Having undeniably established their dominance in the initial 15 races of 2023 in an unprecedented manner, Red Bull experienced one of their most lacklustre weekends in terms of pace in nearly three years in Singapore – and it's fair to ponder, will the same issues blight them at this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix?
Interestingly, during this past weekend, the FIA introduced a technical directive with the intention of curbing flexible wings.
Can we establish a connection between these two occurrences, or does a more profound problem lie beneath the surface?
Let's delve into the data and endeavour to reach some conclusions...
Did flexible wings really affect Red Bull?
In case you're not familiar with the term, flexible wings refer to wings that undergo deformation under specific loads, with the primary load being downforce.
The inherent advantage of such wings lies in their ability to deform at high speeds, reducing the frontal area exposed to aerodynamic drag, consequently providing an advantage in straight-line speed.
To assess whether Red Bull's End of Straight (EoS) performance has been affected, let's examine some metrics and graphs comparing Hungary (with similar downforce levels) and Singapore.
The provided graphs depict a couple of laps by Verstappen during FP2 in Hungary. The white trace represents a lap with the Drag Reduction System (DRS) activated, while the orange trace corresponds to a lap with DRS turned off.
It's evident that there is an EoS speed difference of approximately 24 km/h, translating to a time differential of 0.343 seconds.
While we acknowledge the potential influence of factors like fuel loads and engine modes, these figures serve as a reasonable baseline for our analysis.
Now, let's shift our attention to the data from Singapore. In this case, the variance in top speeds has decreased to 20 km/h, and the time differential is reduced to 0.253 seconds.
From this comparison, it can be reasonably inferred that the presence of flexible wings has indeed had an impact on Red Bull's performance.
However, looking at quotes from Perez and Verstappen, the issue seems to be deeper.
“It hasn’t been a great weekend for us so far; qualifying was hectic," said the Dutchman to the media.
"I couldn’t brake late and hard because I would bottom out, I’ve also been struggling with the low-speed corners, we just had no rear support.”
Perez could only agree with his team-mate.
“We made a lot of changes to the car this weekend, but nothing really worked, we need to understand it," said the Mexican to the media.
"It has been tough because we have been making a few changes here and there, but nothing seems to transform the balance.
"It has been tricky out there with the amount of sliding we have been doing, and the balance is changing corner to corner.
"The thing we are struggling the most with is ride, and it made what happened there even worse.”
Since the flexible wings deal primarily with straight-line performance, it couldn’t have had this drastic of an effect on car balance and cornering performance.
Let's examine Verstappen's qualifying performance in comparison to Carlos Sainz. Both laps we're analysing are the fastest ones achieved by each driver during Q2.
An immediate observation is that the blue trace consistently appears beneath the red trace, particularly at the apex and exit of most corners.
This suggests that Verstappen encountered challenges related to both steady-state balance and transient balance, especially when exiting corners.
Singapore boasts numerous tight corners that feed into straight sections, underscoring the critical importance of strong traction.
Verstappen himself mentioned that his car was "bottoming out," causing the front tires to lose grip and resulting in reduced braking performance and understeer during turns. Interestingly, he also struggled with exit oversteer, creating a setup nightmare for any driver.
It's worth noting that both Red Bull drivers concurred that the setup was more favourable during FP3, but the team opted for an aggressive approach in qualifying.
How will this affect Suzuka?
Suzuka is renowned in Formula 1 for its status as a classic and conventional racetrack. Its layout is a harmonious combination of medium-speed and high-speed corners, making it a unique challenge for both drivers and their machines. In terms of setup, teams which usually excel at Silverstone should also excel in Suzuka.
This fact will give us a good reference to understand whether Red Bull are actually affected by any of the recent technical directives. If Red Bull are slow at Suzuka , then we can most likely say they have.
However, assuming the dominant RB19 hasn't fallen apart entirely, this type of track layout plays to their strengths. The team has excelled on circuits that demand a balance between high-speed stability and agility through medium-speed corners.
The inherent balance and aerodynamic efficiency of the Red Bull car, along with its ability to generate high downforce at high speeds thanks to their low ride heights, will make them a formidable competitor at Suzuka.
The contrasting nature of Suzuka as compared to Singapore, with its mix of corners and high-speed sections, suggests that the difficulties encountered in Singapore may indeed be an isolated incident. Red Bull's strengths are likely to shine through once again at Suzuka.
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