Adrian Newey has spotted a crucial clue in the approach to sidepod design

Michelle Foster
Adrian Newey tapes Max Verstappen's RB18. France July 2022

Red Bull technical director Adrian Newey tapes Max Verstappen's RB18. France July 2022

With three completely different sidepod designs making up the top-three teams in the standings, Adrian Newey says that shows “none of us is absolutely right and there has to be something better”.

The 2022 F1 championship heralded the arrival of a new era for the sport, F1 doing away from over-car airflow in favour of ground effect aerodynamics to create downforce.

That, together with simpler wings, was introduced in the hope that it would lead to closer racing by creating a cleaner aerodynamic wake that would make it easier for the car behind to follow.

But with closer racing in mind, Ross Brawn and his team set about “rule-busting” to close any loopholes that may have given a double diffuser-esque advantage to any team, such as what Brawn GP found in 2009.

Newey, Red Bull’s design guru and a man that is said to be able to ‘see air’, was worried Formula 1 would have 20 replica cars on the grid.

“When I first read the rules two years ago, I was really frustrated. They looked extremely restrictive,” he told Auto Motor und Sport.

“I have to admit that I had to change my mind working on these cars.

“The chassis and the front wing move in a very narrow framework, but then there are also areas with a surprising amount of freedom. These include the sidepods and the underbody.

“The different sidepod shapes are also easy for fans to distinguish. That’s a good thing.”

No one got it ‘absolutely right’

Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes all went with different sidepod concepts.

While the RB18 has an ultra-aggressive undercut, Ferrari’s F1-75 was fitted with baby baths, and Mercedes got rid of the sidepods almost entirely with their zero-pod design.

Based on early-season form it looked as if Ferrari’s design was the right one, only for the Scuderia’s charge to fall away and for Red Bull to come to the fore.

Mercedes’ porpoising problems were largely blamed on their zero-pods but as the season progressed the bouncing stopped and Mercedes emerged as Red Bull’s closest rivals in the latter part of the championship.

“In the beginning, with us and Ferrari, there were two teams at the same level, and towards the end of the season Mercedes was getting stronger,” he said. “To be honest, I was expecting bigger gaps.

“That means that none of us is absolutely right and there has to be something better.

“You can do things with wings or never isolate the sidepods. Everything only works as a package. A Ferrari sidepod will not fit our underbody and vice versa. There is always an interaction between these elements.”

Newey surprised by the zero-pod, never considered it

Of the three designs it was Mercedes’ zero-pod that raised the most eyebrows, Newey’s included.

The Briton says it was a loophole Red Bull never considered, but he doesn’t expect to see other teams copy the idea for next year’s championship. They might, though, if next year’s W14 wins the championship.

“The Mercedes was a real surprise. We had overlooked this loophole,” he said.

On the effectiveness of it, he said: “It’s difficult to judge from the outside. The Mercedes has gotten better and better over the course of the year.

“To be honest, we don’t have the time to look at the concept in detail. Under a budget cap you can no longer afford this luxury. That’s why you step first the paths that you think will bring the most profit.

“With the Mercedes, it will be the case that everyone will only reach for the copying pen when the concept suddenly becomes a lasting success.”

He added: “We will continue to develop our concept because we know it best. But I do not dare to say whether our way is the best. It is quite possible that someone else with a better idea around the corner.”

Red Bull won the title with their cutaway sidepods, Max Verstappen taking the Drivers’ title in Japan before the team wrapped up the Constructors’ at the United States Grand Prix. The RB18 won 17 of the 22 races.

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