2019-spec power units, further updates will have to be introduced with grid penalties. Red Bull are pressing for more performance, even if there is some reliability penalty, so there is the pressure and scope for even more progress from Honda this season.

On the chassis side the initially tricky RB15 has evolved. There has been the total change of the front wheel, upright and brake duct package, changed to blow air through the wheel to retrieve some of the outwash lost from the ban on blown axles. Other than this, there have been no major changes, instead a continuous stream of small detail updates around the front wing, bargeboard, floor and diffuser.

Paul Ricard saw another step in the car’s development. Red Bull brought a new floor with a reworked outer corner to the diffuser, as well as revised turbo wastegate exhausts. Given the diffuser is capped in height and width, they key changes teams can make to it are to the bodywork around its perimeter.

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Previously Red Bull sported a two-element vertical flap around its diffuser. This flap lowers pressure behind the diffuser to pull more flow under the car for more downforce. Even with a detail change to the old format in Canada, a much more sophisticated treatment was introduced in France.

Red Bull, Red Bull Ring, 2019
Red Bull’s re-positioned wastegate exhausts
The perimeter flap was increased to three elements, with a change in the shape of the inner diffuser’s top edge in order to accommodate the change. The middle of the three perimeter flaps still carries a small side extension. This isn’t an aerodynamic part: It’s there to meet the 200mm maximum height rule, as the diffuser height is measured from below. Having this strip added provides more freedom for the shape of the outermost perimeter flap.

Above this area the exhausts were also re-positioned, with the two smaller pipes now being raised over the top of the central tail pipe. F1’s regulations call for separate exhausts for the turbocharger and the wastegate/s. Most teams opt for three exhausts, one for the turbo and two wastegate pipes, even if only one wastegate is fitted.

Earlier in the season the Honda’s single wastegate set-up led into two pipes. Red Bull mounted these pipes very low, passing the ‘V’ of the upper rear wishbone to exit low down behind it. Toro Rosso with an identical and gearbox mounted the pipes higher passing over the upper wishbone.

The new set-up places the wastegate pipes in close proximity to the rear wing’s under-surface. This suggests Red Bull intend to gain some blown effect from the wastegate pipes, similar to what Renault tried last season. However a ream of technical directives was issued by the FIA in France, some of which govern ‘blown’ engine maps, though these were not due to come into effect until Silverstone, in order to give the engine manufacturers time to re-calibrate their engines to the new demands. If Red Bull is getting some performance from blowing its exhausts onto the wing, it will be short-lived. It’s possible the tailpipe will be re-positioned back to their lower position in the future.

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France saw the blown wheel, floor and exhausts changes retained, but other changes were far smaller and even retrograde. The main visible change was a return to the older front wing specification. The front wing was simpler version with the five aerofoil elements all the full span of the wing and not the split-flap design introduced in Bahrain.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Red Bull Ring, 2019
Nose tweaks also contributed to winning package
The wing also carried the spec three sloped top to the end plate, a design introduced in Spain and also run in Canada. And Red Bull also returned to the pre-Monaco nose hole. Running it open in Austria seemed an odd choice as it produced its own drag, but presumably must have a better overall effect on the car for the Austria set-up. These changes aren’t expected to be permanent: New parts are rumoured for Silverstone.

Given its improved power unit, Red Bull can expect to push harder for better qualifying positions. This will be important for the team as their race pace, largely due to better tyre management, is regularly on a par with Mercedes and Ferrari.

While few doubt Mercedes will return to its winning ways, Austria showed some conditions can trip them up. Red Bull can now consider themselves regular challengers to Ferrari and they will also be there to pick up on any errors from Mercedes.

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Craig Scarborough
Craig Scarborough is RaceFans' technical contributor....

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23 comments on “The Red Bull-Honda tweaks which helped break Mercedes’ stranglehold on 2019”

  1. Very nice article, thank you, Craig.

    1. Please reference the numbers in the diagram(s) with the discussion in the text.

      1. Previously Red Bull sported a two-element vertical flap around its diffuser. […]
        The perimeter flap was increased to three elements […]
        The middle of the three perimeter flaps still carries a small side extension.

        @elchinero – the numbers in the diagram are not indicators for a legend. They are only the count of elements – two in Canada and three in France. Craig doesn’t reference individual elements (except one mention to the middle of the three elements).

  2. As I understood from other media, in Austria only Verstappen could use a new spec of front wing in the race. There is a lot of mystery and secrecy around this supposedly new front wing.
    In your article, you mention RB returned to an old spec.

