Red Bull Racing today unveiled the RB8, the car with which it will defend its world championship crown. It is a development of a car whose DNA goes back to the RB5 of 2009, but adapted to the new regulations banning exhaust blown diffusers and stiplulating a low nose.
Like many of its rival teams, Red Bull’s designers have gone for a step down to the low nose, keeping the main chassis level high, to improve airflow to the vanes, around the sidepods and to the floor or the car. Red Bull were the team that led the way in this line of aerodynamic thinking and most other teams have followed, but not McLaren, the odd ones out.
There is a school of thought that McLaren did not need to do the stepped nose because they anticipated the 2012 rules in their 2011 design and thus have an already well sorted concept. But more of that another time.
Last season was a runaway success for Sebastian Vettel in particular and this had a lot to do with Red Bull perfecting the exhaust blown diffuser (EBD), around which the car was designed and running the car with rake so the rear of the car was raised off the ground to maximise the effect of the diffuser.
This year the playing field has been levelled, with EBD’s banned and the designers forced to lower the rear of the car to harvest what downforce they can from the diffuser.
But engineers in the pit lane say that the diffuser is still an area of great interest and that there are some innovative ideas coming on stream around diffusers for 2012.
The tone of the messaging from the Red Bull team today was that its big advantage has gone with the banning of the EBD, the field will be closed up by the rule changes and that the RB8 is now essentially a four year old design.
You can choose to believe that or not, but as the team to beat at the end of last season, there is no reason to suspect that the designers have missed any and every opportunity to claw back the downforce lost in the changes and to stay ahead of the opposition.
But we are dealing with diminishing returns; this season and next are the final years of this era of Formula 1; from 2014 onwards the cars and their powertrains will change massively. So over the next two seasons we should see the cars close up more and more as the avenues for exploiting new ideas dwindle.
Vettel, for example, said, “It would be wrong to go into this season and expect 2011 to happen again, as in getting into the lead early and having a very big gap to other competitors in the Championship.
“So I think it will be very, very tight this year and anything else would be a surprise to be honest. Looking at the cars, you know there’s not much room we have left to play (with) for designers and to find something extra. You know, the last two years we have had two big things taken away, the double diffusers, plus, for this year, the system around the blown exhaust. So we are missing that and therefore I think it’s difficult to really create a difference.”
One talking point around the RB8 is the duct which is set into the step change on the nose of the car. It could be a red herring, as this launch pic doesn’t look very real. Many feel the launch version of the McLaren was a red herring, but if it’s genuine this inlet duct is clearly going to serve a purpose, which is likely to be aerodynamic.
With McLaren’s F Duct rear wing idea, a much smaller air intake on the monocoque fed a channel which led to an outlet the rear wing, which helped to shed drag. In today’s rules the DRS Wing has the same effect now, so there’s no reason to try that on the rear wing. It’s possible it could be working on the front wing, something Mercedes explored last season.
However one key area where downforce has been lost is the diffuser and the rear end – one wonders whether this inlet duct, which will harvest a lot of air given it’s size, is channeling additional airflow to the rear, possibly to work with the diffuser in some way.
It could be to cool the KERS, which was a major headache for the team last season. But the father of the all conquering generation of Red Bull cars is Adrian Newey and he’s famous for not having too many openings for cooling as they cut downforce, especially not one as large as this. Everyone expects something cunning from him, but he downplayed what he’d been able to do with this design. He said today,
“RB7 was designed around the exhaust, this year knowing that the exhaust position from last year would be taken away, we’ve had to go back and look at how we developed the car through the last one and two years.. and try.. to re-evaluate.
“Probably one of the key things there is the rear ride height. The exhaust allowed us to run a high rear ride height, it’s much more difficult without that to sustain a high rear height so we have to go back down and have to redevelop the car around that lower ride height.”
The cars run for the first time tomorrow. Jerez won’t teach us much, but the two tests at Barcelona will and a fairly accurate picture of underlying pace should be possible to establish by the end of the Barcelona tests.
Let’s hope Vettel is correct and the field has closed right up for 2012.
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