The 2021 Red Bull, the last to be equipped with a factory Honda Power Unit, will be an evolution of its predecessor and will thus be known as the RB16-B, a naming pattern Williams has adopted this year with its FW34B.
It shows just how significant the carry over from last year will be that many teams have chosen not to give their ’21 cars a fresh name. Indeed McLaren’s new car will be known as the MCL35M – the same name as its predecessor but with the addition of an ‘M’ identifying its switch to Mercedes power.
Red Bull had already shown ample signs of growth last year, especially from late summer onwards. However they had just two wins to show for their efforts, both of which were won by Max Verstappen. Whilst Red Bull’s RB16-B is just an evolution, the Milton Keynes team has high hopes of starting the new season as Mercedes’ main challenger, with an air of confidence within the ranks that they can challenge for the crown this year.
Honda Power Boost!
The news that Honda would abandon its Formula 1 programme shook Red Bull, and continues to do so until a solution is found. It has cast a shadow over Red Bull’s future…
But despite the announcement from the Japanese manufacturer, Honda has pushed ahead with its ’21 development programme and even accelerated some updates that were meant for ’22, in the hope of delivering a power unit that is equal to or better than the dominant Mercedes unit.
Red Bull hopes it can continue to take advantage of the Honda PU for many years to come, although it’s likely it would rename it – like it did with Renault’s engine, which was rebranded ‘TAG Heuer’ after the two parties fell out.
The development focus on the PU mainly concerns the endothermic part, an area in which the search for horsepower is fundamental. Better efficiency, sought in the combustion of fuel, should be the main intervention in the search for power. The hybrid systems are also likely to be revised and the reliability improved.
Development Focus at the Rear
Adrian Newey is known for his innovative designs, but his mind has somewhat been restricted due to the various development freezes and homologation deadlines imposed by the FIA to save costs as a result of the pandemic.
Therefore development work is likely to focus on the rear of the car, which proved to be the RB16’s weakness last year. The RB16 was in fact subject, especially at the beginning of the season, to stability problems and sudden loss of load at the rear.
This was worked on and improved over the course of the season, with Red Bull homologating a new rear suspension design in September, but there’s likely to be further development in this area.
The new rear suspension, which will be carried over to the RB16-B, saw modifications to the bracket to raise the upper triangle arms. This modification was intended to increase the distance between the two triangles (lower and upper) in order to have a channel for the passage of greater air flow and to have less resistance.
The bracket has also been modified, inserting a Mercedes-style blow moulding. However, this modification has a purely aerodynamic purpose rather than the purpose of cooling the brake discs (as in the case of Mercedes).
Red Bull will spend its two development tokens on homologating a new gearbox, which will also allow for several other homologated components to be modified.
Aerodynamics aren’t frozen, therefore this area of development remains fairly open. Last year Newey and his team revisited solutions seen in 2019 surrounding the configuration of the wastegate exhausts (these will not be mandatory in ’21) and the rear-wing support pillars.
Red Bull moved to a single-pylon support for the rear-wing in Bahrain, having previously run a twin-pylon, with the wastegate relocated in order to increase the blowing effect on the rear-wing to improve rear stability. This solution will likely remain on the RB16-B.
Red Bull will also have to cope with the new aerodynamic regulations, which will limit the impact of the floor and diffuser on the downforce of the rear. Christian Horner’s team is one of those teams that, in ’20, carried out aerodynamic tests with a view to ’21, bringing a pre-cut cross-country configuration to the track several times, as required by the new regulation.
The data collection on the track, in addition to that of the CFD (computational fluid dynamics), is aimed at quantifying the loss of downforce due to the new aerodynamic limitations.
In Abu Dhabi, Red Bull took advantage of part of Friday’s free practice to test a further ’21 floor pre-version: in the version tested at Yas Marina, in addition to cutting a diagonal portion, a vertical strip was added near the rear wheel to reduce the turbulence that will hit the rear tyre. This could already give important indications on how the various teams are interpreting the new technical regulations.
Front to Remain Unchanged
Red Bull also did plenty of development on the front of the car last year and this will be carried over to the new car. The team ran a narrow nose with a Mercedes-style cape to manage the flow of air that passes in the neutral area of the front wing.
The nose, of which the impact structure inside it has been homologated already, will be inherited on the RB16-B, together with the frame. Last year Red Bull alternated between two versions of the nose, changing the arrangement of the wing support pillars to a narrower and a wider configuration. It will be interesting to see which version is implemented on the ’21 car, or whether they’ll continue to yo-yo between the two.