Red Bull: The RB18 design process was ‘potentially a disaster’

Thomas Maher
Red Bull's Max Verstappen on track at the Austrian Grand Prix. Spielberg, July 2022.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen on track at the Austrian Grand Prix. Spielberg, July 2022.

Some of Red Bull’s prominent technical staff have admitted they were unsure of the RB18’s potential until pre-season testing got underway.

With 2022 being the first year of a completely new rule set, moving to that of a ground-effect philosophy, the potential to make an error and doom a team to a year of uncompetitiveness was much higher than it was under the previous rulebook.

This has been borne out by Constructors’ Champions Mercedes, whose W13 hasn’t managed to win a race in the first year of the regulations despite the team winning eight team titles in a row.

But, until the cars actually hit the track to begin testing in the real world, Red Bull’s leading technical crew have admitted they also had some concerns about the RB18 during the design process.

Red Bull: ‘There wasn’t a carryover part on the car’

“I guess, under new regulations, it’s always difficult to know whether you’ve done the right thing or not,” Red Bull’s chief engineering officer Rob Marshall explained on the F1 Nation podcast after the Japanese Grand Prix, where Max Verstappen wrapped up the 2022 Drivers’ Championship.

“I think we got to the first test, and we found that, actually, what we had done wasn’t too far off the pace. We didn’t seem to be struggling on certain issues that other people were clearly having problems with, and many have continued to.

“I don’t think it was a great triumph of design. But we certainly avoided some design banana skins, and whatever the other people slipped on.”

Marshall continued on to explain why there had been such an air of uncertainty about the new car, which has turned out to be the machine to beat in the hands of Verstappen this season.

“There wasn’t a carryover nut or bolt on the car,” he said.

“The whole aero regs were different, chassis regs completely different, new suspension, new gearbox – there was nothing you could really go ‘that bit’s alright, so at least we don’t have to worry about that’.

“The whole thing was potentially a disaster but, luckily, nothing was and, over the year, we’ve been able to iron out some of the smaller problems we had and build on that.”

Red Bull had to cope with a complete change of car design philosophy

The 2022 regulations, taking in the ground-effect philosophy, meant that Red Bull had to change a fundamental aspect of their car’s design.

Red Bull’s cars have been prominently high-rake in recent years, a design feature that meant the car operated at a higher angle of attack, ie. with the rear of the floor raised further from the ground than the front.

This worked particularly well on the RB16B, with which Verstappen won the 2021 title, and essentially meant that the rear of the car got pushed into the ground more as speeds climbed. However, with ground effect, the name of the game is to maintain a suction effect under the floor – meaning Red Bull had to quickly get their heads around the change to a low-rake design.

“They are different beasts. You only had to look at last year’s to realise that one of your primary pursuits was ride height,” said Red Bull’s chief engineer Paul Monaghan on the F1 Nation podcast.

“Compared with the Mercedes, we were much higher on the rear ride height, as were most of the other people.

“Now you’ve got a ground effect car, which needs to be close to the ground – can’t be too close to the ground – and needs to operate through a speed range when it’s generating downforce. You’ve got tyres that squash under the loads, so we’re high at low speed and low at high speed.

“They are running stiffer, but we’re trying to hold the whole platform near the ground. It’s a ground-effect car – it doesn’t come as a surprise. We have fought with a wonderful development programme, some very skilled people, to have a car that can deal with the rigours of [the season]. We appear to be on a good seam of development, so we’ve got to keep our heads down and keep going.”

Red Bull’s chief technical officer Adrian Newey, who worked closely with technical director Pierre Waché to create the RB18 – now the most successful of all the cars Newey has overseen – said 2022 turned out unexpectedly successfully.

“It’s turned out into one of those dream seasons,” he told Sky F1 in Japan.

“Early on, it was nip and tuck with Ferrari – they were quicker at some tracks, we were quicker at others. We had inherent understeer in the car that we managed to dial out and, as we improved that, we’ve managed to have a car that’s been competitive at all tracks.”

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