Technical update: How Ferrari and McLaren closed the gap and Red Bull are reacting
Posted By: James Allen  |  04 Aug 2011   |  10:23 am GMT  |  169 comments

It’s now August and although they lead both championships comfortably, Red Bull’s last race victory was in Valencia in June. They have maintained their 100% record in qualifying, but on race day they no longer have the fastest car.

In Budapest we saw a reaction with Red Bull mechanics using up one of their four curfew free nights of the season on Friday to work into the small hours on the car to get it right for qualifying and the race. This involved changing the specification of the car from what they had intended to run, with modifications to the rear suspension and bodywork – quite a significant amount of work.

One of the more noticeable things on the Red Bull was a new front wing configuration, a refinement of the layout seen at Nurburgring. The idea here was to reduce pitch sensitivity, as the engineers believe that this could be causing them higher tyre wear with certain set ups. Certainly the Red Bull has been a little harder on its tyres than its rivals and this gives them less margin on race strategy to run longer stints if necessary and Hungary is famously hard on front tyres. Some observers think that this work was more about problem solving than a development step forward.

The reason for all this furious work is that Ferrari and McLaren have been pushing hard. Ferrari has found a second on its car in the last month, with a variety of updates; a change of rear suspension and rear bodywork phased in over several races but first raced at Silverstone, modifications to the exhausts to improve the blown diffuser, a succession of new front and rear wings. In Hungary they tried new front and rear wings including a rear wing modification that looks destined for Spa. It has a curved main plane, where the previous one used in Germany was straight, with only three gills in the endplate, and different positioning of the planes relative to the endplate. It was run in a high downforce configuration for Hungary, but Italian sources suggest it was designed for Spa, where it would work well in terms of reducing the drag on the long straights, even when using medium to steep angles for the flap. Alonso also said that the team has targetted Monza for an all out assault “to please the tifosi”. Last year they got it spot on with a Monza special F Duct rear wing and no doubt they’ll be the team to beat this year.

Meanwhile McLaren, which has now won the last two races, has done work on visible things like wings and brakeducts, but one of the keys to their success lately has been working with the rake of the car and the exhaust blown diffuser, both in terms of engine mapping and the diffuser design itself. As maps have to be the same for qualifying and race, there has been a lot of work on getting the best compromise. The result is more rear end downforce and stability. They got it wrong on Button’s car in Germany and that’s one of the reasons he was strangely off the pace.

Red Bull’s car runs at quite a steep rake (height of rear of car relative to the front. As over 45% of the downforce of a car comes from underneath and around 35% from the rear, this is a crucial area to get right. Force India have made great progress in this area too, hence their step forward.

But it’s not just a case of raising the ride height; work has to be done on bodywork, floor and exhausts to get the maximum.

Sebastian Vettel is 88 points clear of Lewis Hamilton in the championship and 89 ahead of Alonso, while Red Bull is 103 points clear of McLaren with Ferrari 168 adrift.

There are only eight races to go and with both Red Bull drivers scoring well it’s hard to imagine they will be caught in the Constructors’ Championship.

The drivers’ championship is also a stretch. No one contender has emerged to challenge Vettel, with three other drivers winning races and four different drivers finishing second to him when he wins.

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I must say I do not like team orders in any form. I’m all for letting the drivers race each other, and let the naturally faster guy win on the track. In that way it makes racing more enjoyable for the spectators. – What’s more I’m dam sure the drivers don’t like it either. As long as it’s clean, and they avoid each other most of the time what’s the problem. The idea of giving a driver preferential parts or track position is anathema to me. Lewis Hamilton has lost out on several wins due to team strategy this year as I think had things played out correctly he would have been further ahead of Jenson Button than he curently is. Lewis’s wins are through racing whereas Jenson’s have come about due to strategy.


Very interesting how Alonso bitchily remarks that Ferrari are making a big push to please their Tifosi, the Italians in Italy.

Remember how he used to run very light in practice to give the Spanish fans something to cheer about. He once qualified amazingly well there, but as suspected, pitted very soon after, utterly ruining a race.

Clearly he is rattled that he and his precious self image are not priority numero uno at Maranello. This is just the start, there is no love lost between the Italians and the Spanish and it will all end in tears.


