Red Bull RB20, Bahrain, 2024

Red Bull say RB20 draws inspiration from rivals in less obvious areas

Formula 1

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Red Bull surprised many in Formula 1 when their new RB20 appeared for the first time at their launch.

The team had been expected to reveal a car which was a clear evolution of its championship-dominating predecessor. But while the RB20 clearly comes from the same lineage, it also owes a debt to other, less successful designs.

Two striking aspects of the car’s design immediately drew comparison with Mercedes W15. Its sidepod inlets have been drastically narrowed, and now include vertical intakes much like those on Mercedes’ ‘zero sidepod’ design, plus additional thin horizontal intakes above.

“For greater efficiency, the inlet shape has been revised to better utilise the available pressure to feed the radiators or primary heat exchangers downstream,” said the team in its submission to the FIA. This has allowed the leading edge of the sidepod to be reshaped, improving the airflow around the nearby entrance to the floor.

Red Bull RB19 sidepod intake, 2023
Red Bull RB19 sidepod intake with blanking, 2023

This drew immediate comparison with Mercedes’ old design partly because the horizontal slit was spotted on the car at its launch before the vertical inlet above it, which was cast in a dark shadow from the strong lights above. When the RB20’s sidepod arrangement is compared directly to last year’s car the relationship between the two designs becomes more obvious.

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Red Bull RB20 sidepod intakes, 2024
Red Bull RB20 sidepod intakes with red blanking, 2024

The engine cover also prompted comparisons to last year’s Mercedes, with its tall cooling channels running along its length towards the rear wing

Mercedes W14, Monaco, 2023
Mercedes engine cover, Monaco, 2023

Its tall, hunched sides extend from the cockpit before sloping down in front of the exhaust. The team says this is intended to refine the airflow to the car’s rear wing, allowing it to operate more efficiently:

Red Bull RB20 engine cover, Bahrain, 2024
Red Bull RB20 engine cover, Bahrain, 2024

These features provoked much discussion because of their obvious resemblance to a car which Mercedes began to redesign soon after it launched. Its slim sidepods were gone by the Monaco Grand Prix in May.

While Red Bull acknowledged those similarities at the time, it has also acknowledged the influence of other teams’ cars on its latest creation.

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Red Bull floor edge, 2024
Red Bull floor edge, 2024

The floor edge is one area where Red Bull says the RB20 “takes inspiration from competitor cars.” It describes the new geometry along the side as being “more aggressive” in order to increase the pressure differences and thereby generate more downforce: “Shapes creating more local load were derived whilst maintaining adequate stability.”

Inevitably, little of these changes are visible when the car isn’t up in the air. The venting along the floor edges is an evolution of that seen on the late-season RB19.

Red Bull front wingend plate, 2023
Red Bull front wingend plate, 2023

The RB20’s front wing endplate is another example of Red Bull “taking inspiration from competitor designs,” it says. “The endplate roll-over has been better optimised for reduced local loss and thus more load.” Naturally Red Bull did not specify which designs inspired these changes.

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Red Bull front wing endplate, 2024
Red Bull front wing endplate, 2024

The revisions to the RB20 don’t end there. The team has also gone in a surprising direction with its front wing arrangement, which goes against the trend for detaching the lower plane from the nose. Red Bull used this design last year:

Red Bull nose, 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Red Bull nose, 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

But for 2024 has extended the nose and connected all four front wing elements to it:

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Max Verstappen, Red Bull RB20 filming day, Silverstone, 2024
Max Verstappen, Red Bull RB20 filming day, Silverstone, 2024

This bucks the trends seen elsewhere on the grid:

The combined effect of the changes to the front of the car allow Red Bull to generate more load using the front wing – no doubt to generate that strong turn-in Max Verstappen looks for in a car.

As Red Bull’s rivals pointed out repeatedly last year, simply copying a rival’s design is no guarantee of success: The team must understand why it works. Nonetheless, following the lead set by other teams may have been a helpful starting point for Red Bull’s constrained development programme.

As the reigning constructors’ champions for two consecutive seasons, Red Bull had the lowest allocation of development time under F1’s performance-balancing Aerodynamic Testing Restriction. On top of that, over a one-year period until October last year their limit was further cut as part of their penalty for exceeding the budget cap in 2021.

While that limit would have affected the development of the RB20, Red Bull had the luxury of being able to leave the all-conquering RB19 largely untouched. Lewis Hamilton said last year he expected this would allow Red Bull to make another major step forwards at the beginning of this year.

It remains to be seen whether that is the case. However the car demonstrates that even while Red Bull was thrashing its rivals last year, they were also paying attention to their cars.

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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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One comment on “Red Bull say RB20 draws inspiration from rivals in less obvious areas”

  1. RedBull goes by Bruce Lee’s advice:
    “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own”

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