Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Circuit de Catalunya, 2022

Analysis: What makes Red Bull’s RB18 one of F1’s most daring designs of 2022

2022 F1 season

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Red Bull finally revealed their 2022 Formula 1 season contender on the first day of testing. At a stroke, it became obvious why they were so secretive, displaying a show car at their ‘launch’ event two weeks ago.

The team which has so often innovated with its designs has produced another striking machine for a new set of regulations. Its overall design philosophy is clearly focused on aggressively optimising its aerodynamics in the signature style of chief technical officer Adrian Newey.

Perhaps the most eye-catching feature of the ‘real’ RB18 is the sidepod. The concept is unlike any other seen in the field.

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It aims to find a balance of creating downwash for the diffuser at the rear of the car and guiding the air through the aggressive undercuts. At the front of the sidepod, the Red Bull features a ‘shelf’ or ‘tray’ ahead of the inlet (1) in order to help separate the sidepod from the floor and further extend the lead-in to the aggressive undercut.

Towards the rear of the sidepod, in order to create a downwash, the undercut is sacrificed and the lower half of the sidepod flares out, becoming quite wide (2). This is in clear contrast to the Mercedes philosophy which aims to tighten the rear of the car as much as possible.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Circuit de Catalunya, 2022

When viewed from the front, the sidepod inlet opening is rectangular and wide but is short in height to accommodate the undercut. The side view reveal how short the first part of the sidepod is due to the undercut, indicating that the radiators within must be highly compact and steeply angled.

The sidepods flare out wide, almost to the full width of the car. This is similar to Ferrari’s concept, aiming to push the tyre wake as far out as possible.

The RB18 is the only other car from McLaren’s MCL36 to run pull-rod front suspension. The front suspension geometry is also unique. The pick-up points for the top control arm (referred to as the A-arm or wishbone) vary significantly in height between the front and rear (3).

This may be an aero-driven idea: Placing the wishbones in favourable flow regions to have clean airflow into the sidepod inlet and the undercut. It may also be to provide ‘anti-dive’ suspension geometry.

Anti-dive geometry is commonly used in motorsport to prevent the car from ‘diving’ under braking. This allows for the contact patch on the front tyres to be consistent during braking but is also particularly useful when running underfloor aerodynamics that is pitch sensitive.

The rear of the car now sports a push-rod configuration, which is proving to be a popular choice among the teams to help provide more space for the airflow over the diffuser. This geometry also allows the RB18 to have a shorter gearbox which in turn helps shape the rear of the car, producing cleaner airflow over the top of the diffuser.

The upper control arm also has some ‘attitude’. This can be seen more clearly on the AlphaTauri AT-03, which shares the rear suspension and gearbox (4). This may be a design choice to increase anti-squat, which would complement the anti-dive geometry to help keep the floor as level as possible around the track and also alleviate any ‘porpoising’ that may occur from flow separation.

Red Bull has opted for a different strategy from its sister team at the front of the car. The RB18’s front wing features a full-length slot gap (5) on the first element and the nose is not attached to the main plane. The leading edge profile does not vary much in height and the mid-section of the main plane droops slightly to the lowest permissible height as per the regulations.

The wing seems to be mid-loaded overall (6), with the most inboard part of the front wing dropping down to allow clean air to enter the inlet of the underfloor (7). The angle of attack of the front wing overall is on the more aggressive side in line with the likes of Mercedes, with the endplates twisted out at the rear to direct air around the front tyres [8].

Furthermore, similar to Ferrari, it seems that Red Bull has also opted to separate the front part of the nose attached to the front wing from the crash structure to aid aero development over the season.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Circuit de Catalunya, 2022

The team has opted to flare out the rear of the engine cover to accommodate the cooling outlets. Like many other teams, the cooling ducts are aimed over the top of the beam wing. The larger cooling outlets in the rear in combination with the sidepod design suggests that a good portion of the cooling is done under the engine cover.

This is not a new concept for the Red Bull family: The AT02 raced by AlphaTauri last year incorporated centreline cooling and this has likely been carried over and optimized. Notably, Red Bull has also left the option of cooling louvres available for additional cooling as they briefly ran a cooling louvre configuration in the afternoon of day one testing.

The floor is a focal point in the 2022 regulations and Red Bull has taken a very different approach in its design. While the likes of Mercedes have opted to use four vertical splitters in the intake of the underfloor, Red Bull utilises two of these on the outside, looking rather reminiscent of a barge board.

The outer one will function very similarly to a barge board to manage the turbulent front tyre wake. The space between the inner and outer flaps is likely designed to generate a flow structure to help create a ‘curtain’ along the edge of the undertray to help extend and seal the edge.

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It is likely that Red Bull also has the remaining permitted fences inside the inlet of the floor to help direct some of the central flow outward to increase the efficiency of the diffusers. Additionally, the RB18’s underfloor leading edge is fairly low and uniform across its width like the MCL36, but the larger leading-edge radius allows the intake to be less critical to flow direction increasing the aero stability under crosswinds or during low-speed cornering.