Doubt it. Best driver, best team……


You sound like the Scots fella from Dads Army, “Doomed, I say”


Sorry, Malcolm. I asked a question to your 29 response, but you’ve pretty well answered it here.

I must say, I really appreciate your technical input, it makes such a welcome change from all the personality-based stuff that has appeared earlier in this thread & many of the others.

Those are all opinions, it’s much better to deal in facts. Thanks.


No worries!

Thanks… well, I can’t say I am a huge fan of anyone specifically. I usually just cheer for the underdog, or whoever I think deserves it (that can change race-to-race for me). That results in me having very little to say when it comes to speculating on whether Hamilton is the next Senna, or a petulant child. 😉


Regarding the rake, it depends on a trend that has come to the fore in the past few years, that of having decoupled the ride and the roll in the suspension.

This is done with just using one heave spring. If there was no anti-roll bar (or sway bar), then the rear suspension would flop all over the place as it would not have any resistance to roll. Basically, the anti-roll bar is the only thing that resists roll, and does not affect ride. The heave spring affects ride, but not roll.

For a few years, Nascar teams have found it desirable to have the “soft spring, big bar” set up, where heave is very soft, but roll is very stiff. Red Bull needs the opposite of this in the rear of their car to run a high rake, which is impossible with an older, conventional suspension; however, with the decoupled ride and roll, it’s now possible.

Red Bull needs that stiff rear ride rate in order to keep the rake very consistent. With a conventional set-up, this would result in a really twitchy car as increasing the ride rate would also affect the roll rate; you can’t increase ride without increasing roll as well.

With the new set-up, it’s as easy as tossing in a very stiff heave spring, and then a very soft anti-roll bar, as the two are independent of each other. This allows the stiff ride needed to maintain the rake, but provides a very soft roll so that they can balance the mechanical grip without a massively stiff front suspension.

For those that know the landscape of F1 suspension, they basically just have a spring between the two bell-cranks where the pull-rods or push-rods connect. F1 cars have had these for a few years (it was this spring that came off Barrichello’s car and hit Massa), but it was only to augment the other springs to increase the ride rate without affecting roll. This trend naturally led to fully removing the side springs in order to allow complete freedom between roll and ride settings.

Good evidence of this was Korea last year, where they were testing the limits of it on Mark’s car. It was lifting the inside front wheel everywhere, but they were very coy when someone asked if they broke a sway-bar (they said “something like that”). It wasn’t broken – just very very soft to see what they could get away with. Stiff ride, soft roll, hence the front tire lifting way up in the air through most corners.

This also allows them to the reverse on the front. I think they have a very high rebound damping level on the front, that keeps the nose low. Then they have a relatively soft ride with a stiff anti-roll bar. This combination has the same effect of the rear, albeit in reverse, where they want the soft front to compress due to the downforce, but they use a stiff sway bar to maintain the mechanical grip balance front-to-rear.

Once that nose is compressed by the aero, the braking makes it compress a little more, and then going through the corner, the stiff rebound damping keeps the nose low just long enough to get the car onto the straight and producing sufficient downforce to keep that nose low again. Then they come into the pits, the nose slowly rises, and passes the ride-height tests. Also since the car runs such massive rake, the “reference plane” comes very close to the ground, or may even extend into it. Therefore, the reference that they use to measure the height of the front wing is so low that it allows the wing to be super low as well.

Of course, that rake ends up raising the rear of the car. The floor and diffuser need to be designed to take advantage of this, especially with the blowing of the diffuser. The exhaust not only adds energy to the diffuser, but since it is blowing in from the side, it may also create a bit of a skirt.

The magic of the Red Bull is not in one flexible wing, or simply jacking up the rake, but it’s the addition of several little integrated set-up features that need each other to work well.

Of course, adding all of these features takes a lot of work to get right, so McLaren can’t just say they want to do it, and go ahead and make their car a Red Bull beater. They need to redesign a lot of little details, find out the optimum ride and roll rates for the front and the rear, determine how much damping they can get away with on the front, and tune their blown diffuser to work well at a higher rear ride height, but allow for a little more roll without losing downforce. It’s a lot of tricky work that Newey has had a few years to perfect on the Red Bull.


