Newey explains why Red Bull didn’t study Mercedes’ “polar opposite” concept

Formula 1

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Red Bull’s chief technical officer Adrian Newey has shed light on how he devised the design which has dominated Formula 1 since the current technical regulations were introduced.

He has also explained why his team spurned the radically different approach taken by Mercedes, despite their rival’s upswing in form over the course of last season which culminated in them winning the Brazilian Grand Prix.

Mercedes produced a highly original interpretation of the 2022 technical rules with their W13 which sported extremely slim, ‘size zero’ sidepods. Although the team initially struggled with severe bouncing, they improved the W13’s performance as the year went on and George Russell gave them their only victory of the season in the penultimate round at Interlagos.

However Newey said his gut feeling at the time was that Red Bulls concept had more development potential for 2023 and beyond.

Newey inspecting the competition at Singapore this year
“Obviously with last year’s car we took an aerodynamic direction with the sidepod and design and the concept of the car, which was almost polar opposite to what Mercedes did,” he told the official F1 website. “Mercedes showed flashes of competitive last year, they won in Brazil.

“Then you’re faced with a choice of well, do we start to research Mercedes in case you’ve missed something or do we stick with what we’re doing? And gut feel was, let’s stick with what we’re doing.”

Newey said the technical regulations introduced in 2022, which gave teams greater freedom to exploit the venturi effect to create downforce using their cars floors “the biggest single rule change we had since venturi cars got banned at the end of 1982”. He said the key to maximising the car’s performance under the new rules was ensuring the three major elements of the car were successfully integrated.

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“It was [a matter of] sitting down with the rule book then trying to understand what architecture in terms of where do you put the front wheels, where do you put the rear wheels relative to the fixed bits of the series of chassis, engine and gearbox,” he said. “The underlying architecture, you have to decide.

Mercedes won one race with its ‘zero’ sidepod design
“In my case, I concentrated on the architecture and then the front and rear suspension because they’re the kind of key bits that you want to try and get right if you possibly can. If you get the bodywork wrong, within reason, you can change it during a season. But if you get the underlying architecture wrong, at the very least you stuck with it for one season.”

In 2021 Red Bull faced the competing demands of producing their first car for the forthcoming new technical regulations and developing their existing car in order to remain competitive with Mercedes in their fight for that year’s championship titles. Newey admitted that as a result of continuing work on their 2021 car longer than planned, its successor – the RB18 – “was conceived probably in a much shorter time than most, if not all, our rivals”.

“In ’21 we were in a big championship battle with Mercedes and, possibly wrongly, but because for the first time in many years we were in with a shot for a championship, we decided to put quite a lot of effort into developing that car through the year.”

While Red Bull driver Max Verstappen won the driver’s championship, Mercedes beat them to the constructors’ title. Red Bull were later found to have exceeded that year’s budget cap by £1.8 million.

In 2022, Mercedes struggled with their new car and Ferrari emerged as Red Bull’s new rivals at the front. “Ferrari took the opposite approach,” Newey explained. “They weren’t in the championship battle in ’21, so they stopped developing the ’21 car very early on and just concentrated on the design of the ’22 car. Mercedes was somewhere in between that.

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“We kept developing far longer than either of those teams. And so theoretically that put us at a disadvantage. But I think what we did manage to do is get the architecture right.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2022
Red Bull began 2022 in better shape than Mercedes
“So when [RB]18 first came out in Bahrain last year, Ferrari was certainly as quick, if not quicker, in the early season. We managed to get the fundamentals right and that gave us a good development platform.“

Red Bull experienced some of the same problems with bouncing and porpoising as their rivals, but unlike most of the other teams, were quickly able to master it.

“We had an amount of bouncing, not as bad as the other teams, but we still had some bouncing which we needed to get on top of. And I think we had a reasonable understanding of what we needed to do to do that.

“So come the first upgrade we had in for the Bahrain race, then bouncing was much less of an issue than it was for other teams. That meant that we didn’t have to put a lot of our development energy into fixing bouncing, such as Ferrari and Mercedes did.”

Newey began designing F1 cars in the 1980s when ground effect aerodynamics were first used. He said the experience gained there, as well as in sports car and IndyCar racing, gave him an advantageous understanding of the rules that were introduced last year.

