Technical Insight: Red Bull and Mercedes at the same level, the difference is the Power Unit?
In terms of aerodynamics and chassis, Red Bull RB16 and Mercedes W11 on the same level, it is difficult to say. Overall, the entire Mercedes W11 package is substantially better than the Red Bull RB16 - Honda one.
The thrilling Turkish Grand Prix saw Lewis Hamilton take a record-equalling seventh Formula 1 world championship, whilst Red Bull endured bitter disappointment, given what looked like a promising weekend on Friday and Saturday.
A series of errors by the drivers and by the team in the pits prevented the Red Bull RB16 from taking home a far better result that, given the potential expressed at Istanbul Park, seemed clearly within reach of Max Verstappen and Alex Albon. Chrstian Horner’s team had to surrender again to see an immense Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes W11 on the top step of the podium.
It was a race weekend in which Mercedes never seemed on top form after dominating in every session and in every condition thus far. In Turkey, on the other hand, the smooth asphalt and the colder weather gave Red Bull RB16’s chassis time to truly shine and show its full potential, with a Max Verstappen who, after the three free practice sessions, already seemed to anticipate the flavour of an announced success.
If we focus on the performance of Adrian Newey’s car, and on his ability to bring the tyres into the right window, what comes to mind is that the difficult conditions in Istanbul have allowed Red Bull to highlight its qualities, both on aerodynamics and chassis, and at the same time, they did not allow Mercedes (even if Hamilton later won) to dominate as in the other GPs.
The work done by Newey and his team on the RB16, which is able to optimally transmit the aerodynamic load to the tyres, quickly warming the tread for optimum grip, is evident. The front suspension with its multi-link lower triangle is a clear example of the maniacal research of the engineering team in immediately finding the right working window for Pirelli’s difficult to decipher tyres, all without ever having a car that stresses the rubber too much, accelerating their degradation.
The cold, the rain, and the slippery asphalt, could therefore have leveled the performance between Mercedes and Red Bull, in conditions in which the performance of the power unit would be less predominant than the aerodynamic downforce and the efficiency of the chassis.
In this regard, considering in terms of aerodynamics and chassis, it’s still difficult to say whether Red Bull’s RB16 and Mercedes W11 are on the same level. Certainly overall the entire Mercedes package (aerodynamics-chassis-power unit) is substantially better than the Red Bull and Honda’s package.
It is quite concrete to say that the Mercedes Power Unit remains ahead of its rivals, and in all likelihood it will be the best in 2021 as well, with Honda ready to leave F1 at the end of this cycle.
As far as he can, Newey continued to bring updates to the RB16, and there was no shortage of technical news on Verstappen and Albon’s car in Turkey as well.
Specifically on the RB16 a muzzle with a modified cape at the base was seen, with the introduction of a small aerodynamic blow that acts as a slot to bring air into the lower part of the frame. A small aerodynamic adjustment, in a very different nose from last season, narrower, and closer to what has been the Mercedes philosophy for a couple of years now.
Also in Turkey, a new arrangement of the wastegate exhausts was fitted on the Red Bull and maintained throughout the weekend on both drivers, which in the new specification are located in a lower position, always at the sides of the central exhaust. The old configuration, with the wastegate exhausts at the top, was adopted last year on the RB15.
Recall that the wastegate exhausts blow especially during the accelerator lift phase, and the Honda Power Unit can often be heard “muttering” when the drivers are decelerating. By moving the exhausts lower, their blowing influence should be less in an area where the front wing depression head (and therefore the air intake) is lower than in the highest position.