The Korean Grand Prix was far from a straight forward win for Sebastian Vettel. He had to battle two safety car periods and manage his tyres carefully throughout the race, with the Red Bull team claiming he had “100% tyre wear” by the chequered flag.
Whilst a lifetime away from the 32.6 second victory he claimed in Singapore, the German still managed to achieve his second Grand Chelem on the trot (pole, led every lap and fastest lap of the race) and by the time the chequered flag drops in Suzuka next time out – could be a 4 time world drivers champion dependant on how the results fall for the immediate three of Alonso, Raikkonen and Hamilton following.
This is truly imperious from. The RB9 has no weaknesses, winning in style at both Spa and Monza, as well as most recently on circuits which are supposed to suit the characteristics of the Red Bull car much better in Singapore and Korea. Fresh waves of controversy have been lavished onto the team and the legality of the RB9, supposedly running a form of “legal traction control”.
To me this is old news; it was as far back as winter testing pre season that the FIA were trying to clarify with Renault on what “engine/torque” maps were legal for the Red Bull and Lotus car after the German GP controversy in 2012. These engine maps are designed to work seamlessly together with the under tunnel ramp exhausts that both Lotus and Red Bull run, and it appears throughout the season that Renault have been working hard to “optimise” these maps to unleash as much blowing effect as possible through the diffuser.
The reason Red Bull struggled early on in the season was down to the construction of the Pirelli compounds – Steel over Kevlar. The steel banded compounds flexed much more in the sidewalls and were far less rigid than their Kevlar counterparts. This meant the airflow towards the back of the car going into the diffuser was disrupted much more due to the flexing causing “tyre squirt” and therefore eradicating the peak potential of the downforce of the Red Bull car.
Obviously, since the compounds have been changed at the British Grand Prix, the elimination of tyre squirt through the more rigid Kevlar tyres has allowed Adrian Newey to unleash and optimise the peak rear downforce of the RB9 with a much less interrupted air corridor feeding the rear diffuser.
The reason Lotus were so strong at the start of the season was down to their FRICS hydraulic suspension system (copy of the Mercedes system) which utilising hydraulics modulated everything from ride height to dive and roll of the car through the braking/acceleration phases. Additionally the fact the car was very softly sprung allowing the tyre load to go through more of the car and the chassis than the tyres themselves – Red Bull did not have that luxury.
Since then, Lotus have been able to enjoy the same benefits of the switchover of compounds, utilising the same exhaust solution and engine maps from Renault as Red Bull – so there is no surprise as to why the podium at the weekend was Renault dominated. They are simply far more efficient at extracting the “blowing” potential of the exhaust than the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes.
But back to the RB9. Alongside the superior engine maps, there are rumours rife surrounding the possibility of the team using the KERS harvesting and charging phase to modulate engine power and wheelspin on the exit of corners.
There is no limit or regulation on when the KERS charging phase during a lap should take place. It is speculated in an article on Racecar engineer that Red Bull has placed extra sensors on the shocks which can pick up the loading and compressive phases that the car experiences during the lap. When the shocks are compressed the sensors will allow the car to utilise the full torque of the engine. However when they are fully extended, the sensors pick up the differentiation in load and will then activate the KERS charging phase, reducing torque to the wheels and instead sending it to speed up the harvesting process. This reduction in torque therefore limits wheelspin and potential loss of traction and the result is a totally legal form of “controlled TC”.
Obviously traction control is completely illegal in Formula 1, however this system of dispersing the torque demands away from the wheels and into the KERS harvesting process on corner exit, is a completely legal solution and whilst there is no concrete proof, is certainly a very realistic proposition.
If both of these advantages were present on the Red Bull car, it would go a long way to explaining why the RB9 has started to run streaks ahead in the development race compared to its rivals. However (especially with the engine maps) these advantages do require a specific type of driving style.
It is speculated that Vettel has managed to optimise himself far better when it comes to extracting the maximum potential of the RB9’s advantages, by adjusting his driving style to perfectly suit the demands of the car. Hours in the simulator and belief that the car will stick on corner exit, have helped him to reach a confidence and connection in the car that Webber simply cannot match.
It would go a long way to proving why Webber just cannot seem to find a balance in the car that Vettel can. When it comes to the “blowing” effects with the exhaust, the throttle needs to be opened in order to extract the maximum peak of rear downforce – no throttle = no exhaust gases. If Vettel has the trust in the equipment to pin the car mid corner and extract that advantage, whereas Webber might not, it would show why Webber seemingly cannot match the pace of his team-mate on a consistent basis.
Obviously for the majority, this domination of Red Bull and Vettel is getting quite tiresome. However, for 2014 this advantage that Newey/Renault/Vettel have managed to carve out will essentially be stamped out due to the drastic regulation changes.
With a single exhaust outlet that is placed too high to influence the “coanda” effect it will effectively end the era of utilising the exhausts gases to modulate rear downforce through the diffuser and therefore the advantage the Red Bull team currently enjoy will simply be washed away….. hopefully.
Formula 1 can be a fascinating sport if you care to do a bit of digging.
Post Korea thoughts.....JP.
Excellent informative content, all starts to make a dream into reality.
Some of the adopted driving style that you need would be quite alien when going through the brains registry and your own seat of the pants messages, nailing the throttle before the apex in the blind hope to start with that the grip level will be enhanced and not throw you into the next barrier is going to take some doing.
I have to say the simulators mentioned plus images there provided are still harmless. My opinion is that to handle these now levels of commitment/bravery can only come from miles and miles of hack testing, living it and feeling it with enormous run off areas and plenty of marshals present. Bring more on JP that was a fantastic insight. .