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Fittipaldi experience taught Newey about bouncing phenomenon
“I think the key thing, particularly these venturi cars that came in at the start last year – though it was also true of the stepped-bottom cars before that – is it’s not just the aerodynamics, it’s how it couples with the chassis as well. And that is one of the big keys that perhaps I’ve had a bit of an advantage in because I experienced that when I was at Fittipaldi – by the time I got back into F1 in 1988, then they were flat-bottomed cars – and then working in IndyCar. So I did three seasons in IndyCar, which were also venturi cars. So they gave me a good understanding of the cross-coupling.”

He first encountered the phenomenon of bouncing four decades before it became the buzzword of 2022.

“I very clearly remember Fittipaldi, actually the first time I went to the circuit when I was at Fittipaldi, Harvey Postlethwaite, who was the young technical director there, because the cars were running so stiff, he had the idea to save a bit of weight by throwing away the front dampers and springs and replacing them with bump rubbers, which is something he tried in his Hesketh days.

“I remember Keke Rosberg coming past on the old pit straight at Silverstone and the front wheels were in the air as it came past it was bouncing so badly. I think that was a very early lesson that this isn’t just about aero, it’s also the coupling of aero and suspension.”

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Keith Collantine
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49 comments on “Newey explains why Red Bull didn’t study Mercedes’ “polar opposite” concept”

  1. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to Beyond The Grid; this sounds like a great interview with Adrian, I’ll have to tune in.

    I think that was a very early lesson that this isn’t just about aero, it’s also the coupling of aero and suspension.

    I did find it interesting that Red Bull, if I recall correctly, were the only team to use a roll-rod setup in the front and rear — it’s no wonder Adrian is considered a genius by many. His genius is in part his observance of others and his humble approach of walking up and down the grid studying their rivals, whether they be on the front row or the back of the grid.

    1. Yes, I think it’s clear from the interview too that the essential bit to get right first was the suspension, keeping the car from rising and falling as far as possible to prevent bouncing (the dreaded porpoising), after that you can work on the aero to maximize the ground effects and downforce without running into the problems Ferrari and Mercedes had:

      I concentrated on the architecture and then the front and rear suspension because they’re the kind of key bits that you want to try and get right if you possibly can. If you get the bodywork wrong, within reason, you can change it during a season. But if you get the underlying architecture wrong, at the very least you stuck with it for one season.

    2. It really is a good podcast episode to listen to. You can really hear and feel the pain and regret regarding Senna too. I’ve been waiting for TC to bring him on as Newey always has a different view on things in the sport.

    3. Yes I saw he was on it and thought I might check it out for the first time in ages. Much prefer the old guard and what they have to say and I’m always interested in what Newey has to say. If anyone hasn’t, I would strongly suggest reading How To Build A Car. One of the better F1 biographies and Adrian is a lot more charismatic than his public image suggests.

    4. I’ve been trying to explain to so many fans that Newey is so much more than aerodynamicist. Besides, the internals of the ICU, there’s almost nothing on these cars that he isn’t intimately involved with. Basically, the vast majority of elements we saw on modern F1 cars were first introduced by Newey. Without Brawn and his lieutenants, Newey, even with weak MB (early 2000s) and Renault power units would have almost never have been challenged at any point.

      1. PS – I’m not an RBR or McLaren fan. I don’t even like Newey that much. But his talent and impact compared to the other top designers (or the few who have even have half as wide direct design influence let alone control), is way more than the gap from say a Max to a Sainz. It’s like a Senna vs an Andrea de Cesaris, Alonso vs a Vandoorne or a Max vs an Ericsson. The impact at the very least. Because a Perez or a Magnussen could win a title in Newey and Brawn’s best cars while no driver ever could win a title in a 2023 RBR competitor.

  2. In other words, if the RB19 had a zero sidepod design Max would have no wins this year.

    1. when you look at Adrian Newey’s curriculum, is laughable to read these teenagers thinking that this domination is all Max.

      Newey was already considered a genius back in his early Mclaren days with Hakkinen. The first car entirely designed by him was enough to bring Mclaren back to contention and championships. And since then his designs won more than 100 races.

      But here, we have to read that the car isn’t even that good because Perez is crashing every other race.

      1. And Max was already considered a genius back in his Formula 3 season in 2014. Nobody is denying the fact Red Bull is a good car, but Max in equal cars would be winning 80-90% of races anyway, so it’s not that different to reality.

        1. Absolutely not!

          He would doing what Perez os doing right now! Making shure the Craschtappen moniker is engraved in F1 history.

          1. Strange take on Verstappen. He routinely proves he is extremely fast and consistent, and steadily got more so throughout his early years in Red Bull. It’s pure conjecture as to how many races he’d win if all cars were equal, but he’s likely the best driver on the grid right now and in the form of his life.

