Adrian Newey sets record straight on Red Bull design philosophy after ‘large visual change’

Michelle Foster
Adrian Newey looking at the Red Bull RB20 front wing.

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Despite talk of Red Bull breaking away from their 2022/23 championship-winning design philosophy with the RB20, Adrian Newey insists this year’s car is actually “extremely similar” to its predecessors.

Securing the championship double in the first year of the all-new ground-effect aerodynamic cars in 2022, Red Bull upped the ante in 2023 as the team clinched 21 of 22 Grands Prix wins, the 1-2 in the Drivers’ Championship, and the Constructors’ crown.

RB20’s ‘large visual change’ billed as a ‘smaller performance change’

It was arguably the most dominant campaign ever by a Formula 1 team, ranked up there with the best along with McLaren’s 1988 championship.

And yet Red Bull surprised the paddock when, instead of developing the RB19, they put a heavily revised RB20 on the track this season.

Drawing inspiration from yesteryear’s Mercedes F1 cars with the sidepods and engine cover, the car has still gone on to win three of four Grands Prix.

Design guru Newey says that’s because while it looks “significantly different”, it is actually “extremely similar” to the team’s previous ground-effect aerodynamic cars.

“Because it’s quite a big visual change, people make these comments – the truth is that the underpinnings of the car, the key architectural layout, front and rear suspension, is the third evolution of what was the RB18, so [it’s] actually extremely similar,” he told RacingNews365.

“Obviously, there are then some significant visual changes, mainly revolving around the radiators and cooling layout which have brought benefits.

“It is one of those where it’s a large visual change for what is actually, in truth, a smaller performance change. Details on the floor have also evolved and nobody, of course, notices!” recommends

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And at the end of it all, with today’s cars, it is the floor that makes the biggest difference. And that’s something Newey has past experience with from back in the 80s.

“It was a long time ago but my early career was with Venturi cars, in F1 and in IndyCar. Some of that knowledge has been useful in terms of knowing the potential pitfalls from Venturi cars – particularly the bouncing, or what we call proposing.

“It was a problem that the IndyCars didn’t really suffer from but the F1 cars in 1980 and 1981 suffered from significantly.

“My first visit to the racetrack, when I was at Fittipaldi, was in 1981. Harvey Postlethwaite was the technical director and he decided that because the front suspension was so stiff, we could save weight by throwing away the dampers and the coil springs and replacing them with bump rubbers.

“We did that as a test at Silverstone. Keke Rosberg was the driver and he came past the old pits at Silverstone and the car was bouncing so badly, you could just about see air through the front wheels.

“He came in completely shaken. It was an early lesson on how bouncing is actually quite a complex phenomenon in terms of [there being] many factors: the track surface itself, the aerodynamics, the suspension, etc.”

His previous knowledge on the cars gave Red Bull an advantage when it came to porpoising, which hamstrung many of the teams – most notably Mercedes – in 2022.

“By the middle of 2022, most people were more or less on top of [it],” he said. “We then obviously had the small regulation change of raising the floor by 15 millimetres and that actually did change things again.

“It arguably suited us more than others, which was surprising because some of the teams that were lobbying hard for it were the teams that actually suffered more from it.

“If you go back to 2022, the first half of the season we had a very tight battle with Ferrari.

“We actually started the aero development of the car, particularly the more detailed development as opposed to the underlying architecture, probably later in 2021, then some of our rivals.

“Particularly Ferrari, who effectively wrote off the 2021 season and dedicated it to research the 2022 cars. Because we are in a tight battle Mercedes through that year, we had to balance our resources a bit more.

“If you are unfortunate and start off with the wrong principle, the cost cap regulations then hinder the catch-up process.”

Red Bull lead the Constructors’ Championship by 21 points ahead of Ferrari.

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