Thanks for that assessment and post here and earlier malcolm, very interesting. much appreciated your input. good to get off the earlier theads.

Its all about the ‘package’ and how the drivers style makes it work!. McLaren and Ferrari have clearly made theirs work better off however it would have been interesting to see how they all performed if OTBD were banned after silverstone and how teams reacted.


Definitely. I think we might have seen some 2010-Mercedes-style wheel-base changes, and certainly some major set-up changes… although, we wouldn’t have known how much they’d change the springs, J-dampers, dampers and anti-roll bars (easy to hide those changes!).


Hey James. How do you see the rest of 2011 panning out? Will Sebastian clinch 3/4 races from the end? Will he win any more races, or have a 2009-like cruise to victory?


I think he’ll have a fight on his hands to win races, but he will win the title because different drivers will challenge him, not one single challenger.


JAmes, would it not be better and maybe easier to design a car for two drivers with similar driving styles than two drivers with totally different driving styles like what Mclaren have?

Does it not affect their development pace when they bring a new component to the car, one driver says it feels great while the other is mourning about it all day or does it all come down to set up?


I know I am a layman, but in my mind it seems to me, that if Red Bull run at a steeper rake angle, then this would create more rear down force, and also more drag?….More rear down force, would this explain the harder use of tyres situation?

Team mates may have the same cars, in essence, but set ups tend to be different, giving a driver one advantage in one area, but the other driver an advantage in another,(for example, maybe Hamilton more speed, but using more fuel, though Button would have less tyre degredation, whilst using less fuel?) its just getting the balance right. I saw something once regarding Senna, that explained why he seemed to have an advantage, that explained his ‘feathering’ of the accelerator, and also driving like a rally driver by using the ‘heal/toe’ method on the brake and accelerator.

At the end of the day though, do the engineers and aerodynamicists have to work differently to suit each driver?


Senna’s advantage was that he’d play with the throttle even under braking to keep the turbo spooled. Of course, after turbos were banned, that advantage was gone (though I bet he still used the technique to balance the car if need be).

I think a steeper rake angle would actually generate more downforce across the entire floor, front to back. Because of the higher rear end, there is a greater area where the air leaves the diffuser. This ends up drawing more air under the car… more air = faster air, and faster air = thinner air (Bernoulli!), which ends up making more downforce.

On an F1 car, there are two main suction peaks. One is at the leading edge of the floor (this is the one that Renault seeks to improve with their front exit exhaust), and the other is at the leading edge of the diffuser (which every other team seeks to improve with their blown diffusers).

Basically, whenever air curves around a solid object, it reduces the pressure against that solid (Coanda effect). When the air goes under the car, it curves quite a bit at the leading edge, thus lowering the pressure. When the air curves up into the diffuser from the floor, it lowers the pressure again. Like I said before, more air flow = more downforce.

Simply put, I doubt there would be a gain in downforce at the rear of the car without a corresponding gain at the front of the floor as well; however, since the floor is positioned toward the rear of the car, it could potentially provide more rear downforce overall, if you focus solely on what the floor generates.

Keep in mind that the rake is also responsible for the front wing being so close to the ground. This ends up increasing front downforce considerably, which would balance that rear downforce increase due to the increased diffuser exit area.

I hope I didn’t get too techy in my explanation…



If you raise the rear end (effectively dropping the front in relation to it), does it not raise the CofG at the rear?

If so, how does it affect the handling? I mean just from the suspension point of view. Would you need more downforce to get the rear end to grip, if so what about chicanes & slowish corners wher airflow is at a minimum?

It used to be that a higher rear end (more rake) made a car very oversteery, but of course that was before the high science & wind tunnels etc.

I hope you may have a view.


Yep, it’ll raise the CG in the rear. That will make the rear end of the car want to roll more and it will shift a little bit of weight forward, which in a non-aero car would make it tend to oversteer (when I say non-aero car, I mean one that doesn’t make any noticeable downforce from the floor).

However, the game changes once you run a flat-bottom close to the ground. Then you end up creating a venturi effect under the car by running rake. The little increase in front weight bias is now strongly overcome by the increased downforce.