Red Bull have also innovated with the RB18’s beam wing. Unlike the regulations for the front and rear wings, the rules do not dictate a minimum or maximum overlap allowed on the two permitted elements of the beam wing and only defines a maximum planform (top view) area.

Red Bull has opted to go for a full double-decker beam wing with the profile closely following that of the diffuser (9). This beam wing will act almost like an extension of the diffuser, conditioning the flow over the top of the main diffuser tunnels to help maximize the expansion of the airflow from underneath the car. The slot gap between the two beam elements will help the airflow stay attached to the beam wing, allowing curvature to be tighter which in turn allows further expansion.

The RB18 is truly a unique contender on the 2022 grid. It remains to be seen whether or not this radically different interpretation of the regulations will present an advantage for Red Bull.

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Author information

Alto Ono
Alto is a motorsport journalist and graduated from Cranfield University with a MS in Advanced Motorsport Mechatronics. He has previously covered a range of...

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18 comments on “Analysis: What makes Red Bull’s RB18 one of F1’s most daring designs of 2022”

  1. Is the high rake concept still in play with the new regulations, or has it been negated by the new ground affect rules?

    1. Headline photo – flat as a pancake.
      Good article.

    2. I think all teams are now trying to run low and flat, keeping the full length of the tunnels as close to the ground as they can. Or in other words, low or no rake at all.

    3. The first picture is kind of a giveaway on that

    4. Last year Newey said this (I think this is an English translation from the German translation, but the gist is clear).

      ”By nature, that rake will be less. We are talking about a kind of venturi car. And they have to drive as close to the road as possible to take advantage of the ground effect. You certainly won’t see any more cars that are as high at the back as they are now.”

      Definitely seems to be a thing of the past.

    5. Coventry Climax
      25th February 2022, 1:16

      From the side, the cars all look flat, which is to have a minimum of air escape from under the car.
      Back in the day, they ran with rubber skirts, to effectively seal the airchamber under the car. Today, this is apparently achieved by separate, turbulent airflows.
      Underneath the car, the idea is to have a sort of megaphone shape, with the part your talking into towards the front.
      So, you could say they run rake in a sense, only invisible, as it’s underneath the car.

    6. I think people forget, If i am not mistaken, Newey started out with Rahalnracing doing CART aero, which always had full ground effects

      1. The last IndyCar that Newey was involved in was the 1986 March 86C – it’s about as relevant as saying that McLaren should have an advantage because Neil Oatley worked on ground effect F1 cars from the 1980s.

        1. Coventry Climax
          26th February 2022, 11:44

          It does make a difference if you were actually brought up with certain things.
          Ask Mazepin, or Verstappen, for that matter.
          Your comparison is flawed too. Newey likely brought the knowledge with him, Oatley likely took it with him.
          You being able to come up with these replies/data doesn’t necessarily make the original post untrue or irrelevant, but one does get the impression you are keen to let everyone know you have an F1 encyclopedia at hand and ready.

  2. RandomMallard
    25th February 2022, 0:05

    Fantastic analysis once again Alto. Quickly becoming my favourite articles on this site! Hopefully with the “show and tell” sessions we can get some constant analysis throughout the season!

    1. Coventry Climax
      25th February 2022, 1:28

      Agree with you on the article’s -Alto’s- analysis.
      About the ‘show and tell’ I’m less sure. I’ve always liked the hidden, clever engineering, and fully understand and support that you don’t want to give away your clever finds to the competition right away. Let them work out for themselves how your inventions work was just fine with me. It wasn’t broken as far as I’m concerned, so it didn’t need fixing, but hey, the FIA are masters at this.
      Where you refer to Alto hopefully analysing throughout the season though, I’m very much with you again.
      Although again, ‘show and tell’ takes a bit of the shine off of his clever insight and ability to analyse. To me, at least.

      1. When i suggested the show and tell concept five or more years ago on this forum, i did not intend it to be this detailed. I merely was trying to copy the sail boat racing scheme where everyone sees everyones boat at the end of the season. Havin them explain what they did seems like it goes too far.

    2. I agree, well written and important understandable analysis !

      We will see if this design is fast enough at the first Race round.

  3. Interesting stuff.
    I for one am delighted that the teams seem to be interpreting the new rules in different ways which means we should get a mix of cars on the grid.
    Hopefully this will give us an unpredictable season as we visit different circuits.

    1. @nullapax:

      Hopefully this will give us an unpredictable season as we visit different circuits.

      I agree completely, we’re already seeing big divergences in the way the cars have been built to regs, it’ll be interesting to see how they change over the coming years. But your point about different circuits is one of the most exciting aspects of this year, some aero philosophies may be more favourable at some circuits over others and that unpredicability really gives the season a buzz – and it’s not even started yet!

  4. For all the talk and worry that all the cars would look the same because the engineers kept complaining of the “tight” rules; we’ve very much seen the opposite case with all the cars being really quite different. To my eyes, much more obviously different than last year.

    Of course they’ll all converge, but enjoying the differences for now.

  5. This is still not the real car. If you look close below the side pods there are covers. The under cut it will be much deeper when the time is right. It might even look more like the Aston but thinner.

    1. naw those are there for the big key to wind up the car.

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