Red Bull still needs fix for 'flappy' wing problems

Red Bull has admitted it is still chasing a fix for the ‘flappy’ rear wing problems that it has suffered from at recent Formula 1 events.

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The Milton Keynes-based squad has faced a run of issues with its medium downforce configuration in the last few grands prix, which have given it headaches throughout practice.

TV images have shown the top element of the rear wing flapping when DRS is open, with the problem appearing to be caused by the actuator element not being able to cope with the forces being put through it.

The issues in practice in Qatar came before Red Bull switched to its high downforce wing from qualifying onwards, which is a design it knows can be run without drama.

However, the next races in Saudi arabia nd Abu Dhabi will likely lean towards a low or medium downforce requirement, which puts some pressure on Red Bull to ensure its problems in that configuration do not return.

Team principal Christian Horner said after the race in Qatar that going with the higher downforce option was what it wanted for there anyway – but is aware that it could need to use its more troublesome wing at the next venues.

“That was our preferred wing and it was the setup direction we wanted to go in,” said Horner about the change for the high downforce version.

“If those other wings are required in either Jeddah or Abu Dhabi, obviously we’ll need to have fixes in place to straighten them up, and the DRS mechanism.”

Red Bull’s ability to get on top of the problems are not helped by the fact the DRS actuator is an homologated component for 2021, so it is not possible to change the design at this stage, even though a fix would in theory be simple.

Horner is confident, however, that the matter will not cause his team too much of a problem to resolve.

“I think from a reliability point of view it should be relatively straightforward to sort out those actuators,” he said. “We’ve been using them for many years now, so it's not a new technology.”

Explaining Red Bull’s wing problems

The issue in question revolves around the rear wing’s top flap starting to flutter when DRS is in operation.

This fluttering occurs when the DRS actuator and linkage is unable to remain stable, owing to the loads imparted on the assembly.

Whilst it’s doesn’t offer a performance advantage, so there’s no suggestion of it being an attempt to get around the rules, the flapping is something that Red Bull would not want to carry in to a race for fear of the FIA getting involved on safety grounds.

Red Bull Racing RB16B
 DRS actuator and linkage comparison

Red Bull Racing RB16B DRS actuator and linkage comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull, just like everyone on the grid this season, has two rear wing adjuster designs at its disposal, with the FIA having included the DRS actuator and linkages in the homologation list for 2021.

In order for these to be redesigned, teams would be required to spend one of the two development tokens at their disposal. Red Bull spent its tokens at the start of the season on a new gearbox carrier.

This means the designs have been carried over from the freeze point in mid 2020. While the general design and layout of Red Bull’s rear wings haven’t changed dramatically since then, there are aspects that need to be taken into account.

There’s three main downforce arrangements (high, medium and low) in Red Bull’s pool that we’ve seen used on more than one occasion this year.

Furthermore, there’s also its ultra low downforce arrangement for the Italian Grand Prix (small inset) to consider too, along with various flaps and Gurney options that can be leveraged for a slightly different downforce to drag offset.

In the past, teams could match and evolve the DRS actuator to suit the individual demands of each wing setting; whereas the homologation limits mean that isn’t possible this season.

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Red Bull Racing RB16B rear wing comparison

Red Bull Racing RB16B rear wing comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

In Qatar, Red Bull trialled both the high and medium downforce arrangements on Friday, with the team expected to prefer the medium downforce arrangement for qualifying and the race.

However, with the DRS issue persisting throughout FP3, it made the switch to the high downforce arrangement, which meant sacrificing some of its straight line speed.

To give some idea of how detrimental this could have been to performance, Red Bull has only used the high downforce arrangement at two other venues this season - Monaco and Mexico.

Keeping it cool

Red Bull has also made some changes in regard to its cooling over the course of the last few races too, with the cooling outlet beside the rear legs of the halo opened up more than has been the case so far this season.

Red Bull Racing RB16B lower cooling detail
Red Bull Racing RB16B cooling detail

The solution from Red Bull is novel when compared with the rest of the grid, as whilst everyone else has a section of bodywork outboard of the halo leg that can be exchanged for louvred panels of various sizes, depending on the cooling required, Red Bull has placed its inside of the leg.

The overriding factor here, as always, is aerodynamic, as the introduction of heat in this region can have a bearing on the surrounding flow structures.

When cooling isn’t at a premium, it is able to run with the outlets closed off entirely. For the majority of the season it managed with the smaller outlets seen in the image on the left. And, in some cases, it has only required one of the outlets to be open.

However, in Mexico the team increased the opening on both sides of the car, in order to assist the much larger layout deployed at the rear of the car.

In Qatar an asymmetric layout was favoured once more, with a larger outlet on the right-hand side of the car and the smaller one on the left-hand side.

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