Then you tune other elements of the suspension to attain the mechanical grip properties you need, basically working around the inherent mechanical disadvantage of high rear ride height to achieve the aerodynamic advantage you are seeking.

Basically, the small mechanical loss results in a large aerodynamic gain.

F1 cars are designed primarily around aero these days. It used to be that you’d pick your engine, and design your suspension, and then you would make your chassis meet all of those pick-up points. Now, if you are Newey, you design the shape that will work best through the air, with a little consideration for where the engine will have to go… then you redesign everything else to fit in/to that aero shape. Look how weird the front suspension is these days, where the A-arms angle up at close to 15 degrees… that’s a terrible set up for a non-aero car, but the gains you get from the aero make the mechanical losses pale in comparison.


Cheers Malcolm, I think I understand, roughly, where you are coming from, its many years since I did basic engineering at college, and I think ive actually forgot more than I learned, mind you, i never studied in the context of aerodynamics, which seems a fascinating science, but mind boggling at times….


Sorry James Allen, it is a bit off topic but could you give us an update on Kubica’s recovery? How is it going? And will he be able to race in 2012?


Rehabilitation is coming along well, I’m told. He is using his damaged hand to do texting!


Latest news is he has regained full motion to his thumb, so I guess he is preparing to test drive soon.


every cloud has a silver lining, if Renault engine would = to Merc aggregate, then one could be consider much boring races, with conclusion – RB all at top. Perhaps engine difference makes case at SPA and Monza for RBR.


This has been the most enjoyable thread to read this year. What one has to consider, too, is that maybe the drivers get equal cars, but the car is better suited to LH’s style of driving than JB’s. That would obviously put JB at a disadvantage.


Somehow I feel this discussion has gone the wrong way – the same old tired No 1 driver vs. equal treatment thing.

What really in interesting is – how McLaren and Ferrari are able to bring in so many serious updates without violating the resources restriction agreement. Some pretty clever accounting must be involved!

It has been said the Mercedes’ problems this season are caused by reading the RRA too literally. Now they have realized their mistake and instead of protesting (what good will it do, anyway) are hiring more people, including (possibly) some big names. But – this season is essentially gone for them.

So, are we in for another spending arms race? Just a more devious one because of the need to formally go with the RRA?


I must be missing something! With eight GPs to go, one driver has to win them all and SV has to finish outside the top three in them all for SV not to be champion this year. This does not appear possible. I think RB are already running a high risk qualifying strategy and a low risk race strategy; it’s a strategy designed to maximise points in both championships. The strategy plays other drivers off against each other. It does not matter by how much you win the championship, just as long as you win it. SV’s closest rival (for the WDC)is LH and while I admire LH’s speed, he makes too many errors…both this year and last..these errors cost him dearly.


I think everyone is forgetting why LH is making more mistakes. He is pushing much harder than JB. He is pushing harder in qualifying and he is pushing harder in the race.

JB sits back and WAIT for opportunities to present itself to him, whilst LH try to MAKE those opportunities.

Now if LH did not make those mistakes where would he have been now.

One of LH problems is his team mate. JB has raised his game by having a team mate as LH to measure himself, but LH does not have a tam mate to use as a bench mark.

I have been in situations where I have raised my game because I am compoeting with someone with a very high standard and when that competition is not there my game is a bit lower.

It may seem ridiculous but Alonso was the perfect team makte to bring the best out of LH. If LH saw Alonso do something with the car that he never know could be done, he would just go out there and do it too. This is what is making JB raise his game but LH does not have that bench mark to follow.

On the other point if any team wants to beat Schumachers drivers championship record they will have to back one driver. To make the sport a level playing field all teams should back a driver or all teams should have equality between drivers.

I am a McLaren team fan and a LH drivers fan and right now I am very frustrated. This is not helped by the fact that I also support Arsenal. While we may be very entertaining throughout the year we have no victory march as we do not bring home the trophy. Though it pains me to say so we need to get rid of Whitmarsh and we need to get rid of Wenger. We need real killer instincts out there and people who are prepared to do what it takes to bring the trophy home.

What we are destined to get for the forseeable future are entertaining racs but no bragging rights at the end of the season.