            The Crashtappen moniker just isn’t true anymore.

          2. Please remind me of even 1 mistake that Max has made this year ( 16 races ). Hamilton made 2 in Japan itself.

        2. This is not an argument, you’re just supposing stuff, as always.

        3. correct in the F3 periode he had to drive a midfield team car with a VW enginevs Ocon in the topteam car with a Mercedes engine. He had several DNF but could drive the car outside it’s specs.

      2. The radiant glory of your mastery of logic, reason and grammar enlightens us all.
        We want more! :-)

      3. That could you say a bit different but still your wrong. He is a solid person with a focus to win everywhere and anytime and if you saw the penaulties against him he never gets cart blanche…
        The amount of crashes is ver much less then you think…..

      4. Are you ok Fritz?

        Insulting other people and bringing toxicity makes you feel better?

        How about bringing an idea sustained by facts or with an interesting take?

    2. Coventry Climax
      27th September 2023, 17:53

      That’s drawing a conclusion that is not in the text, can not be made, never be verified, and the certainty with which you claim it is absurd.

      1. Oh, that conclusion can be made and I just did. And many would agree with me. Not the Max fan boys, though.

        1. I’m not a fanboy of any driver and I disagree simply because the logic implies that zero sidepod = no wins and, well, George Russell would like to have a word with you about that.

          1. Actually, Russell’s very fast, probably faster than Verstappen in the same car. And Norris is as fast as Russell.

        2. Coventry Climax
          28th September 2023, 12:35

          Oh, you can say it alright, but it’s as logically incorrect as saying apples are fruit, oranges are fruit, therefore apples are oranges.
          I suggest you get yourself some decent education before engaging in talk with the grownups.

    3. If you really think that the zero sidepod is the significant issue that makes the Mercedes slow and not just trolling and trying to instigate heated comments, then boy have I news for you.

  3. This post basically states that the other teams didn’t stand a chance unless they happened to have someone with in-depth understanding of ground effect cars. Plus also being gifted as Goat Newey is…

    Sheesh I’d say this advantage is arguably as potent as Mercedes engine in 2014.

    1. @icarby Peter Windsor interviewed some of those specialists in ground effects, who were bemused that teams like Mercedes didn’t want to ask them anything…

    2. +1

      When you phrase like that Coventry it sounds like you covering your ass with your hands wearing a belt and suspenders.

      Verstappen is a very, very, very lucky boy! Its not only the car, its also the officiating, and whenever a rulebrake has been done Max/Redbull are almost allways the first to get an diviation from the standard penalty.

      1. So? Lewis was a very very very very lucky boy for 8 years in a row. thats how f1 works

        1. Lewis is indeed a lucky boy, in the sense that all the absolutely absurd and made up rules applied to him and him only to demote his positions in the grid and last one being the absolute garbage and butchering of all the rules in the final race of 2021! When it comes to Lewis, FIA works day and night to create a rule to slow him down or eliminate him!
          Like Brazil, 4 race in a row red bull allowed to replace their rear wings / drs systems before the race after qualis but mercedes failed one, auto dnf. It couldn’t be an issue must have been cheating. :)

          Redbul rear wing was flexing from sao polo to Singapore, but it was clever design.

          All the fuss about mercedes engine, and what they do? Bring the ground effect cars. Who do you have think advocated for it and benefit the most? No other than redbul and the longest standing ground effect cars eras genius or most experienced ground effect specialist in the redbul! Redbul has 1000% flexing component that is not in regulations but can’t be tested due to working only at speeds as usual before. Like front wings wen tested it was compliant but when at speed it flexed. Adrian talked about aero elasticity in ground effect cars so many times yet they brought ground effect cars still only to topple mercedes / lewis breaking more records. Yeah lewis is lucky in the sense that both fis and redbul working hand in hand to make him look bad. When rules applied Lewis always loose out and Max or red bull spared.

          I wonder to this day, how much mon y exchanged hands on the final race of 2021? In gambling grounds. I m sure it was more than 100-1000/1 for max to win the race and wdc at the time minus a miracle. A miracle came in the final lap in the final corners! Yeah lewis is very lucky to race against crooks and gangsters. Dunno maybe he is black like ali g said. Who knows… :)

      2. Coventry Climax
        28th September 2023, 16:48

        It’s OK these days Fritz, if belts and suspenders are your thing, but you’re on the wrong site for that.

    3. This post basically states that the other teams didn’t stand a chance unless they happened to have someone with in-depth understanding of ground effect cars.

