Red Bull’s clever mechanical systems explained

This article has been kindly translated from German to English and originates from AMuS.

After the summer break Red Bull have left their opponents trailing in their wake, but this time not just from an aerodynamic perspective. As auto motor und sport report in their latest issue (21/2013) there is more to the Red Bull performance than only the most downforce.

No car on the grid sticks to the road in right angle bends like the Red Bull and there is none that accelerates as cleanly. At 100 kph mechanical and aerodynamic grip are in perfect balance. Like no other, Adrian Newey knows how to make the tyres work using camber, toe-in and damper settings. The Austrian team has obviously worked out how to get the tires up to speed even with the latest restriction on use of tyre heating.

Same pitch (rake) as 2011

Red Bull also generates more downforce using exhaust gases more effectively than the other teams. This is a big advantage at lower speeds, when aerodynamics are less effective. This is why Newey can pitch the cars (front low, rear high – ‘rake’) like he did in 2011, when Red Bull demolished the field.

To deliver this the exhaust gasses must seal the diffuser permanently, even when breaking or when applying partial throttle in corners. More downforce prevents the rear wheel from spinning or locking under breaking. That eases the strain on the rear tyres.

Mid season tyre change unmasked the RB advantage

The tricky bit is to use the exhaust gasses permanently. The rules make it a lot more difficult than in 2011. Late ignition in the so-called ‘four cylinder mode’ is now allowed only in a very restricted way. The teams had to decide their engine mappings at the start of the season and are only allowed to deviate from them by 2%.

It appears that Red Bull and Renault have had a distinctive advantage in this regard from the very start. It only wasn’t visible so clearly, because unpredictably early season Pirelli tyres countermanded this advantage. Too much downforce was counter-productive, because the tyres couldn’t cope with the loads.

When Pirelli brought back the 2012 construction, Red Bull was helped in two regards. They could lower the front, therefore increasing the rake of the car and the tyres were more predictable and constistant since the reintroduction of the Kevlar belt.

Vettel adapts his skills in the simulator

But what has made the Red Bull so dramatically quick in Singapore? Where are the 1.5 additional seconds per lap? And why only Vettel and not Webber?

To forestall any conspiracy theories – the cars are absolutely identical, but the drivers have to use the technical advantage effectively and Vettel is much more adept at counter intuitive driving styles than Webber. However, this isn’t necessarily merely natural gifting because Vettel has been spending day and night in the simulator before each and every race. Immediately after his win in Singapore he flew back to England for simulator duties.

He will have to adapt his driving style again for Korea, because Renault re-programs the engine software for every race. The unorthodox driving style required has to be learned and turned into instinct. Only thus the gift of better exhaust gas use can be converted into lap times.

What do the misfires in corners mean?

What RB and Renault have discovered, leaves even the opposition guessing. They try to uncover the secret using complex sound recordings, but as yet have not yet succeeded. This analysis reveals Vettel’s car seems to be misfiring between steering into the corner and reaching the apex, while at the exit the car sounded as if Vettel only applies partial throttle.

The engine electronics are cleverly programmed, the gearbox ratio is perfectly setup and Vettel’s driving style minutely prepared so that the exhaust releases gas in all phases, even while the engine is towing and therefore the sides of the diffuser remain perfectly sealed. That means more downforce in the corners.

During acceleration a crude form of traction control is simulated and that’s completely legal, too. The problem that Ferrari and Mercedes are facing is, that they cannot react, even if they find out what RB and Renault are doing. They are in the 2% jail of their pre-season engine mappings.

What is the four-cylinder mode

The rules governing the legitimacy of this technique are the same for all teams. The throttle valves are allowed to follow throttle input with a delay of 50 milliseconds and at times when the car is just using four cylinders, late ignition is allowed if the driver requests less than 50% torque as should be available at the current rev count via throttle input. This is called ‘four-cylinder mode’.

During each gear change four cylinders ignite after a delay of 50 milliseconds. This delivers exhaust gasses and therefore downforce when shifting down. The opposite happens during acceleration. The driver floors the throttle momentarily, but that command arrives at the engine with a short delay. If the driver then precisely reduces throttle input, so that he demands less than 50% torque of what the current revs should be delivering the requirements for four-cylinder mode are met again.

