Back in the dominant days of the early 2010s with Red Bull Renault and Sebastian Vettel, chief designer Adrian Newey ensured that the Austrian team based in Milton Keynes had some secret tricks up his sleeve in order to beat the rest of the F1 field.
Collaborating with Renault at a time where the toxic relationship between Red Bull and the French manufacturer hadn’t quite begun yet, Adrian built on a concept that started some two decades before in the 90’s – exhaust blowing to increase aerodynamic downforce.
Sebastian Vettel was helped significantly but his Red Bull’s ability to project hot, energised exhaust gasses at the car’s diffuser – a key downforce producing element.
Renault assisted in this by collaborating with Newey in order to produce special engine mapping modes that kept the throttle open despite the fact the driver’s foot wasn’t on the pedal. This assisted mid-corner speed by ‘blowing’ the diffuser even when the car was on the brakes mid-corner.
The Italian press is reporting Honda and Red Bull could have found a way to revive an old Newey trick.
Motorsport Italia recently published an article whereby members of the paddock and technical journalists have noticed something odd about Max Verstappen’s and Alexander Albon’s 2020 RB16 during winter testing over the last few weeks.
Could explain the many Red Bull spins during winter testing, as this is quite sensitive to set-up. Also, the flames from the exhaust and the bangs under braking could be part of the explanation.
Could this be key to Red Bull Honda’s 2020 Championship campaign? Below is a direct translation, so apologies for the odd grammar.
Red Bull: why the Honda engine does not cut off?
The Milton Keynes team drew attention on the last day of testing in Barcelona to the sound of the Honda 6-cylinder that continued to mumble at turn 10, as if the gas was always slightly open even on release. What is Newey trying with Japanese motorists?
Anyone with an ear to the ground heard it right away. You didn’t need to be an F1 expert to understand that the sound of the Honda power unit mounted on the Red Bull RB16 was definitely different from all the others at turn 10 of the Barcelona circuit.
So we went to the Tornantino to see what a professional GT driver and a former F1 technical director had told us. Adrian Newey in concert with Honda motorists must have invented another one of his own.
While all the other single-seaters after finishing the braking of the opposite straight that leads to Curve 10 with the 6-cylinder engine in complete release, the Red Bull with Max Verstappen at the wheel, managed to turn in the T3 going perfectly on the string, but emitting a sound of an engine mumbling, as if the throttles of one or two cylinders remained open and the unit continued to deliver torque in the curve at lower speed of the Catalan circuit.
And the mind immediately went to remember the blowing exhausts that had made Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull almost unbeatable in 2011 and 2012, drawing about a second’s performance from the terminals blowing at the bottom, increasing the load in the rear diffuser with the hot gases.
But at the time the engine was an 8-cylinder aspirated 2.4-litre engine and had a considerable gas flow, so much so that with a proper calibration of the exhaust valve lift it was possible to produce a Blowing Effect with the Renault engine. Basically the exhaust valve remained always open for a minimum quantity, such as to allow in some cylinders the combustion of air + gasoline and blow gas in the exhaust.
Now the situation is decidedly different because the adoption of the turbo takes a lot of energy away from the gases and the unique exhaust from the beginning of the hybrid era has been moved upwards, away from the bottom to avoid that it could feed the diffuser.
So what is the Honda experiencing? In the past Ferrari and Renault were challenged to open the wastegate valve of the turbo with specific strategies to blow the two small additional exhausts (adopted in 2016 to improve noise) at low speeds, so as to improve efficiency under the main profile of the rear wing and helping the extraction of the flow from the central extractor.
The effect, obviously, is not comparable with what was produced by the aspirated 8-cylinder, but in F1 there is nothing that cannot give a performance advantage. The blowing, in fact, could be generated by the thrust of the compressor that in the release phase of the 6-cylinder was activated by the MGU-H, the electric motor that recovers the energy of the turbo.
In essence there would have been an extra compression of air in the combustion chamber that would have been “shot” into the exhaust without the fuel injection to generate the burst. Combustion without fuel.
The turbine, therefore, was as if it was pre-charged, and the extra blown air (i.e. no residual combustion gas) was released from the wastegate that remained open, increasing a more energetic flow to the rear wing. There was an aerodynamic advantage in slow corners and every time the throttle was closed.
And a different gas flow rate was determined in the two exhausts to exploit the blowing with more and more complex and effective strategies. But in the case of the Red Bull RB16, there seemed to be a burst. What did Newey invent this time? The RB16 is a laboratory of interesting solutions and Honda wanted to participate in the innovation…
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