Since the beginning of the year, the speed and chronometric surveys have repeatedly attested that the RB18 is among the fastest single-seaters in draw, a quality that is among the many strengths on which Red Bull built the triumphal campaign of 2022. The superiority in straight in some contexts is such as to allow the team to deliberately sacrifice part of its speed advantage, opting for a higher load level to benefit from cornering and tire management in the race. This is what has been seen in the recent period in Spa and Monza. Competitors are thus wondering what the secret behind such competitiveness may be, in an attempt to replicate it on their respective cars in 2023.
As often happens in similar contexts, the result is the result of a concatenation of factors. These include the engine, which boasts a unique power delivery curve on the grid, which is particularly prolonged. In 2020 the Honda technicians had decided to deliberately sacrificing part of the combustion efficiency and therefore of the thermal power, so as to have more residual energy in the exhaust gases. Through the turbine and the MGU-H electric motor, this excess energy is converted into electricity to recharge the battery, ensuring an abundance of energy to power the hybrid system for a long time. While the competition concentrates the exploitation of electric power in the first phases of acceleration, Red Bull and AlphaTauri benefit from the thrust of the hybrid to the point of brakingwithout blaming the power cut now known as clipping.
To all this is added an inevitable contribution of aerodynamics. The outer shell of the RB18 is of its own particularly efficient, managing to minimize the drag. Drag reduction is facilitated by a high overall load level but not first in its class, a record that belongs to Ferrari. Generating less downforce on average, Red Bull consequently benefits from greater smoothness on the forehand, but that’s not all. For some time there has in fact been the suspicion that at high speeds the RB18 is able to stall the bottom, reducing the load and the induced aerodynamic drag. A hypothesis that if confirmed would not necessarily presuppose an illegal practice, but which is certainly extremely difficult to achieve, an art that Adrian Newey has already shown to master in the past.
This interpretation of the speed superiority of the RB18 is now also supported by an analysis by the German editorial staff of Auto Motor und Sport. To induce the stall of the underbody it is advisable that the aerodynamic surfaces are suitably designed, so that beyond a certain speed a sudden change in the flow structure is induced. To achieve the goal, however, the aerodynamic platform must be adequately supported by the work of the suspensions. The memory of when in 2021 some teams, Mercedes, Ferrari and Alpine above all, managed to “collapse” the rear suspension and the entire rear axle, bringing the bottom closer to the ground, causing the speaker to stall and gaining speed on the straight.
The 2022 cars, however, are governed by completely different dynamics, traveling at almost zero rake angles, therefore with a forward inclination of the car body absent, with the bottom on average closer to the ground. Cars are much more sensitive to height variations and the car’s lowering control must be extremely precise. Above all, however, stands outa great simplification of the suspensions imposed by the new regulations, which banned the inerters, the valves sensitive to accelerations and the active control of the shock absorbers, which while maintaining them as passive components allowed to change the response to external forces. In summary, various degrees of freedom that previously teams had available to meet multiple requirements have been lost, including lowering the bottom to induce stalling, a practice that now appears much more complex.
Along the pit lane, AlphaTauri features the same rear suspension as Red Bull, even without showing the same speed superiority on the straight. However, it should be emphasized that, if it were actually possible to stall the underbody, the suspension unit itself would not be sufficient, because an appropriate calibration by the team would also be necessary as well as a specific design of the aerodynamic surfaces. Therefore, the study of the RB18 by the competition continues, with the aim of canceling its advantage on the straight in 2023 in order to be able to nurture the hopes of launching a world championship challenge to Max Verstappen.
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