Adrian Newey, Red Bull’s superstar technical officer, has not only explained how he came up with his dominant car design under the current technical regulations, but why he didn’t go with the Mercedes style “size zero” sidepods.
Mercedes famously went with a very original interpretation of the regulations in 2022 with the W13. It wasn’t quite the slam dunk that Mercedes was likely hoping for especially early on when it was clear that the W13 severely suffered from porpoising (bouncing). Mercedes may have improved the car’s performance over the year, resulting in a win in Brazil, but it was too little too late.
On the Beyond the Grid F1 Podcast, Newey explained that at one point, he and Red Bull considered looking into Mercedes’ concept, but had a gut feeling that their own concept would have more development potential in the long-term.
“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,” Newey explained. “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.”
How Newey Interpreted the 2022 Regulations
With the 2022 regulations, Newey found that the teams could now exploit the venturi effect to create downforce using the car’s floor with greater freedom. Newey called this “the biggest rule change we had since venturi cars got banned at the end of 1982.”
For success under the new regulations, Newey said focusing on the architecture was the most important to get right as if he didn’t, it couldn’t be changed very easily unlike the bodywork.
“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.
“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’re stuck with it for one season.”
How 2021 Affected Development for 2022
In 2021, Red Bull were in the midst of a tense title fight against Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton. In order to remain competitive that season, Red Bull had to continue pouring resources into the 2021 car for longer than they had anticipated. As a result, the 2022 car “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,” Newey said.
While Mercedes struggled in 2022, Ferrari were able to usurp their role and fight Red Bull at the front in large part because they were able to focus on their 2022 car much earlier than both Red Bull and Mercedes.
“Ferrari took the opposite approach,” said Newey. “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 between that.
“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.
“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.”
Porpoising Helped Red Bull Get Ahead
Porpoising played its part in several teams’ development path and while Red Bull experienced the phenomena, it wasn’t as severe as it was for the others and Red Bull were able to address it quickly. So quickly that they left their rivals behind, clearing up a development path focused on performance-oriented upgrades.
“We had an amount of bouncing, not as bad as the other teams, but we still had some bouncing which we need 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.”
Adrian Newey is a key element to Red Bull’s current success and dominance, and with his technical prowess combined with Max Verstappen’s exemplary driving ability, the rest of the grid have a lot of work to do to catch up and challenge them.