Red Bull unveiled its RB16B earlier this week; the car it hopes will finally deliver its first championship since 2013.
On the surface the Red Bull RB16B doesn’t seem to deviate at all from last year’s car, the RB16. The fact it’s been given the ‘B’ designation gives us a clue as to how similar it is, but it’s clear that there are general refinements in every component of the car.
Due to the development freeze, some components of the RB16 – such as the chassis, cooling system and braking system – are present on the 2021 car and remain unchanged.
Refinements to the Front End
The new single-seater which will be driven by Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez aims to fight on equal terms with Mercedes in 2021. The team ended the 2020 season with a strong win in Abu Dhabi and were closing the gap over the course of the season, so are hopeful small steps can see them fight at the front more often.
The aerodynamic refinements can be seen in the front end of the car. Although the team have retained the same nose as the RB16, they have developed the ‘cape’ which now sits further back and has visually wider air inlets (see below).
The small air ‘blow holes’ which were added late last season remain. They aim to channel a portion of the air-flow beneath the car. This Adrian Newey gem, unique among all the single-seaters in the line-up seen so far, can be seen in the drawing below.
Looking at the front wing, we note that the concept shown at the end of last season remains, very much echoing the aerodynamic philosophy introduced at the Turkish Grand Prix. The first flap above the main plane detaches completely, forming a single flap. The wing sits in the middle ground between the out-wash and in-wash philosophy, even if the trend seems to be moving more and more towards the former, which aims to push the airflow around the outside of the tyre, instead of over it. This can be seen from the reduction of the wing dimensions in the direction of the lateral bulkhead.
The sidewalk of the endplate (or footplate) remains unchanged. Red Bull introduced a slot in the lower part of the side bulkhead, which channels part of the air flow which is subsequently expelled via two holes in the posterior edge of the endplate.
On the RB16B there are new brake ducts for cooling the front discs more effectively. From the render, we can see how the shape of the brake ducts has been revised, following a solution more similar to that of Mercedes and Renault. The air intakes now take on a narrower and more slender shape than the 2020 version.
The front suspension hasn’t undergone major changes, and the interior elements (homologated in 2020) remain on the RB16B. The main characteristics of the front suspension concern in particular a steering column set back and misaligned by one of the two triangles, which required a complete revolution of the front section of the frame of the old RB16.
The arms of the upper triangle – in the area where the suspension enters the chassis – has been modified. The external part of the suspension is considered an “aerodynamic” part, and is free from homologation and technical freezing restrictions. The layout of the suspension, in accordance with the push rod layout, remains that of last year with the characteristic lower triangle with double anchor – known as multi-link. We see it in the drawing below.
Bargeboards and Floor
The flow deviators of the side of the car are the most complex aerodynamic part, with an intricate forest of fins and aerodynamic elements. The comparison should not be made with the images of the presentation of last years car, as the bargeboards have undergone several updates and design changes over the course of the season.
However the bargeboards presented on the RB16B have still undergone some development since the version presented in Abu Dhabi – although they will likely be the subject of much development throughout the early-2021 races.
The layout remains with many horizontal and parallel elements on the sides of the radiators duct. The flow deviators behind the rear wheels, on the other hand, have undergone several refinements, and will certainly be subject to further updates. The “knives” of the upper part of the boomerang create a series of whirlpools that will wrap airflow to the side of the bodywork.
As for the floor, which by regulation shrinks by about 100mm towards the rear, it has five vortex generators (on the RB16 there were four). In the area in front of the rear wheel there is instead a small vertical element, which acts as a winglet, to reduce turbulence on the rear wheels. The latter solution is almost identical to the one tested in Abu Dhabi during free practice, in a data collection exercise with a view to 2021. It is very likely that this area of the car will also undergo major changes during the season.
Single Pylon & Hidden Wastegate Exhausts
The first (and perhaps the only) major difference that can be seen with the naked eye on the rear wing, is a new single central pylon support, which incorporates the engine and wastegate exhausts.
Adrian Newey did an about turn when the rear wing support is concerned, returning to the single centre pylon solution, as in the old single-seaters produced in Milton Keynes before 2020. In fact, the old RB16 marked a breaking point with the previous single-seaters, and for the first time on a Red Bull, a double-supported rear wing was seen. However, already in the free practices of the Bahrain Grand Prix in November, the single-pylon solution was tested on the RB16, which was then tried again at Yas Marina with a view to 2021. The single pylon reduces drag.
In the drawing we observe the solution tested on the RB16 inherited from this year’s single-seater, which was combined with a rear wing from the main spoon plane.
A curiosity that comes out when observing the render of the RB16B in this area, concerns the absence (at least visually) of the wastegate exhausts: the arrangement of the wastegate exhausts was changed last year starting from the Turkish GP, through which they have been moved to a lower position, just below the suspension triangle arm.
The fairing of the pylon, which usually surrounds the central exhaust of the endothermic engine, however, suggests that Adrian Newey has implemented one of his genius solutions, housing the wastegate exhausts inside the pylon. This is a fairly unusual arrangement.
We are still waiting for official images that would support this, but as of yet, Red Bull hasn’t released any on-track or non-renders of its new car – what’s it trying to hide?
New Gearbox and Tighter Rear End
The most important change on the RB16B is one which isn’t visible and concerns the new gearbox. Adrian Newey has decided to spend the teams two tokens to modify the gearbox for purely aerodynamic purposes. This has been done in order to reduce the bodywork in the rear-low area.
Analysing the bodywork, we can see how the design has been revised with respect to the RB16, precisely in the area where the gearbox is housed: the more compact gearbox has allowed to further excavate the lower part of the area often referred to as the “coke bottle” because of how it mimics the shape of a Coca-Cola bottle.
It can be seen from a comparison in the same angle with the render from the last car, where the distance between the pull rod suspension strut and the bodywork is greater than in 2020.
As for the rear suspension, which Red Bull kept well hidden in its RB16B renders, we know that the attachments of the lower triangle have been completely revised, and the rear arm practically anchors itself to the rear impact structure. The purpose, purely of an aerodynamic matrix, is to create a small air channel between the fairing of the arm and the upper part of the extractor, to recreate a sort of double diffuser. We saw a similar layout last year on the Mercedes W11.
New Power Unit
The real beating heart of the RB16B is the 2021 power unit: The Japanese manufacturer Honda, which will abandon F1 after this season, has decided to implement all its technical developments for the 2021 engine, that were originally planned for 2022.
Christian Horner’s team will take over the Honda Power Units at the end of 2021, and then self-manage their development within a new “Red Bull Powertrain” department in view of an imminent freezing by the FIA on the engine front.
The Honda 2021 Power Unit aims to equalise the performance of its Mercedes competitor through work carried out in the endothermic part, an area in which the search for power is mainly carried out. It is estimated that the new Power Unit can guarantee a power boost of around 15-20 horsepower compared to the 2020 specification. This from the data that emerged from the first bench tests carried out in the winter. Engine development is currently an area free from freezing, and Red Bull together with Honda is working in synergy especially in the search for reliability, a fundamental component with the season stretching to a record 23 races.