Will Gray

Tech Talk: How Red Bull surged ahead

Will Gray

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Sebastian Vettel has rocketed into the lead of the championship after a three-race winning streak that began in Singapore - but what has turned the Red Bull into the class of the field?

After the Italian Grand Prix, the end of the European season, Fernando Alonso's consistency had allowed him to build a lead of 37 points over his title rivals, sitting on 179 points compared to second-placed Lewis Hamilton's 142, Kimi Raikkonen on 141 and Vettel on 140. Three races later, it has all turned around with Vettel now six points ahead after an astonishing hat-trick of victories.

In truth, Red Bull have been strong all year - they took the lead of the constructors' championship in race four and have retained it ever since - and while Vettel has scored consistently well, his three pointless races in Malaysia, Valencia and Italy pulled him down.

Alonso's two failures in the last five races have helped even the score - but it is the recent performance improvements that now suggest Vettel is back in the driving seat once again.

In Singapore, new front wings drew the public focus, with a longer nosecone and new flaps providing higher downforce - although the changes are believed to have been a result of more severe FIA load tests introduced to counter clever wings designed to twist at high speed to reduce downforce. If that is the case, it suggests these new wings could even have been a step backwards, rather than forwards.

More significantly, however, the team is understood to have also tried out its innovative double DRS system at that race - a system that now, after its full integration, has allowed the car to reach the levels of dominance shown last weekend in Korea, where the Red Bull drivers were able to comfortably pace their race.

Unlike the Mercedes system, which feeds air to the front of the car to reduce downforce on the front wing when the DRS is activated, the Red Bull solution is far simpler, and focuses solely on the rear wing.

When DRS is activated, a hole in the endplate opens and air flows down the endplate and back towards the centre of the car inside the lower beam wing. It then exits out of that wing in the central 15cm section to reduce the drag.

The combined effect of the reduced drag on the upper wing with that on the lower beam wing increases the effectiveness of the DRS system and has enabled the Red Bull to set higher top speeds in qualifying, while also giving it advantage on the DRS zones during the races themselves.

But that was only the first step.

The next came in Korea when, satisfied that the double DRS was working as expected, the team rushed through new bodywork designed to work with the new system and optimise the downforce levels on the car.

This next development featured a new sidepod layout focused on the rear floor tunnels that Red Bull have been playing with all season.

Since the start of the year, the design team have been trying to use tunnels to separate two flow regimes - the upper exhaust flow from the upper sidepods and the lower flow coming at floor level around the sidepods. The air flowing over the top of the car works to push down the exhaust flow in between the tyre and diffuser, while air flowing around the sides is channeled underneath this flow, separated by the tunneling bodywork, to reach the central underside of the diffuser.

In the new bodywork, these tunnels were shortened to help them work better with the double DRS and optimise the overall system, resulting in yet another a net improvement in overall rear downforce.

This is significant because the more rear downforce available the more flexible a team can be with set-up. The additional rear stability widens the brake balance window, allowing a set-up that is much less on-the-limit between locking fronts or rears, and better brake balance means reduced tyre wear and that in turn offers more strategic options - which in Korea was particularly significant, allowing Red Bull to make the faster two-stop race work comfortably.

As usual in F1, it is not just one part that makes a car fast, it is how that part integrates into the overall package. And, while it is true the recent tracks have suited the Red Bull car, it does seem they may have also got it all right just in time...

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