Alfa Romeo explain the ‘relatively clear advantages’ of the Red Bull sidepod concept

Michelle Foster
Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas looking at the Red Bull RB19. Bahrain February 2023

Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas looking at the Red Bull RB19. Bahrain February 2023

As Formula 1 contemplates what makes the Red Bull so good and in turn what’s hampering the Mercedes, Alfa Romeo’s Jan Monchaux says while the RB19’s sidepods do factor, the car’s “underbody remains the biggest driver for performance”.

Last season Red Bull cruised to the championship double, the Adrian Newey designed RB18 in a league of its own as the team claimed 17 of the 22 race victories.

That form has continued into this year’s championship with the reigning World Champions beginning their title defence with an emphatic 1-2 result in Bahrain.

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Red Bull’s championship-winning pace prompted rival teams to copy the RB18’s sidepods with Aston Martin taking that to the nth degree, while the likes of Williams and Alfa Romeo also drew inspiration from the design.

Monchaux says Red Bull were the obvious choice to copy.

“Because the team became World Champions,” the Alfa Romeo technical director told Auto Motor und Sport. “That’s quite easy.

“You actually push good air to the diffuser and between the rear wheel and the diffuser with this solution. This has relatively clear advantages.

“You have to acknowledge when others have gotten more out of this relationship.”

‘Bodywork is important, but performance is largely made on the underbody’

Last season the Red Bull-inspired sidepods were not possible on the C42 due to the cooling arrangement on the car.

However this year, having made changes to that, Monchaux and his team decided they could do it.

“Last year we also wanted to bring in a lot of energy with our aggressive undercut,” he said. “That worked too. In the long term, with our philosophy, we were not in a position to constantly push things further.

“You are always smarter in hindsight. The World Champions certainly had their questions at the beginning of last season: were we really right? Even Red Bull doesn’t have a crystal ball.

“Even this team didn’t know at first whether the concept would still work in six or twelve months. Of course there is some experience involved. But even they must have had to hope for the best.

“We proved them right. It is therefore not surprising that many are now taking the same path.”

But while more teams may be going down the Red Bull route, Monchaux concedes most of today’s car’s performance comes from the floor and the vortexes.

“The underbody remains the biggest driver for performance,” he said. “The bodywork is important. It makes the greatest impression visually.

“However, the performance is largely made on the underbody. You just have to look at the red car. Ferrari has a completely different concept. But Ferrari is still pretty fast, although the bodywork looks completely different.”

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Budget cap and ATR limit major in-season changes

But while Red Bull’s success may inspire more teams to take up their sidepod solution, Monchaux believes making radical changes is a big risk for any team.

It’s a question Mercedes are currently facing having declared their W14’s concept won’t bring them the success they’re dreaming of.

They are, however, constrained not only by the budget cap but also the limited number of runs they’re allowed under Formula 1’s aerodynamic testing restrictions.

“It’s the sum of them,” Monchaux said. “With the budget cap, even the big teams are limited. I don’t think they are capable of building a new car from A to Z and developing it late into the season. Even if you produce everything in-house, the calculation no longer adds up.

“Second, there are pretty severe restrictions on CFD and wind tunnel testing, especially when you’re higher up in the World Championship. You have to proceed strategically.”

Pressed on that, he explained: “Let’s say you have 100 wind tunnel runs. It used to be 250.

“The question arises: What do I do with the 100 attempts? Do I spend ten per area: front wing, front suspension, chassis, underbody? Or do I go about it differently and distribute, for example, 50 on the front car and 50 on the underbody, and get the maximum out of there?

“If you also factor in the constraints of the budget and you simply can’t do everything from scratch: the general impression is that it’s better to dig into one area and make a big difference there. You can then invest in other areas for the next loop. Otherwise you lose yourself.

“You don’t just cook a seven-course meal at home either. Sometimes a few gears less is better.”