Revealed: Top-four tech clues as Red Bull step away from the convergence they began

Uros Radovanovic
Mercedes W15 and Red Bull RB20. F1 news

The Red Bull RB20 features a structure not dissimilar to last year's Mercedes, with the W15 going another way.

With Red Bull being the last, all teams have presented their new cars for the 2024 season. Some were mysterious, while with others, it was clear what was happening.

Let’s examine the new technical details of the leading teams that might reveal the direction they have taken and what we can expect from them next season.

Ferrari

The Italian team has made some minor, but not so drastic, changes to the new SF-24 car. On the front wing, we can see the absence of outwash components that previously separated the third and fourth elements.

These components created an additional outwash effect, pushing the dirty air from the front tyres further away from the car. Now, the load on the front wing is more balanced, while other details remain more or less the same.

A more significant difference can be seen in the geometry of the car’s nose. Ferrari was known for its pointed and narrow nose, which has now changed. The SF-24’s nose is noticeably wider with much gentler curves – a design choice also adopted by the Alpine team a few days earlier.

The next major change involves the modified geometry of the sidepods and sidepod inlets. Although seemingly similar, the inlet has an extended lower edge, now more pronounced, resembling Red Bull’s design from the previous year. This move aims to enhance the undercut, allowing for a more consistent airflow towards the edge of the car’s floor and beam wing.

Additionally, Ferrari seems to have abandoned their characteristic “waterslide” design, fully embracing downwash sidepods. This change has led to the relocation of cooling openings and a different engine cover.

McLaren

This year, McLaren decided to reveal fewer details during the presentation of their new MCL38 car with carefully chosen angles and lighting helping to conceal important elements.

What can be highlighted for now is the different sidepod inlet. McLaren chose not to follow the trend set by Red Bull last year and opted for a unique design to start the new season. Apart from this detail, there’s little else worth mentioning until we see the actual McLaren during testing.

It’s essential to note that McLaren’s engineers were able to test the aerodynamics of the new car in their new wind tunnel, providing valuable information to better understand the airflow around the car.

Mercedes

In contrast to McLaren, Mercedes’ new car looks almost unrecognisable compared to that of the beginning of the previous season. As we know, Mercedes completely changed the car’s concept during the 2023 season, leaving behind the so-called “zero-pod” concept.

From that point on, Mercedes worked diligently to successfully implement the new aerodynamics philosophy on the already-designed car, which is no easy task. However, this is their first opportunity to start from scratch and fully adapt the car to the new philosophy.

The first and most striking change is the completely different front wing that was explained in full and how Mercedes cleverly remained within the FIA regulations.

Additionally, there’s a noticeable change in the front suspension, which still features a push-rod system but with the upper wishbone at a steeper angle, an unusual configuration. One assumption is that this helps improve the airflow towards the inlets and the car’s floor.

Regarding the sidepods and sidepod inlets, everything is different from the W14. The inlets have an unusual design not seen before, likely adapted to work efficiently with the changed front wing. The sidepod has a well-known downwash line and a prominent undercut region. However, Mercedes also uses shadow tricks to conceal some details.

It is believed that Mercedes moved the cockpit back by a few millimetres, that said to be 10, to achieve a better weight distribution between the front and rear axles. Hamilton complained about the seating issue last year, stating that it meant he couldn’t feel the car’s feedback properly.

Red Bull

When it comes to concealing details of the new car, credit must be given to Red Bull, who has tried in every way to hide the true appearance of their new car from the public. However, at this point, we can analyse the details we have and try to provide a good explanation of their purpose.

Let’s start with the front wing, which doesn’t reveal much as it looks almost identical to last year’s car reveal. Where changes can be seen is in the car’s nose and how it connects to the front wing. Red Bull has consistently presented “ordinary” front wings at car unveilings for years, as this element is easy to change.

The real mystery lies in the sidepod inlets, which have been much talked about in recent days. On the renders released by Red Bull, it appears as if the car has no inlets at all. However, some other images from different angles tell a different story.

What can be seen from the car reveal is that the upper lip of the inlet is much more pronounced, which is quite unusual. Red Bull initiated the trend of “letterbox” inlets, where the lower edge is longer and more pronounced. Now, the situation is entirely different as the upper edge is clearly longer.

Some images from other angles suggest that Red Bull may have adopted vertical inlets, similar to Mercedes’ “zero sidepod” design. However, a significant undercut area is still present, making things even more mysterious. Allegedly, such small vertical inlets are not sufficient for engine cooling, so one assumption is that Red Bull will have a letterbox inlet along with this smaller vertical inlet.

Another major change is in the upper bodywork and engine cover, resembling Mercedes’ design from last year. Two lumps on both sides follow the rear edge of the halo and extend to the end of the car. The purpose of this design is to control the dirty air created by the cockpit and halo. These two “channels” will keep the dirty air close to the car and, in some way, prevent it from mixing with clean air, disrupting the functioning of aero components at the rear of the car.

It’s important to keep in mind that these are all assumptions, and only engineers know the main roles of specific elements. Also, teams want to hide a lot, so we’ll see the actual design during testing in a few days.

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