      Which a number of people have been saying for as long as the regs have existed. Although some pointed out that AN isn’t the only ground effect knowledgable designer. Possibly the only one with the same/similar level of experience, though.

      Plus also being gifted as Goat Newey is…

      Well, why go for one advantage when you can two?

    4. @icarby
      Rory Byrne did indeed have some input as an external consultant on the design of the F1-75 which was the best all around car before the TD039 was introduced. Both the F1-75 and RB18 employed a shared innovation with springs mounted in the T-Tray.

      This concept, initially introduced by Byrne in the F1-2003, was later adopted by Newey at McLaren. Although the RB18 featured a more advanced sponge-based system to dampen vibrations and prevent floor contact, the fundamental concept remains identical.

      1. Indeed, Byrne doesn’t get nearly as much credit despite his ‘battles’ – for lack of a better word – being a big part of the F1 story in his day. His best cars were arguably even better than Newey’s.

        On a more general note, there’s also nothing special about ground effect cars that somehow necessitates arcane knowledge from the 1980s. Especially in the context of the restrictive F1 regulations. It’s just a matter of finding the right balance, and then small differences grow into large ones over a race distance. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the better cars are usually barely more than a few tenths of a second apart in qualifying. The problem obviously being that in F1, those small differences matter a lot. But these are still all fine cars in the grand scheme of things, and it’s not like the other teams don’t ‘get’ the basic concepts.

        1. I think Newey’s point is less the direct experience, and more the learnings he had about how the ground effects need to be addressed in every aspect of the car, not just the aero. It only works if you take a holistic approach.

        2. MichaelN,

          I personally rate Byrne even higher than Newey. For me the top 5 are Forghieri, Chapman, Murray, Byrne and then Newey. Byrne used to be Newey’s kryptonite and he often used to outplay him in his own game. In the early ’90s, Byrne achieved remarkable success by crafting competitive cars on a tighter budget than Williams. Those high-nose Benettons, a trendsetter, didn’t fully win over Newey until 1995.

          During his time at Ferrari, there was no competition, apart from the first couple of years, 1997 and 1998. Don’t misunderstand me; Newey is undoubtedly a legendary designer. However, I believe that the cars he engineered at RBR, which dominated during both Vettel’s and Verstappen’s eras, heavily relied on regulations that prioritized aerodynamics, coupled with frozen engine development.

    5. Coventry Climax
      28th September 2023, 13:25

      No it doesn’t.

      The introduction of ground effect rules was announced well in advance, and all teams agreed to it and had time to prepare for it.
      Yes, Newey was around when ground effect cars last raced, so he had experience with it, but the knowledge around it is public domain, and engineers -of all levels- have access to it. Also, the cars and much of all the (other) technology around it have changed significantly.
      So to say Newey could just apply what he thought he remembered having learned all those years ago, would be rather simplistic.

      Mercedes had an advantage PU-wise, as they’d been developing in that direction for a long time already, before starting to actively push the FiA in that direction. So when hybrids were introduced in F1, all other teams and PU manufacturers did have time to prepare, but also had lot of development catching up to do, efficiency, driveability, power and reliability wise. The way the seasons and the PU manufacturers evolved since the introduction simply proves that.
      Still, here too, all teams agreed and that’s apparently how things go.

      In my opinion the difference is maybe that this time round, with the return (big difference to new introduction of) of the ground effect cars, is that there’s a limitation in resources that teams can direct towards it. On the other hand, aero has been an important factor in F1 car design for ages already, so it’s not like the teams suddenly found out they need to employ experts where they currently have areo nitwits working for them. We did not see a massive influx of ‘ground effect experts’ with teams, and yes, they do exist: It’s an area that’s well researched within the aviation industry.

      My feel is, that Mercedes made two, related mistakes.
      They underestimated the complexity of the current groundeffect technology and -like Newey says- it’s relation to other (aero) aspects. They made the wrong design decision and took way to long to come up with solutions for shortcomings they did not anticipate, porpoising being just one of them. They also took way too long to find out it wouldn’t bring any extra development room.
      Secondly, they underestimated the progress others made with their PU’s. They relied too much on their own PU, which had always been so dominant, to drag them through their shortcomings in other areas.
      Both are underestimating things, which usually stems from arrogance, and arrogance in it’s turn, usually comes from having a prolonged success.

      Don’t worry, that will happen to Red Bull too, in a couple of years.

