It finally happened! Red Bull finally weren’t the best team this weekend, and for the first time this season they didn’t win.
Red Bull struggled in Singapore, which seemed completely strange and unusual, in the midst of a season in which Formula 1 fans have become too accustomed to their dominance.
But what caused their sudden drop in performance? To answer that question, we need to analyse several technical factors.
Red Bull struggles on street circuits
Before the race in Singapore, we mentioned that it was a great opportunity for other teams to be in a better position to compete. It has been known from the beginning of the season that Red Bull don’t perform as well on tight and slow street circuits, as we also saw at Monaco GP, with 90′ corners falling into a gap in the RB19’s strengths.
In Monaco, Aston Martin came very close to pole position in qualifying, as well as a Sunday victory. If it weren’t for some poor strategic decisions at that time, Alonso might have secured the victory after so many years.
Additionally, teams like Mercedes perform very well on tracks that require maximum downforce. Their cars are designed to have slightly more drag, which doesn’t give them the highest top speeds. However, on tracks like Monaco, Hungary, or Singapore, the amount of downforce becomes much more influential.
Still, Red Bull has won on those types of tracks before. What we saw this weekend was quite different from what we’re used to when it comes to the Austrian team.
Why were Red Bull so dominant this season?
To understand the issues Red Bull faced in Singapore, we need to comprehend what gave them such strong performances earlier this season.
Red Bull adapted well to the new rules that came into effect in 2021. They chose a concept that would later prove to be the best.
A significant part of their success lies in the carefully designed floor of the car, with tunnels that have greater height than those of other teams. This increased tunnel height allows for more airflow through the floor, generating more downforce.
Furthermore, their suspension is much softer, allowing the car to ride lower and effectively “seal” the tunnels for even better performance. Of course, the reality is much more complex, but it’s sufficient to remember that Red Bull managed to implement a softer suspension without causing bouncing issues – which other teams failed to do.
Issue with car height
The FIA have a rule that limits the height of the cars on a track. Using a wooden plank on the car’s floor, they can measure whether a team has exceeded this limit.
Singapore is different from other tracks for this reason. Due to the numerous bumps on the asphalt and high kerbs, teams need to increase their car’s height. For other teams, this isn’t an issue because their cars are already higher on most tracks. However, Red Bull, which is usually lower to the ground, faced a significant problem because of their softer suspension.
A notable example is the Spa circuit, where teams also need to be cautious about car height due to high speeds and the steep Eau Rouge corner, which creates vertical compression. It was interesting to see that through that part of the track, all teams were at full throttle except for the Red Bull drivers. They had to slow down to avoid exceeding the FIA’s measurements. However, this didn’t cause them significant problems because they easily made up for the lost time on the rest of the track.
However, Singapore presented a problem throughout the circuit. They were simply forced to raise their car, which does not fit with the overall philosophy of the car. And when one component in such a complex system does not work properly, the result is expectedly bad. It’s shocking how a seemingly small detail can have such an impact.
Red Bull’s unsuccessful attempts to find a solution
In the first practice session on Friday, Red Bull didn’t seem too bad, and their gap to the fastest time was minimal. But problems arose in FP2.
Singapore is a track where grip takes some time to build up. The difference in the best times between FP1 and FP2 was a whole second, indicating that it takes time for grip to improve on the track. This is when Red Bull encountered problems.
It was evident that the Austrian team were struggling and that something was wrong. They even reverted to their old floor design and abandoned the new update, something we don’t often see from teams like Red Bull.
They likely tried different car balances, but they simply couldn’t find the right one. Even Max Verstappen expressed dissatisfaction after the practice session, saying he couldn’t find grip in the corners. In the end, both Red Bull drivers finished qualifying in Q2, which was astonishing.
Moreover, things didn’t get better on Sunday either. Red Bull attempted to make up for their deficit using strategy, which seemed possible after the first Safety Car period. However, once Max found himself in front of McLaren, Mercedes, and Ferrari drivers on old tyres, he became an easy target. It was quite strange to see other drivers overtaking Verstappen in the Red Bull so effortlessly.
Did Technical Directives TD39 and TD18 have an impact?
According to Red Bull’s team principal, Christian Horner, they did not. He stated that these changes had no bearing on the performance of their cars, and they didn’t modify their parts.
“I know all of you would love to blame the TD but unfortunately, we can’t even blame that because it’s not changed a single component on our car,” he said after Sunday’s race.
These new technical directives alter the way the flexibility of the front and rear wings is measured. Formula 1 teams had previously been trying to find ways to use wing flexibility to their advantage, and they had been quite successful in doing so. Teams that had been using this “trick” might face problems.
The real test will come next weekend at the Japanese circuit, which is a proper racing track. This type of track suits Red Bull the most, and a strong performance is expected there. Therefore, we’ll have to wait for Japan to confirm this theory. However, the chances appear to be very slim.