Sign up to hit 100,000

Thank you…



James, maybe you could have a link to this official petition on your site? If you do believe that F1 should be kept free to air in the UK…



Great article James.

Continue in this way.

Mohammed Al-Momen


Can you please tell us why can’t Mclaren and Ferrari start the season this strong? Is it because they are copyin some of Redbull’s ideas? I know Ferrari had an issue with the tunnel but last year they also started bad and developed well Mid season.


I don’t think they have their cars set up similar enough to make it as simple as just copying Red Bull’s ideas and I don’t think it’s simple enough to just copy ideas anyway. What works for Red Bull might not work for McLaren and Ferrari. It’s more a case of them just developing and updating their cars as the season progresses while Red Bull seem to get it right early on but have some trouble improving on what they already have. When you’re at the top it’s much harder to vastly improve than it is if you’re second or third with a clear target in front of you.


As a Button fan, I would certainly do something else with my viewing time if I knew he did not have a chance to win.

He is a real “wild card” in the field, especially in changeable weather, but also with these tires this season.

Makes it very enjoyable to watch races.


James, do you think Newey’s shifted focus to the RB8, and that could be why the McL and Ferrari have been closing massively? Also, the Newey design is a 3-year lineage. Wouldn’t it be close to its ultimate potential?

Do you think Vettel will have a 2009-like cruise to the title, or will he bounce back and win one or more of the remaining races?


No. The rules aren’t that different next season so no reason to do that, especially with a championship there for the taking


While the entire world concentrates on Ferrari n’ Mclaren closing the gap on Redbull… Adrian Newey scribbles away his genius quietly somewhere during the summer break… If anyone here thinks Redbull will take this lying down… they think wrong 🙂


I’ll share a comment i heard one of the BBC team come out with last weekend when they were speaking about Red Bull’s current situation “when a car is as good as the Red Bull is, what more can you do to improve it?”. Bit of a nonsensical comment until you remember that the basic underlying design concept of the RB7 is now in its 3rd year as it started with the RB5 which was then a totally clean sheet design. The RB7 is a development of the RB6 which in turn was a development of the RB5. McLaren are still learning how best to utilise the MP4-26 so there’s plenty of potential to be released there yet. Similar situation with the Ferrari! I’m not saying its impossible for Red Bull to drag more performance from their package but its gonna be tough even for the uber genius that is Adrian Newey.


Not a question of taking it lying down…no one thinks they will …that notwithstanding …Ferrari and McLaren are catching up quicker the RB is figuring out how to stay in front…

Omsk 2 (Mytram Zynom)

Four Months

Pushing through the paddock gate

So many journos sighing:

News had just come over –

We had four months left to cry in.

BBC guy wept and told us –

F1 was really dying;

Cried so much his face was wet,

Then I knew he was not lying.

I heard mobile phones, Leyton House, V8 melodies;

Saw boy with toys, pneumatic valves and TVs,

My brain hurt like a cockpit,

It had no ducts to spare,

I had to cram so many things to store

Everything in there:

And all the fat-skinny drivers;

And all the tall-short drivers;

And all the nobody drivers;

And all the somebody drivers;

I never thought I’d need so many drivers…

A girl Pinkham’s age went off her head,

Hit the tiny Heidfeld.

If Petrov hadn’t a-pulled her off,

I think she would have killed Nick.

A marshal with a broken flag

Fixed his stare to the wheels of an HRT;

Charlie knelt and kissed the feet of Jean Todt

And Horner threw up at the sight of that.

I think I saw you in the Red Bull station

Drinking energy drinks cold and long,

Smiling and waving and looking so fine…

Don’t think you knew you were in this schlong.

And it was cold and it rained

So I felt like a steward

And I thought of McNish

And of how he just blew it

Your pace, your race, the way that you drive,

I bless you, you’re wonderkid, I want you to thrive!

We got four months, stuck in P1;

We got four months, you’re number 1.

We got four months, but no 600 quid!

We got four months, that’s why I quit!

Four months…

PS My last post here. Grat blog, great articles. But I’m off to follow other series.




Our loss is poetry’s gain…


What’s the story with the negative camber angles on the different cars? In Hungary the RB’s seemed to have very steep NC on the front wheels, the McL’s slightly less and other teams down the grid almost none, as in the sidewalls of the tires were almost completely vertical. Was I seeing things, or does the NC change with more downforce applied and how does this affect the driveability of the car in and out of corners?