In the small breaks required for gear changes, at least in lower gears, the four-cylinder mode can be engaged in small intervals of 50 milliseconds. If the gearbox ratio is short, the team can reduce and control power delivery in the critical lower gears. There are theories that Red Bull use KERS not only for extra power, but also to countermand too rapid torque delivery in the early acceleration phase.

Red Bull and Renault run special programs

What sets RB and Renault apart from the other teams is which particular four cylinders of the eight are used for in ‘four-cylinder mode’. Since the engine sometimes sounds distinctively unhealthy, experts suspect that Renault in the Red Bull doesn’t simply switch of one of the two cylinder banks, but actually four cylinders in a V configuration. The questions is, which ones and in what sequence.

The purpose is to deliver the artificially produced exhaust gasses as hot as possible. The more the gases are concentrated, the more downforce is produced. If two cylinders on each side are used in four-cylinder mode, the amount of additional exhaust gasses on each side of the diffuser is equal and the sealing of the diffuser is permanent. But maybe that’s not what Red Bull always want.

On a track like Singapore, the rear suspension is setup relatively soft, so that the tyres have maximum of grip. That causes a considerable longitudinal roll. The diffuser is lifted higher on the inner side of the corner and needs more exhaust gasses to seal it effectively.

It is possible that in that the engine is phasing at this time three cylinders on the inner bank and one on the outer bank in the four-cylinder mode. Interestingly enough Red Bull always uses the flowviz paint only on one side of the car in Friday practice. In Singapore it was the left side on Vettel’s car and the right side on Webber’s. Obviously Red Bull evaluate the airflow on each side of the car individually and independently.

Red Bull with shortest gear ratio

This whole effort is a useless unless the gearbox ratio is perfectly tailored to suit the requirements. The more the engine is under load, the better downforce is generated through exhaust gasses; the shorter the gear ratio, and therefore the need to shift more frequently, means the four-cylinder mode can be activated more often.

The speed traps at Singapore demonstrated that Red Bull went all out on delivering the maximum number of shifts. Both cars where by far the slowest in terms of top speed with Webber being clocked at 293 kph and Vettel at 283 kph. The difference is due to the fact that as race leader, Vettel never was in a position to use DRS.

The opposition was much quicker than Webber. McLaren managed 301 kph, Mercedes 300kph and Ferrari 298 kph. But in contrast Red Bull at 244 kph were the fastest on the finish straight, which comes shortly after turn 23. Vettel gained his time in the corners, not on the straights.

Indeed this is a most sophisticated partnership between Renault and Newey as together they develop both the mechanical and aerodynamic performance to work in harmony.

56 responses to “Red Bull’s clever mechanical systems explained

  1. Maybe its time for a spec series as this has become utterly boring, I’ve not changed pole and winner prediction on Castrol for 5 races now and I may as well leave it as is for the rest of the year.

    I want to see driver skill, not engine technician / aero designer skill, this is why people are booing, its a foregone conclusion before a wheel has turned.

    And for all the people that say its always been like this in formula 1, maybe but not for so many consecutive championships (excluding of course the schumacher years). Bring back 7 different race winners in 7 races, that is racing.

    • …It also diminishes the credit we give to the driver…

      Having said that, Vettel is clearly working hard to learn how to drive the car differently given each circuit configuration…

      but I get your point… is this the kind of racing the fans want to see?

      • The racing most fans want to see is the one, which is won by their favourite driver. 😉

        • It really isn’t.
          I was a huge Mansell fan, but was fairly bored by his dominating season even though it was clear that he was driving superbly, and I was delighted to see him win.

        • Yeah perhaps, but its not true for me either, 2012 was my absolute favourite season, though I have only been watching since 1993, and I was a Hill fan, and a Hamilton Fan, and not a Vettel or Alonso fan, so out of them all 2012 really had some competition.

          (PS the above comment which is nearly identical is me logged in on a work blog, check the IP if you like, could one of the TJ13 top brass remove it for me? cheers!)

        • For some people, I agree. But there are others who want to see their favourite driver having to work for his success.
          I can name many of Senna’s races that bored me to death, yet there are some that were exquisite in their development and execution and yet others that were jaw dropping.