      1. Knowledge and experience are two entirely different things, from my point of view. After listening to the podcast (3 times) it was clear he had a very clear plan for the new regulations. I was surprised to hear that Rbr had bouncing issues but they clearly had appropriate architecture to fix for the first race. So all they have been doing is adding performance. Newey also mentioned working on ground effect cars in not only F1 but in Indy car as well for a number of years.

        I don’t know if any other teams have someone in their employ like that, probably not.

        Singling out Mercedes is unfair as other teams even during this season have got bounce issues still.

        I’m not confident that Rbr will be caught but will be pleasantly surprised if they are.

        1. Coventry Climax
          1st October 2023, 1:37

          Ofcourse they’re two different things; that’s more of a fact than just a point of view, but nonetheless, you’re correct obviously.
          I ‘singled out’ Mercedes, because that’s what the article starts out with; Red Bull (Newey) looking at Mercedes, and I merely continued looking at both.
          As I said, there are others in the world with experience in ground effect, but none of the teams thought it either worthwhile to hire them, or they -falsely- thought they could tackle the concept all by themselves. Either way, that’s underestimating things and it happened at Mercedes too.
          I too was surprised to learn Red Bull had some porpoising at first. If anything, that proves Newey’s knowledge and experience, from Indy as well, wasn’t thorough, extensive and/or recent enough to prevent that happening, although they apparently managed to solve it quickly.
          I’ve never heard porpoising being an issue in Indy. That could be because they are quite different cars, or because there’s people employed there (or at Dallara) that know how to deal with it. If it’s the second, then I’m at loss why none of the F1 teams that suffered from porpoising, hired people from the Indy environment or talked to the Dallara people. Especially McLaren, who have ties in abundance in America. But who knows, maybe they (and/or other teams) did and we were never informed of it.

  4. Even an insightful technical article (based upon a podcast, okay) manages to draw out blatant bias and detracting comments about the people driving the cars.

    I do miss the old days sometimes.

    1. This website has 99% less clickbait and trolls than almost any other site I’ve seen, except those with literally no one responding.

  5. And all of this thought, interest, and investment is 100% throw away, in the real world, compared to if it were aero that was spec, and drive trains that were more open.

    In 10 years your Audi would be a better car if F1 spec-ed aero and opened up drive train and the competitive landscape.

    1. Coventry Climax
      28th September 2023, 13:57

      If it was all spec, noone would be able to come up with and introduce anything new anymore.
      New regulations for F1 would effectively be directed by development in the road going automotive industry, as ‘spec’ is not mandated there. That world is mandated by maximising profit only, resulting in the cheapest materials and production possible.
      If the road going automotive world were spec too, ALL car brands would be identical.
      Maybe some would be more identical than others, and yes Audi might qualify. ;-) (Though I’m not sure you get the reference here.)

  6. And that is why Red Bull doesn’t spend much on this car as the basis is very good and aero you can tweak a lot with.

    1. @macleod
      So the basis which is very good comes for free ?

      1. Certainly wouldn’t say it’s free however given Adrian Newey’s experience with ground effects matched with the fact that his salary is one that’s exempt from the cost cap then it can be considered at least a very good discount. How I interpret MacLeod’s message is that they had a good base to start with, the cost of iterating on a good design is less than re-evaluating a concept and starting from scratch, a la Mercedes and their sidepods.

  7. the zero sidepod concept makes sense if you are moving the car towards an electric only concept. it has garbage aero and a very limited opportunity to drive the right kind of down force from the ‘ground effect’. Mercedes’ vision was for something that did not exist, that they want to see in the future, but for which had no real grounding in reality, thats why their team cannot understand what is going on, because (at least in the past) their leadership had their heads in the clouds and they were asked to make something impossible, kinda like the burger, but even worse, if such a thing can exist.

    RBR on the other hand, designed a quick car, by using something that worked, making it better and observing reality. Kudos to them. F1, well, there are a lot of teams who are just following the lead of other teams, the rules being what they are, driving towards inequity, and homogeneity, which is ultimately a political appeal which has proven disastrous on the past, especially in eastern europe. F1 was made great by diversity and opportunity, not what is happening now courtesy of big money and the FIA.

  8. This is from the Beyond the Grid Episode. It’s worth listening to

  9. At the time, Mercedes said their zero sidepod concept was partially based on rocket engine work being done by another British Aerospace Company. Us rocket scientist know that their rocket engine concept was (is) probably hogwash. So I predicted that if Mercedes truly did based their car on this (failing) rocket concept, then it would be a disaster. Not sure what happened to the rocket company, but we all know what happened to Mercedes.

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