Adrian Newey has revealed how Red Bull had to keep their poker faces on when F1’s floor changes for 2023 were introduced.
Having had an already incredibly impressive 2022 Formula 1 season in the first year of the new ground-effect regulations, Red Bull swept all before them in 2023 with 21 from 22 Grands Prix won.
This came as something of a surprise, given it was the second year of the now-maturing rules, but Adrian Newey has revealed how an unexpected floor rule change actually ended up playing into Red Bull’s hands.
Adrian Newey: RB18 was getting into trouble at high speed
One side effect of the ground-effect regulations was that of high-speed ‘porpoising’, an aerodynamic phenomenon where a car ‘bounces’ like a tractor.
How it happens is that, as a car travels at increasing speed down the straight, the floor starts to lower to the ground. An obvious consequence of this is that the amount of space through which the air can pass underneath the car shrinks. As this gap shrinks, the amount of air that can pass through also shrinks.
Eventually, there’s a point of no return and no more air can physically pass under the car. When this happens, the airflow underneath stalls. As a result, the suction effect – the part that gives the incredible downforce – is reduced and the car springs back into the air, only to be met with the obvious increased airflow, pulling the car down again.
This sets off a cycle of ever-increasing bouncing as the car’s speed goes up. However, the FIA took measures to calm the effect through a technical directive, with rule changes introduced into the Technical Regulations for 2023 to raise the ride height.
The floor was duly raised by 15 millimetres, with the underfloor diffuser throat also raised by 10mm.
Several teams – including Red Bull – voiced some concerns and pushback against the FIA’s proposals, with Christian Horner saying: “It’s a very late point in the year to be doing this [July ’22].
“I think the president is doing the right thing, he’s collating all of the information, and hopefully a sensible solution can be found. Because it’s too late in the day for fundamental regulation changes, which something like that would be.”
But Newey has explained how he spotted that, once the numbers were looked at properly, it wasn’t as much of a hindrance to Red Bull as they initially feared.
As Red Bull’s chief technical officer, Newey gave an extensive interview to The Race in which he was asked about how difficult it was to retain performance on the 2023 car, given the floor rule changes that ostensibly cost teams half a second a lap.
“Ah, the interesting thing about that was when the change was announced last year, we were discussing it internally,” Newey said.
“Some of our guys were saying, ‘No, we’ve got to really fight this’.
“But I took the view that, actually, in the high-speed corners last year, we were probably behind Ferrari.
“Our car was getting itself into problems in the very high speed so, actually, that reg change might suit us – so we didn’t really push against it too much.
“It turned out it seems it has suited us.”
Adrian Newey: Bouncing is a ‘multi-dimensional’ problem
While porpoising as a phenomenon largely disappeared in 2023, which was postulated to happen regardless of the floor rule changes, Newey said he was surprised that the other teams failed to keep pace with Red Bull.
“I have been surprised. It’s not what we expected at all, the level of advantage we’ve had at most circuits this year compared to the opposition,” Newey said.
“Over the years, quite often when you come up with a completely new concept, the first year can be quite good… There’s obviously been a few cars inspired by our car of last year but I don’t know, not having any detailed knowledge of them, I can’t really comment.
“The thing about bouncing is it’s a multi-dimensional problem. So it’s obviously the aerodynamic shape of the car itself, it’s then coupled with suspension and possibly bodywork stiffness and all sorts of things, as people have gradually found out over the last year and a half.
“So you have to look at it holistically. You can’t just focus on one single bit.
“I remember when I was at Fittipaldi, Harvey Postlethwaite had a thing about rising rate rubber suspension and he decided to save a bit of weight on the car he’d try to throw the springs and dampers away and just sit the car on a set of bump rubbers.
“It was the first time I’d ever been to a racetrack and in the old pits at Silverstone Keke Rosberg came past and the car was bouncing so heavily you could see air beneath the front tyres. He came in after one lap, eyes wide, and said ‘That doesn’t work!
“That was the first time for me I realised bouncing wasn’t purely an aerodynamic problem.”