Explained: Why do Red Bull struggle at very specific F1 circuits?

Uros Radovanovic
A dramatic shot of Max Verstappen's Red Bull in action at the 2024 Monaco Grand Prix

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen in action in the RB20

After a brief hiatus, the thrill of Formula 1 returns, taking us to the iconic Canadian Grand Prix. Nestled on an island, this beloved street circuit is a driver’s paradise, with its challenging slow chicanes linked by sweeping long straights that demand nothing short of perfection.

Yet, this unique track isn’t universally favoured, posing distinct challenges for different teams. Let’s dive into the meticulous preparations engineers undertake for this weekend and identify which teams may just struggle on this demanding Canadian circuit.

Characteristics of the Canadian GP

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is both a fun and highly technical track for drivers. To navigate the chicanes effectively, drivers must be incredibly precise and attack the curbs to get a good exit and, subsequently, a high top speed.

Despite being full of slow corners, this track doesn’t require much aerodynamic downforce. Teams will focus more on achieving high top speeds on the straights. However, precise braking is crucial here due to several demanding braking zones. Fortunately, the long straights provide ample time for the brakes to cool down.

It’s also worth noting that this track features three DRS zones, increasing overtaking opportunities. Therefore, if you stay close to the car ahead through the slow corners, you have a solid chance of overtaking later.

Explained: Red Bull’s main RB20 issue

The circuit in Canada is a street track full of bumps. A trend observed this and last season is that these conditions don’t favour Red Bull. Examples include last year’s Singapore race and this year’s Monaco race. But why does Red Bull struggle on these tracks?

Red Bull has created an extremely aerodynamically efficient car. The key to their success is a well-designed floor that generates more downforce compared to other teams. One reason they achieve this is by having larger, higher tunnels under the car, which are the main generators of downforce.

For the car’s floor to generate sufficient force, it must be as close as possible to the track surface, which Red Bull has achieved by implementing a softer suspension.

However, what sets Red Bull apart from other teams is that they managed to do this without triggering the (porpoising) bouncing effect, which has troubled others.

The places where engineers need to raise the car’s floor are precisely at these bumpy tracks that require constant crossing over curbs. This significantly reduces the efficiency of Red Bull’s floor.

Additionally, one theory is that the Austrian team’s engineers haven’t focused much on solving bouncing and suspension issues because they have never had to truly face those problems.

On the other hand, other teams have invested a lot of time and effort into understanding this problem, which includes finding other sources of downforce that don’t depend on the floor height. If this theory is correct, it is another contributor to the performance gap between Red Bull and other teams is much smaller on street circuits, as we’ve seen several times.

As in several recent races, the main contenders to challenge the current leaders are McLaren and Ferrari, teams that have shown strong performances under various conditions.

Ferrari demonstrated good stability in slow corners in Monaco, so they will definitely be in the fight for victory if they can achieve good top speeds.

Besides them, we shouldn’t forget teams like Haas and Williams, who have very good top speeds. These teams can also surprise and score valuable points.

The aerodynamic clues in Canada

As shown in the tweet below, teams have brought medium downforce aerodynamic packages to Canada.

Among them, McLaren stands out for choosing the most aggressive rear wing. It’s also fascinating to see the differences in designs.

Red Bull and Mercedes have a much deeper lower flap on the rear wing along with a narrow DRS plane. On the other hand, Ferrari and McLaren have a different philosophy. This can give them a speed advantage when the DRS system is activated, and there are three DRS zones in Canada.

Before qualifying, teams will have three free practice sessions to test different setups and we can therefore expect some teams to change their aerodynamic packages based on the results they get.

An additional dose of excitement could come from the possible rain forecasted throughout the weekend.

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