Red Bull chief technical officer Adrian Newey has opened up on how he and his design team opted to reject the ‘zeropod’ design philosophy adopted by Mercedes.
Red Bull has been the dominant force in Formula 1 since the dawn of the current technical regulations in 2022. Losing just six grands prix since Bahrain 2022, the Milton Keynes team has been victorious in 84.2% of races with the sport’s latest generation of machinery.
Red Bull took the torch from Mercedes, who won eight consecutive Constructors’ Championships between 2014 and 2021.
However, the Silver Arrows pursued a distinctive ‘zeropod’ philosophy at the beginning of this, era which only served to contribute to it falling behind Red Bull.
The slimmed-down design led to severe issues with bouncing, or porpoising, which the team would have to dial out by making a number of compromises on car setup.
Mercedes finally abandoned the project at the 2023 Monaco Grand Prix with the introduction of a heavily redesigned package.
“Obviously, with last year’s car we took an aerodynamic direction with the sidepod and design and the concept of the car, which was almost polar opposite to what Mercedes did,” Newey told F1’s Beyond the Grid podcast.
“Mercedes showed flashes of competitive last year, they won in Brazil [with George Russell].
“Then you’re faced with a choice of well, do we start to research Mercedes in case you’ve missed something or do we stick with what we’re doing? And gut feel was, let’s stick with what we’re doing.”
Newey, whose car designs have now won a total of 12 F1 Constructors” titles, described the sport’s return to a focus on generating downforce under the car as “the biggest single rule change” since the outlawing of venturi tunnels at the end of 1982.
The 64-year-old also revealed that the key to extracting the maximum performance from the current regulations lies with the integration of three major elements.
“It was [a matter of] sitting down with the rule book then trying to understand what architecture in terms of where do you put the front wheels, where do you put the rear wheels relative to the fixed bits of the series of chassis, engine and gearbox,” he explained.
“The underlying architecture, you have to decide. In my case, I concentrated on the architecture and then the front and rear suspension because they’re the kind of key bits that you want to try and get right if you possibly can.
“If you get the bodywork wrong, within reason, you can change it during a season. But if you get the underlying architecture wrong, at the very least you stuck with it for one season.”
Due to being locked in an enthralling title battle with Mercedes in 2021, Newey argued that his 2022 creation – the RB18 – was “conceived probably in a much shorter time than most, if not all, our rivals”.
“In ’21 we were in a big championship battle with Mercedes and, possibly wrongly, but because for the first time in many years we were in with a shot for a championship, we decided to put quite a lot of effort into developing that car through the year.”
Max Verstappen would take his maiden title that year, but Mercedes added an eighth consecutive Constructors Championship’ to its list of honours.
Out of the 2021 title battle, Ferrari was able to focus on the development of its 2022 car early and emerged as Red Bull’s closest rival at the head of the field.
“They [Ferrari] weren’t in the championship battle in ’21, so they stopped developing the ’21 car very early on and just concentrated on the design of the ’22 car. Mercedes was somewhere in between that.
“We kept developing far longer than either of those teams. And so theoretically that put us at a disadvantage. But I think what we did manage to do is get the architecture right.
“So when RB18 first came out in Bahrain last year, Ferrari was certainly as quick, if not quicker, in the early season. We managed to get the fundamentals right and that gave us a good development platform.
“We had an amount of bouncing, not as bad as the other teams, but we still had some bouncing which we needed to get on top of. And I think we had a reasonable understanding of what we needed to do to do that.
“So come the first upgrade we had in for the Bahrain race, then bouncing was much less of an issue than it was for other teams. That meant that we didn’t have to put a lot of our development energy into fixing bouncing, such as Ferrari and Mercedes did.”
With a career spanning over 40 years, Newey benefitted from working on the ground effect F1 cars of the 1980s as well as spending time in IndyCar and sports car racing.
“I think the key thing, particularly these venturi cars that came in at the start last year – though it was also true of the stepped-bottom cars before that – is it’s not just the aerodynamics, it’s how it couples with the chassis as well,” he continued.
“And that is one of the big keys that perhaps I’ve had a bit of an advantage in because I experienced that when I was at Fittipaldi – by the time I got back into F1 in 1988, then they were flat-bottomed cars – and then working in IndyCar.
“So I did three seasons in IndyCar, which were also venturi cars. So they gave me a good understanding of the cross-coupling.
“I very clearly remember Fittipaldi, actually the first time I went to the circuit when I was at Fittipaldi, Harvey Postlethwaite, who was the young technical director there, because the cars were running so stiff.
“He had the idea to save a bit of weight by throwing away the front dampers and springs and replacing them with bump rubbers, which is something he tried in his Hesketh days.
“I remember Keke Rosberg coming past on the old pit straight at Silverstone and the front wheels were in the air as it came past it was bouncing so badly.
“I think that was a very early lesson that this isn’t just about aero, it’s also the coupling of aero and suspension.”