    What is actually true of the Verstappen front wing in Austria?

    1. They broke all but one of the spec used by VER during the FP sessions.
      It’s possible they reverted to the old one, but still only one available after FP3.

  3. very interesting read thanx for breakdown. im no engineer but did manage to grasp most of what i read. i think…

  4. Mercedes (only in Merc tema) and Honda engines sounds are now quite similiar to those of “blown” era

  5. If only they had a second car to get between the top two teams and make their lives a little bit more difficult… having a sidekick in the ballpark in terms of performances could lift Verstappen (and Red Bull) even higher.

    1. My thoughts exactly. It might give Mercedes something to think about regarding their pit stop strategies.

    2. Bit unfair on Gasly, there, because Red Bull have used him for that several times this season, with negative consequences for his results. He is clearly not as quick a driver as Max on current showing, but he’s still a very good F1 driver.

      1. They can not “use” him to the extend a competitive driver can, trigggering a pitstop by the other teams.
        The team strategy only floats on one driver and that is a pity.

  6. Red Bull’s most successful tweak in Austria was to arrange for really hot weather which caused Mercedes to reduce engine performance and open the bodywork, thereby impairing aerodynamics, for greater cooling.

    1. I’m afraid it was like that exactly. I mean, how many times have we read about ‘improvements’, where even drivers told to expect a lot from, before the race? Only to conclude after the race that it had not resulted in any improved performance/result.

      I don’t think there is anyone who will deny how much temperature and wind affects the performance of a car and race. We are very far from seeing an all-weather F1 car. ;)

    2. Not to mention having Ferrari make yet another strategy blunder by having both drivers start on the softest tyre. We saw how effective that was for Gasly.

      Come Silverstone it will be business as usual.

  7. If Red Bull was still using a Renault PU, would they still have taken the win?

    1. Interesting question. In terms of power, I think both PUs are roughly matched. However, with Honda, RBR have something they didn’t have with Renault for years – the ability to dictate the direction of PU development, which we’ve seen with the number of updates that Honda have brought, and RBR’s willingness to set themselves up for penalties.

      In hindsight, it appears that one of RBR’s later frustrations (i.e. post 2014) was that they were willing to take a gamble on power risking reliability, but Renault was not as quick in churning out updates (and often, they used a “two steps forward one step back” approach with a power upgrade having to be followed by a reliability upgrade).

      So, I don’t think that RBR would have been able to run the Renault PU in the high-power mode for as long, because Renault’s approach to PUs (reliability over power) has been different. I’m not saying RBR wouldn’t have won any race with a Renault PU, I’m just saying they might not have won this race.

      1. That’s a perfectly defensible view, but it’s hard to be sure. My impression has been that since the start of the current engine era Honda have had significantly higher power output than Renault with the engine turned all the way up, but their early struggles with reliability meant they couldn’t turn it up ofte n. Now they’ve improved their reliability they can run higher settings more of the time.

        I think it’s significant that Red Bull have said they would rather Honda took a slightly less conservative approach. But it’s also worth considering whether there’s a touch of Mclarenism going on around Red Bull at the moment, where they’re blaming the engine more than they should for the car’s shortcomings.

        1. where they’re blaming the engine more than they should for the car’s shortcomings.

          that’s not my impression. Of course, after France there were some critical but realistic sounds about the lack of power. Nothing new, and even acknowledged by Honda. So nothing like the toxic environment at McLaren.

  8. Thanks for the reply. Thought it was good to see Red Bull get a result with Honda, and also to see McLaren doing well with the Renault unit. Much has been said about them changing PU suppliers, just hoping that it turns out to be positive for them both.

    1. Oops. Meant to reply to @phylyp

  9. Ok. I’m ready for boring Honda domination from 2022 onward.

    1. To be fair I don’t mind period’s of domination by a team – it’s all part of f1. I think the reason people are getting bored now is that this Mercedes period of dominance has gone on for so long now.

      1. I don’t see that as the problem, so much as that Ferrari have massive long term underperformance issues, and Red Bull have also been less competitive than they should even with their power deficit. Domination is ok as long as it’s challenged, but every time they’ve had a chance, Ferrari have thrown it away.

        Let’s not forget that last season Ferrari lost the title more than Mercedes won it. This season Mercedes have been very, very good, but even so they’ve been very lucky to win so many races.

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