Decoding Red Bull’s RB20: Shark mouth inlets and innovative design

Uros Radovanovic
Analysis of the Red Bull RB20.

The Red Bull RB20 has raised eyebrows throughout the paddock for its innovation.

After the unveiling of Red Bull’s new car model for the upcoming season, to say the least, everyone was surprised by the changes we could see.

Given that it was only a showcase of the car, there was a sense that Red Bull was keeping a lot under wraps and not eager to reveal all the details to the public.

However, on the first day of testing, we could see that Red Bull had decided to demonstrate how confident they are in their design, which is completely different from others. Let’s take a look at the path Red Bull has taken and the main roles of the new aero elements on the car.

What innovations can we examine on the Red Bull RB20?

Certainly, the most noise has been generated by the new sidepod inlets – which have received the new name “shark mouth” inlets.

Last year, we saw how Red Bull started a trend with “underbite” inlets.

The lower lip of the inlet was more pronounced and extended much further towards the front of the car compared to the upper lip. Throughout the last season, this design evolved in terms of narrowing the inlet and extending it sideways.

What we can see now is a complete opposite, an “overbite” appearance. Specifically, the upper lip of the inlet is much more pronounced and seems to have more rounded edges compared to the previous year.

It is challenging to call this design an inlet since it is hardly visible, given its position and the angle at which it is located.


But what does Red Bull actually aim to achieve with this move?

In Formula 1, several factors play a role, as usual. First and foremost, it should be noted that without the necessary tools, we cannot confidently speak about the aerodynamics and the roles of aero components on a car. However, what we can do is make a good estimate of what is actually happening.

The first thing you gain by changing from an underbite inlet to an overbite look is a cleaner airflow over the sidepods. Since the introduction of the new regulations, the Austrian team has emphasised downwash sidepods, where airflow over them is crucial.

Each sidepod inlet generates a high-pressure area in front of it, and due to the natural tendency of air to move where the local pressure is lower, this can disrupt the airflow in one way or another.

The main role of the extended lower lip of last year’s inlet was to shift the high-pressure area beneath it, allowing the air to “easily” enter the inlet. However, the downside of such a design is that the sharp edges of the inlet can cause turbulent flows that we do not want around our crucial aero components.

Therefore, it seems that Red Bull wanted to focus on obtaining a clean, high-energy flow over the sidepods, which would later be directed into the space above the beam wing, thus aiding the floor of the car to generate as much downforce as possible.

On the other hand, as we could assume during the presentation of RB20, there is also another inlet that is vertical and completely separate from the aforementioned inlet. One explanation is that the horizontal inlet was not sufficient for engine cooling, so they had to add another one.

What is very unusual is the position of this inlet. In fluid dynamics, we have a phenomenon called the boundary layer, which indicates that the flow velocity very close to a surface is significantly lower compared to the flow a bit further from it.

This means that Red Bull is quite confident in the effectiveness of this idea, considering that the position of the inlet is not so good.

However, the real magic of the “shark mouth” inlets lies in the huge undercut space beneath them. Red Bull engineers have gained a very large area through this move to manipulate aerodynamics.

What they have done is design the undercut region to narrow as we move towards the rear of the car, but also in the direction away from the car. In other words, the inner wall of the undercut region has lateral curvature.

This move creates an even larger high-pressure area beneath the sidepods than would otherwise be created. recommends

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As we have already mentioned, air does not want to go where the pressure is high, so it chooses other paths, such as under the car or the upper outer surface of the sidepod. In addition, this high-pressure region will greatly help in “pushing” the dirty air from the front tyres further away from the car.

Another very interesting detail is these inlets are located on the so-called “shoulders” of the car. As we have already analysed in the previous technical text, Red Bull seems to have been inspired by the previous model of Mercedes and implemented this design to separate the losses that occur behind the cockpit of the car.

The main role of these inlets is still unknown. One assumption is that they collect the mentioned turbulent air, while another assumption is that the main role of the inlets is actually engine cooling.

On the first day of testing, we could see that Red Bull was the fastest team on the track.

However, teams are still testing new things and are not eager to show the actual pace they have. It will be very interesting to follow the rest of testing and, of course, the beginning of the season when we will see the real results of these unusual and resourceful designs for which Red Bull engineers are responsible.

For now, the most significant impression that remains is the level of confidence Red Bull has as a team.

While most teams implement their ideas from last year, they have done something completely different and showcased to everyone the very high level in which they operate.

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