What’s the point of F1 now that making a racing car is more complicated than ever? And if you’re the four-time champions, how do you carry the momentum of the last few years into unknown territory? An access-all-areas look at the making of the RB10, the 2014 Infiniti Red Bull Racing car.
Milton Keynes, early 2012. A small task force of engineers from Infiniti Red Bull Racing and Renault Sport meets behind closed doors to discuss the packaging of the racing car known as the RB10, for the 2014 F1 season (how large will each component be, where does each one go, etc). At this moment in time, the RB8, which the then double world champion Sebastian Vettel was due to drive in his fourth season with the team, was top-secret, kept far from public scrutiny.
The task force only knew the approximate parameters of the 2014 regulations, which were said to include a V6 turbo engine with two kinds of energy recovery, thermal and kinetic. That is a hefty propulsion unit, but it will be necessary if the car these men are planning is to be competitive. About a year later, just before the start of the 2013 season, as Sebastian Vettel returned from a brief winter break as three-time world champion – the task force came together to carefully scrutinise the by-now official rules for 2014.
When Vettel took the lead in the world championship, in the RB9, the RB10 task force added several new recruits. Before the season break in August, a fundamental decision was made: in the face of a super-strong Fernando Alonso, and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, who wasn’t to be underestimated, they resolved to power ahead with the evolution of the RB9 right to the end, instead of putting more resources into the development of the RB10. “Looking back,” says Adrian Newey, Infiniti Red Bull Racing’s chief technical officer, “it would have been smarter to concentrate full power on the new car earlier on. In August, no one could have guessed that would we be so far ahead with the RB9 by the end of the season.” The 2014 rules called for a radical new approach: the mid-section of the car – chassis, engine, cooling unit, sidepods, gears and energy recovery systems – is designed for optimal motor performance and shouldn’t get in the way of aerodynamics. Front and stern, on the other hand, are unequivocally guided by aerodynamics. It was the front section that would prove problematic.
“The RB10 is the son and heir of a new generation of racing cars, just as the RB5 was five years ago”
“In 2014, the front wing has to end exactly at the middle of the tyre,” says Newey, 55. “From an aerodynamicist’s point of view, this is the least favourable position possible. The second problem area is the nose: this is where, presumably for safety reasons, two levels are defined for the cockpit and the tip of the nose, without taking into account any link between them. That’s how aesthetically dubious solutions came about.”
A low nose is supposed to prevent cars launching into the air in case of accidents, as happened to Mark Webber in Valencia in 2010. But having made changes dictated by the new regulations, the exact opposite could occur: in the event of a crash, the rear car could slide under the car in front (‘submarining’). Yet, in 2014, the low nose is a reality, and it has attracted significant criticism at presentations made by several Formula One teams. The nose regulations can only change for safety reasons, which would require one or more submarining accidents, or if all teams come to an agreement, which is unlikely. But this is not the major problem the new rules have presented. There’s the new transmission.
Read the full story in April's issue of The Red Bulletin.