Toto Wolff downplays Red Bull’s wind tunnel penalty hurting competitiveness

Thomas Maher
Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, Mercedes, pursue Max Verstappen, Red Bull. Mexico, October 2022.

Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell pursue Max Verstappen in the Red Bull. Mexico, October 2022.

Mercedes’ Toto Wolff believes Red Bull have the efficiency to be able to overcome the hindrance of having less wind tunnel time than other teams.

Red Bull may enter 2023 as defending Constructors’ Champions, with Max Verstappen aiming for a third successive Drivers’ Championship, but the Milton Keynes-based squad have an additional hurdle to worry about this year.

With the rules remain largely stable for the second year of the ground-effect regulations, a natural closing up of the field wouldn’t be surprising as the car’s designs evolve from last year.

But, as well as Red Bull having to worry about the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari becoming stronger competitors, the team must get by on considerably less wind tunnel and CFD (computational fluid dynamics) time allowance.

F1 rolled out aerodynamic testing rules at the start of 2021, which introduced a ‘sliding scale’ of time allowance for wind tunnels and CFD. Put simply, the champion team are given the least amount of time to refine their cars, the second-placed team get a little more, third place a little more again, and so on and so forth.

The purpose of this, together with F1’s budget cap, is to, in theory, allow for a closer field of cars. However, Red Bull’s already curtailed time was reduced further due to an additional penalty for having exceeded the budget cap in 2021.

Red Bull fall foul of budget cap rules and trigger wind tunnel penalty

The transgression was uncovered during the FIA’s analysis of 2021 finances, which took place in 2022, with Red Bull being found guilty of a Minor Overspend Breach. They were hit with F1’s second-highest-ever financial penalty, $7 million, as well as a further 10% reduction in wind tunnel time for 2023.

Red Bull boss Christian Horner has revealed the penalty is already having an effect on 2023 development, but his Mercedes counterpart believes the penalty won’t hurt the progress of the RB19 too badly during the upcoming season.

“I think they’ve done a very good job last year in having a car out there that was half a second or more quicker than everybody else,” Wolff told media, including PlanetF1.com, during the launch of Mercedes’ W14 this week.

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“The lack of wind tunnel time is certainly not great for them, and an advantage for us this season.

“But, if you have an efficient machine, you can certainly compensate for that, or large parts of it.

“So long-term, good for us, but we’ve been in that situation, obviously without a penalty, in the years before – we’ve won and, therefore, we had less wind tunnel time than everybody else for the last two seasons.

“It’s certainly gonna bite them a bit but, if they are efficient as an organisation, which they’ve demonstrated, it’s not going to be big.”

How confident are Mercedes of battling Red Bull in 2023?

With Mercedes aiming to bounce back against Red Bull after a tough 2022 season in which the W13 could only manage a solitary victory, Wolff wouldn’t be drawn on whether his team may become Red Bull’s biggest rivals once again this year.

“We’ve heard very positive comments from some of the other teams that we’re going to be right there,” he said.

“But we need to prove that ourselves, that we’ve taken the right decisions, and I would love to have a fight in the front there and maybe not only between the three top teams but maybe one of the others can join us there – that’s good for Formula 1, that’s what makes it so enjoyable.”