          As you know, I’m a Ferrari fan before anything else, so currently F1 is tough for me, but I’ll tell you something, 2002 and 2004 were unbelievable years for a Ferrari fan, there was no competition and there was no intra team fight. I don’t say that as a compliment, it was boring as hell.

          Schumacher in Belgium 2002 was perfection and I enjoyed watching that race because of his quality but the majority of races drove me to record everything and watch it on fast forward later.

          I want to scream at the TV, I want to swear at a driver for defending unfairly, I want to be passionate. I want to applaud the competition when they have done a better job that weekend. I don’t want to be watching the 2nd place finisher for excitement.

          Danilo, if Alonso won every race next season, but he secured his victory in the last laps, I’d be ecstatic.
          If it was shared between Alonso and Kimi but they kept the same position throughout and they dominated, I’d switch off.
          If Vettel wins every race next year, but like Alonso only in the last laps of a turbulent race, I’d applaud him.

          To me, I couldn’t care less who the driver of the red cars is, as long as they are fighting. But if the competition is stronger, thats fine too.

          1988, the enemy won nearly every race, but the racing between Senna and Prost was sublime.

          • Carlo

            … I couldn’t have put it better myself….

            We have to hope for 2014 that neither Newey/Renault have a significant advantage again – or indeed any of the engine manufacturers and their customers/works teams … yet I fear that will be the case.

          • Carlo, your honour,

            All good points, but it misses the reality in F1. The number of years in which F1 was closely contested is rather scarce. Yes there was Senna/Prost, but we also have to keep in mind that it ended with them trying to kill each other at Suzuka twice.
            The whole point of F1 is to see the best engineers come up with the best prototypes handing them to the worlds best drivers to drive them. And the whole point of building your own car is to do it better than the others, thus gaining an advantage.
            The best races for me where ones, where a driver in some utterly inferior car gained a great result – Schumacher@Spa ’92, Senna@Donnington ’93, Schumacher@Barcelona ’96, Hill@Hungary ’97.
            Yes, these races come rarely, but the more they are cherished because they have a background story. F1 tried to make the racing closer by ordering Pirelly to construct comedy tyres and introducing gimmicks like DRS. What it gives us is artificial racing with stale overtaking or artificial wins like Maldonado at Barcelona last year. There was nothing Donnington93-esque about Maldonado’s win, because everybody knew that Williams had merely been the team that lucked into the correct temperature window for the tyres that weekend. Before them it was Merc and RB and McLaren etc.
            If we want to get old-school racing back, we need to stop turning F1 into a Spec series. The only reason, why RB dominates this much is, because aerodynamics is almost the only field in which the teams can still advance. Engine dev is frozen, ECU’s are spec, tyres are spec etc. Back in the day Ferrari would have tried to nullify their aero disadvatage by having the strongest engine. These days they can’t anymore. Don’t blame Newey for the last four years, he’s just merely the best at what he does. Blame the FIA for trying to turn F1 into GP2 deluxe.

          • I agree DS

            Some time ago I flirted with the idea that F1 would be better as spec series…

            But the more specified the cars have become, your analysis his correct.

            However, what would radically change F1 would be a budget cap…

            Yes I know – tough to enforce – but with penalties threatening expulsion from receiving championship points, the lines may be crossed – but not so far.

            This means the woeful inadequacy of the technical abilities of the scrutineers becomes irrelevant.

          • I’m with you on that, but as you say, budget caps are nigh-on impossible to enforce.

      • Exactly what you said… Vettel is working hard too, because this car is obviously not easy to drive if you want to get maximum out of it.
        So I don’t know why everybody is complaining. The whole Red Bull team including their star driver work harder than the rest.

          • I have what I think is a great idea to help drivers pull back from gaping differences (think Rakinnen, Hamilton, Alonso) in points and it will also incentivize continued pushing after 3/4 distance instead of driving to a delta. It will also give lower teams an opportunity to put points on the board!! (WIN WIN)!!

            Give extra points to each driver for each position gained in the race… any takers?

  2. If you want a spec series, there are many to choose from. F1 has always been as much an engineering championship as it was a racing series. Alonso’s results last year wouldn’t have raised a single eyebrow weren’t it for the fact that they were scored in a clearly inferior car.

    In contrast to F1, spec series’ can even be much more boring than that. In his first year in Formula BMW, a spec series, Vettel won 18 of 20 races. Now that’s what I call boring. Lewis in GP2 also didn’t leave much for the others to win.

