Has the Red Bull RB18 lost its soul? Maybe yes, if by soul we mean
the DNA intrinsic to the car.
The team's 2022 challenger has been considered the most aerodynamically efficient car on the grid since the beginning of the season. Ferrari have gradually tried to get closer, reducing the gap that separated the F1-75 from the Milton Keynes-based squad's car upon their debut.
The updates introduced
on the red cars, especially from the Spanish Grand Prix onwards, have succeeded
in this intent, though the DNA of the Ferrari has not been changed, remaining characterised by a high load generated
with the floor, specifically in the fast corners.
On the other hand, the latest developments introduced on the RB18 have somewhat upset the basic characteristics. A largely revised floor made its debut at Silverstone, not only at the sectional level of the Venturi channels, but also in more visible areas such as the side edge.
Ferrari made a number of updates to the floor since Bahrain and a later version at Barcelona, where Red Bull took inspiration for their own floor. The revised floor aimed to increase performance in the corners with more load on the rear axle. At Silverstone, the simulations had the desired and expected effect on the cars of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez.
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Have Red Bull's updates affected the RB18's balance?
In fact, the RB18 had proven to be the fastest car in the high-speed Maggotts, Becketts and Chapel section of the track, which features three rapid changes of direction.
In practice, the greater load generated by the Venturi channels had made it possible to enhance the responsiveness of the RB18, which proved to be extremely precise even when entering corners. This was a feature of the car that was not always consistent
On several occasions, particularly at tracks where the aerodynamic load is the most important element for the purposes of performance – such as Monaco, for example – the RB18 proved to be imprecise in cornering. The car experienced understeer on corner entry, combined with oversteer when exiting and an evident skidding of the rear tyres.
In Austria, things went wrong again. Red Bull's car lost the near-perfect balance they had at the start of the season after the latest updates. It is interesting to see how the development path went – or rather the convergence of the original project and the Ferrari car project. The Milton Keynes-based team observed the details of the Ferrari car during its first races and especially since the Miami GP.
The "dilemma" facing Red Bull
It appears as if Adrian Newey and his team tried to integrate the characteristics of the F1-75, which they believed could be the closing of the circle in terms of performance. Increasing the cornering load seemed, in theory, to be a simple addition in terms of performance, without having to sacrifice any original features of the car.
But in light of what happened in the race
in Austria, but also of what emerged in both of Friday's Free Practice
sessions at the French Grand Prix, the possibility that the RB18 has lost optimal balance appears increasingly
tangible and plausible.
Red Bull's engineers must read the data collected to better understand the loss,
albeit relative, of the balance of the car, which was revealed by high tyre degradation in Austria.
The dilemma – which is not easy to solve at this point of the season – is whether it is worth returning to the version of the car from prior to the British Grand Prix. Setting aside the updates introduced at Silverstone could certainly restore the initial balance, but this could clash with the reality that has seen the rival car, the F1-75, progress thanks to the latest upgrade packages.
In other words, the risk would be that of finding themselves behind Ferrari, without any certainties in terms of recovery. In practice, the roles would have been reversed, albeit marginally, with the RB18 passing from leader to pursuer.
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