More negative camber increases grip in the corners, but reduces the braking grip (or acceleration if you add camber to the rear tires). You need to find a good balance between the two, also keeping in mind the balance of grip from front to rear.

The suspension would have some camber gain when compressed (i.e. the more the suspension is compressed, the more negative camber the wheels will have); however, there is very little suspension travel, so this is virtually negligible.

Therefore, static camber matters more than the camber curve (increases in camber due to suspension movement). Static camber is just whatever you set the camber to be when the car is at rest.

The team uses more front camber? Chances are they don’t have enough front grip and don’t mind giving away a little bit of braking in order to make their car handle. The team has very little camber on the front wheels? They might have a very stiff car that doesn’t have enough rear grip, and they don’t want to add rear camber otherwise it won’t put the power down; that means the only option is to take out front camber to maintain a balance of grip… this could also be a good strategy for a car further back in the grid, as it would improve braking, which is where most passing takes place.

There’s a lot of strategy involved, but you have to keep in mind that you need to keep the car balanced.

Take Red Bull for example: they hardly ever have to pass cars, so they can focus on setting the car up to be fastest over a lap. That means a lot of front camber for them. They don’t mind that it hurts their braking a bit, because they’re usually up front. McLaren is sometimes a bit further back, so they need to make sure that if they have to pass, their camber isn’t so extreme that they’d lock up in every braking zone when passing. If you look at Sauber (I haven’t, so this is a guess), they need to pass a lot of cars over the course of the race to do well, so it would benefit them more to hurt cornering performance a little, but have the best braking ability so Kobayashi could pull off his amazing moves.

But really, you’d have to talk to each engineer to see what they are focusing on when the decide what camber to set the car at.


Wow, great answer Malcolm, thanks for taking the time – really appreciate that.


Second that. Malcolm’s contributions are very much appreciated


James, why is the paddock no longer buzzing about the flexible wing any more? Did the other teams catch up with their flexible wings or did the FIA iron it out?


Cool article as always James. I would like to hear more clarification on just what the mechanics are modifying. It seems that most mods are new parts, so are the mechanics up late simply bolting on a different group of parts for a different set up or is there some actually grinding or cutting or altering going on? All of the above?


Yep me too.

Exactly what can they do at the circuit?

Everything seems so meticulously planned back at the factory, it’s hard to imagine what they can do ‘on the run’ when they’re actually at the track to improve performance.


I think RBR started working on their 2012 car after the Monaco, is why they are not the fastest anymore, lol.

Also, it is not a coincidence that right after the engine mapping change and the change of tyres, suddenly McLaren and Ferrari found a second. You don’t gain that by adjusting your wing a bit.

Manipulated season. RBR will still win both obviously, but still, they manipulated the championship.


If anyone has manipulated the season, it’s the FIA, not Red Bull. Red Bull have just made the quickest car they can and it’s proven to be quicker than their opposition.


james can you not use your super powers and make the fia drop the seasons first 6 races or so. what a championship we would then have lol.

in all seriousness i think mclaren will win the races that are slower corners in colder temps and ferrari will win the races with faster corners and higher temps. mclaren do seem to be having great success with the off throttle over run. redbull is struggling as can be seen in the gaps getting smaller and smaller to them on the saturdays. i reckon alonso and hamilton will get the gap down to aroud 30 or 40 points at the end of the season but vettel is too smart to throw away points in trying to prove to his doubters that he can race. that argument is how desparate some people are to not give him credit were credits due.


Ask Bernie to install track side heaters instead of water sprays as a way to spice up the racing! 🙂


Red bull will still take both championships (Just). They’ll struggle at Spa and Monza as usual but they’ll be back at singapore.


I agree, though my hope is that McLaren and Ferrari have both surpassed RB with their cars and so will finish 1-2-3-4 from now on, closing the fight up.

Some hope.


i agree with this

red bull will be 4th and 5th at next two races

then will be strong again come singapore and suzuka .

james who do you fancy for the win at spa ?


Hamilton or Alonso


And if it’s raining?

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