    The emulated EBD will be nixed anyway next year as there’ll be only one exhaust.

    • reverting to last years tyre construction only allowed them to use an advatage they had since the start of the season. The early season tyres were hampering high downforce cars, like the Merc and the RB.

    • Agree with Cav on this one, they might have had all the brilliant gadgets in the world, it didn’t do them any good with the 2013 tyres.
      With the tyre change, they could unleash the full potential of the car, so yes the tyres are the key reason.

      Btw. Judge “This article has been kindly translated from German to English and originates from AMuS”
      So the part about how skillful Vettel is, was Danilo’s own input? 😉

      • No it was written in the original article. It’s a translation, not an adaption 😉

  3. It all go’s to say he just a good driver in a souped-up car.
    Given the same spec others would do as well maybe better.

    • Not neccessarily. The important bit on Vettel is that he modifies his driving style to match the engine specifics for each race. It’s not a given that every driver can do that. Lewis needed a long time to adapt to new brakes in the Merc and Mark never managed it at all.

      • Sorry, but do a comparison between Hamilton adapting to a totally different team’s car and brake system, has nothing to do with adapting with a new year car or just season’s enhancements. You can compare Hamilton and Button (as Button is on McLaren for a few years right now), and never handled it at full as Hamilton. You can even compare SV and MW as they are in the same car for an eternity right now…. but say that Hamilton take a “long time to adapt”? Cmon, Rosberg is there for a long time and Hamilton has more poles and points in the WDC!

      • Sorry, but do a comparison between Hamilton adapting to a totally different team’s car and brake system, has nothing to do with adapting with a new year car or just season’s enhancements. You can compare Hamilton and Button (as Button is on Mclaren for a few years right now), and never handled it at full as Hamilton. You can even compare SV and MW as they are in the same car for an eternity right now…. but say that Hamilton take a “long time to adapt”? Cmon, Rosberg is there for a long time and Hamilton has more poles and points in the WDC!

  4. Every other driver uses the sim to climatise to each circuit.
    Alo is said to have one at home.
    Performance down to car.

  5. From Australia to Germany, when the real 2013 spec tyres were used Vettel’s average qualifying position was 2.7. From Hungary onwards, when the 2012 spec tyres were used his qualifying average goes to 1.5. Ferrari, Lotus and Force India designed their cars to work with the 2013 spec tyre and have been penalized because it didn’t suit the Austrians and Germans.

    • The tyres weren’t changed to help Red Bull, they were changed because of the blow-ups at Bahrain and Silverstone. All teams have to agree to a tyre change and Force India objected. After Silverstone they changed their mind and agreed. Without Silverstone we’d probably still be running the early season tyres.

      • BS. Red Bull tried to get the tyres reverted back to the 2012 spec as early as Monaco.

        • They tried yes, but without all teams agreeing they would have failed and Force India only agreed after the tyre failures at Silverstone. Blame them, not RB.

    • cav. The average starting position doesn’t say that much. Even on the original tyres, he was the only non-Merc driver who actually managed a pole at all. With their freakish qualifying pace Merc skew the picture. The increase in qualifying positions for Vettel is a mix of RB developing faster than Merc and Merc losing the advantage of heating the tyres up quicker than anyone else due to the construction change.

  6. D.S.
    The punch, would that be before or after Multi21 🙂
    On SKY a viewer asked, “Would Vettel have won his WC’s if he was in the same car as Alonso?”
    Good Q.
    And did not Button have a similar advantage for half a year when he won his WC and then when the other drivers started beating him when they got the same spec on their car?

    • That’s a rhetorical question – he wasn’t, so there is no way to know. Since they’ve never been in the same team, you can’t tell, who’s the better driver of them. Both have put lesser cars on positions they didn’t belong in, but that’s as far as the similarities go.

    • I think we can all agree that Button only deserves half a WDC as he only won half but a clever double diffuser

  7. D.S. Not going to get into a war with you.
    But rhetorical is implying not to answer a question where the answer is obvious and that still leaves us with the question. Same car as Alonso, would he have won? (Here the answer is not obvious.)

