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Analysis
Formula 1 Red Bull Racing launch

Unpicking the secrets of Red Bull’s brave new F1 sidepods

Red Bull is Formula 1’s trendsetter going into 2024 as rivals looked to emulate its design, but it’s moved the game on yet again.

Red Bull Racing RB20

Rival teams have been offering up their own renditions of the underbite inlet and undercut solution that Red Bull has developed over the last two seasons.

But Red Bull has ditched the underbite on the RB20 and has an overbite arrangement instead, with that high panel now forming an extension for the sidepod’s upper surface, while the inlet finds its home down below, married to a very generous undercut.

“What inlet?” you might ask, and you’d be right to do so, as the renders released by the team are devoid of one. But based on the images seen of the RB20 being shaken down at Silverstone it could just be made out that there was a vertical inlet beside the chassis.

This has also been confirmed by those on site for the physical launch, of which we have drawn an example of how that might look (below, inset)

Red Bull RB20 with sidepod inlet arrangement, inset

Red Bull RB20 with sidepod inlet arrangement, inset

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Now, in terms of that inlet, you might be thinking “Hang on, haven’t I seen this before?” and you’d kind of be right, as it’s very reminiscent of the vertical inlet used by Mercedes last season, when it attempted to make the zeropod concept work for a final time.

Furthermore, Ferrari’s SF-23 & SF-24 have featured a vertical inlet in this position, albeit that powers the bypass ductwork, rather than fulfilling the main role of cooling the internal components.

Let’s clarify something too though: Red Bull has not tried to recreate the zeropod here, rather it’s a hybridised solution that marries a wider, high-waisted, extreme undercut, downwashing ramp solution with a vertical inlet.

This also means that the team hasn’t had to go to extreme lengths, like Mercedes did, to excavate the sides of the chassis in order to push the radiators towards the car’s centreline either, as it still has full width bodywork in which to enclose those ancillaries.

Red Bull Racing RB19 sidepods inlet comparison

Red Bull Racing RB19 sidepods inlet comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull Racing RB19 sidepods detail

Red Bull Racing RB19 sidepods detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The arrival of this vertical inlet follows an intense development program that the team followed with the RB19 last season to help drive performance from the undercut, with its underbite-style solution raised higher with every iteration, culminating in the update that arrived at the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Based on the change in tack, it appears that the underbite solution had run its course, with the dimensional constraints of the regulations in regard to the width of the inlet, as it’s raised higher, making it more difficult to create a neat trade-off between improving aerodynamics and providing the necessary cooling.

Placing the inlet vertically alongside the chassis might also incur the wrath of some losses associated with how the airflow and pressure behaves in this region. However, it’s likely an acceptable trade-off to open up more possibilities with the depth and width of the undercut.

The undercut itself feeds into a deep midline cut that’s excavated almost to the rear section of the downwash ramp and which tapers outward gently to that point.

Red Bull Racing RB20

Red Bull Racing RB20

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

In terms of removing the inlet from the top of the sidepod and replacing it with an overbite, this almost certainly improves how the air behaves on the bodywork's upper surface. And, to take advantage of this, the sidepod now follows a trend first started by Alpine, with a gentle waterslide gully used to create flow separation that better manages the airflow into the coke bottle region.

It has also looked to improve this region of the car too but not in isolation, rather through the adoption of another idea that has its origins with last year’s Mercedes.

Red Bull RB20 engine cover gullys

Red Bull RB20 engine cover gullys

The RB20’s engine cover features the shelf-like outcropping that not only creates a deep waterslide gully on its upper surface that slopes steeply at the rear, it also has an extremely high waist with a depression that’s only interrupted by an outlet ahead of the upper wishbone’s lead arm.

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