After reigning supreme for four years on the bounce, Red Bull experienced a rollercoaster 2014. The year started poorly but, despite their problems, they were still able to capitilise on any Mercedes blunders to pick up three victories and finish second in the Constructors’ championship.
However, a lot rides on 2015 being a successful bounce back to form as Renault have effectively jumped on board solely with Red Bull (and Toro Rosso) to create a manufacturer team. With Adrian Newey taking a more relaxed role within the team, this really could be sink or swim time – Newey and his side man Peter Prodromou (who now works as chief aerodynamicist at McLaren) have departed, as has Sebastian Vettel, the man who the entire team was built around.
The RB11 is arguably their boldest car to leave Milton Keynes since the new regulations in 2009. Yes, it is still very much an evolution of last year’s RB10 but there is a lot more ambition about its design. Aware of the fact that Renault have to make up about 20% of their power deficit to even match Mercedes this year, the chassis has a variety of new features aimed at overthrowing the rest of the grid in terms of downforce production.
The front wing has been carried over from 2014 although this will undoubtedly change. It’s amazing to think that these wings will get even more complex than they are already – the level of detail on the RB11’s is astounding.
The new nose regulations have caused a few headaches for 2015 but Red Bull have made an elegant and intelligent solution. It follows a similar concept as the Williams FW37 – the crash structure is offset almost as far back as possible, with a short stub protruding from the main bulk of the nose. Both assessed cross sections have been made as flat and wide as possible, therefore leaving the wing’s pylons spread out to manipulate a higher volume of airflow into the splitter. These pylons are neatly curled over and twisted to meet the crash structure in a tidy fashion.
The crash structure forms a similar profile to last year’s Ferrari, sloping aggressively upwards towards the front bulkhead before bending over to form the front of the chassis. Camera pods have been positioned ahead of the front suspension to clean up airflow, sprouting from small bulges to align them in a desired area.
Under the nose ahead of the front bulkhead area is a curled up opening that forms the inlet for the S-duct, an component that Red Bull have been using successfully since 2013. The inlet feeds an ‘S’ shaped pipe that reaches upwards and exits out of a vent facing rearward over the top of the chassis. Air tends to waver over flat surfaces such as the top of the chassis and cockpit area, so the S-duct is used to help it maintain a straight path.
Generally Red Bull have kept the same front front suspension platform for the past four years although the RB11’s is slightly different. The thin steering arm of 2014 is gone and a much thicker chord one has been placed directly ahead of the upper wishbone. This is nothing new and it’s probably the most aerodynamically efficient method of packaging it but the whole philosophy in this region has changed. In general the front suspension elements look completely ground-up in design, although they have elected not to run the uni-body lower wishbone that others are doing lately.
The front suspension changes have almost certainly been made to feed flow to the all-new sidepods, which are a complete departure to the rounded curves of years gone by. Instead the ‘pods are squarer but still extremely narrow and aggressively undercut.
The inlet is very narrow, narrower than a lot of the grid this year. Considering that the Renault power unit is producing the same heat output as last year, this is quite an impressive development. To subsidise the sidepod intakes, the inlet beneath the roll hoop (upper yellow circle) has been enlarged to further cool the electronic components that lie just behind the chassis’s rear bulkhead.
As a result of the re-sculpted bodywork, the bargeboards (lower yellow circle) have been modified to redirect airflow more fluently around the undercut. The boards now pinch tighter to the chassis in their lower portion to collect a higher volume of flow from the front wing which helps energise flow passing through the undercut.
To the rear of the RB11 the aperture of the cooling outlets have been thought through extensively – the three equally large outlets from last year are gone and in their place are two bigger ones either side of the car and tightly wrapped bodywork around the exhaust instead. As a result the central rear wing pylon has a direct route to the rear crash structure, compared to last year’s angled join to the spine of the engine cover.
The rear suspension has also received some tweaks, probably for the same reasons as up front. Interestingly, the trailing arm of the upper wishbone stretches further back and attaches more to the rear crash structure than to the gearbox casing. Whilst it is not as aggressive as what McLaren are doing, it is enough for the arm to not penetrate the surrounding bodywork like the other suspension members do. Instead the arm looks to help guide air coming off the top of the sidepod above the diffuser.
The rear wing appears to take a lot of its design cues from Mercedes, replacing the multiple vertical elements at the base of the endplate with just two larger slots for 2015. These slots follow the upward shape of the endplate to encourage upwash and increase rear downforce.
Red Bull have tended to set the trend for diffuser design over the past few years but again the RB11 has gone to Mercedes for inspiration. The extremities are now squared off to increase the floor’s overall volume and push airflow outward. This raises the expansion rate of the low pressure flow which sucks the rear of the car down.
Unlike the pictures shown above, Red Bull have carried over their late-2014 specification Y100 winglet which features multiple elements to manipulate the exhaust plume towards the bottom of the rear wing. I would imagine that this area will be extensively developed throughout the year as the teams claw back even more downforce.
On the whole the RB11 combines traditional Red Bull philosophy with detail changes from their rivals. Whilst it is no longer the unique car that others aspire to copy, the team have quickly realised that the best way to counter Mercedes with a weaker power unit is to copy some of their design features and implement them into an already-good chassis. If Renault can get within 40bhp of Mercedes then it’s game on but that’s a tough ask for 2015.
All other images courtesy of Infiniti Red Bull Racing