    • You can’t answer that question as there is no data to base a comparison on. The Vettel fans will tell you he is as good as Alonso and the haters will tell you he can’t drive his way out of a paper bag.
      They never drove the same car, so what do you want to go buy for reference? The only thing you can say is that both are top-level drivers, but that’s about it.

  8. Thank you for this translation of Michael Schmidt’s article from AMuS. (DS, is this your work?)

    Just a small suggestion, first… The title of this translation borders on mis-leading, as the implication of “Mechanical” in the context of quicker laptimes times would normally refer to more efficient use of tire grip (minus aero downforce) via suspension adjustments. A translation of AMuS’s own title seems more appropriate, (roughly, as per Google’s poor translation), “The Red Bull Secret, More Output Thanks To Four Cylinder Mode”.

    The four cylinder mode is the heart of the article. To sum up Michael Schmidt’s article, Renault Sport F1 and Red Bull collaborated to maximize the resulting gasses from cylinder deactivation for the diffuser. The gasses can help to provide greater downforce, and greater rear traction.

    One claim is that other teams are not likely to respond with something similar, as the rules require engine maps to be created for the whole season and must not vary by more than 2%. I wonder how much of that claim is true. This story has legs, so we should learn more quickly.

    I didn’t realize till recently that other teams (besides RB) have cylinder deactivation in their engine maps. This is easily discernible with earphones in this other video from Singapore,

    Thanks again for the translation!

    • Yes, I did the translation and the judge ironed out the kinks of my English. I don’t think the title is misleading though. The result may be better aerodynamic grip, but basically it is generated through mechanical and electronic means. (throttle valves, engine electronics and Vettel’s right foot).

      • Yes. And thank you again for the translation!

        Speaking of translations, I just found this similar article in English,

        • The information has been disseminated by Renault Sport… if you sit back you’ll see why from the overall impression and what’s intended by the article…

          …Renault finally getting some credit from their partnership with Infiniti Red Bull Racing.

          MK are not happy…

          • Renault Sport F1 was a primary attraction for Newey to come to Red Bull. Mercedes would not play nicely with Newey at McLaren, so he left. Renault deserves recognition for subjugating their engineering resources to these aero exercises.

            Mat’s article is from last Sunday, and is pretty good, btw.

  9. DS Last time I’m going to respond.
    The viewer was asking if Sebastian Vettel was in the same car as Fernando (THE FERRARI as it’s not so easy to drive.)
    Would he have won his WC’s?
    The answer for most people would be probably not.
    You could consider or proclaim the question as unfair.
    But when battling man to man (car vs. car) Vet car advantage could also be consider unfair.
    So unfair or not you can answer this, (even just to yourself) would he have won in the same car Fernando has been driving?

    • Well, Alonso also didn’t win a WDC in it, so the answer is somewhat of a foregone conclusion 😉 If you want to believe that Vettel is an inferior driver, who only wins because of the car, I’m not going to change your opinion anyways, so let’s leave it at me disagreeing with that. How good or bad Vettel would be in the Ferrari is pure speculation as he never drove it.

    • I think a fairer question would be, if Vettel and Alonso traded places last year, would the result have been any different?
      In other words, would Vettel in a Ferrari have beaten an Alonso in a Red Bull?

  10. My favourite tech “expert” Gary Anderson has an article on the Red Bull and Vettel’s ability to use the exhaust blowing, on the BBC F1 site dated yesterday. It seems to me to satisfactorily explain in layman’s terms how the wunderkind uses the tools that Adrian Newey and team have given him. His balancing act in the use of the brakes and early throttle will probably make him he favourite for next year when this technique may be needed to ensure maximum harvest of energy to the new KERS.

      • It isn’t so.

        While Vettel’s skills are clearly exemplary, next season’s regs will level the playing field (at least for the teams with equivalent financial resources).
        There a several drivers with similarly exemplary skills.

        • But they are not using the technology as Vettel is. GA says Lotus and Sauber are the other two teams with similar technology, but they do not have Newey or a driver who will drive the way the designer says is most effective.

          • “…but they do not have Newey or a driver who will drive the way the designer says is most effective…”

            The first part of that is unquestionably true; the rest is opinion.

  11. ? – this blog is full of opinion and a good thing too! The facts are hard to verify and we need articles like the above and informed comment and opinion from experts such as Gary Anderson.

Leave a Reply to Vortex MotioCancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.