How Mercedes and Ferrari are chasing Red Bull’s F1 top speed advantage

Having seen that Max Verstappen could not be challenged for overtakes on the straights, and found it fairly easy to breeze past other drivers if he needed to, Red Bull’s opposition set about improving the efficiency of their cars and wings to reduce drag.

Mercedes found it needed a pretty big step on this front from its draggy W13, but found itself at the pre-season test in Bahrain still down in the speed traps. A look at what everyone was doing showed rivals were employing medium downforce packages and, in some cases, even trying out some of their lower downforce assemblies.

Mercedes, on the other hand, opted to run the entire test with its high downforce rear wing – a tactic that it had employed last year until a more trimmed-out version appeared in Miami.

Clearly aware that it would lose out to the opposition if it stuck to that tactic again, Mercedes had a new lower downforce rear wing ready for action for Bahrain.

While the design language of the wing might be familiar, especially if compared with others, you’d have to go back a number of years to find the last time that Mercedes used a spoon-shaped rear wing design.

This was part of a suite of rear wing solutions that Mercedes used from 2015 to 2018, and allows cars to enjoy both good downforce and low drag. The central, deeper portion of the wing produces the performance, while the outer, shorter chord portion of the wing blends with the endplate to reduce the drag.  

Much like the Red Bull, the new Mercedes design bears its underbelly to the oncoming flow – similar to how the central section of a higher downforce wing would. The leading edge of the upper flap also has a thicker surface until it meets with the tip section. The cut-out in the upper rear corner of the endplate also returns, as a means to help control the tip vortex. 

Mercedes W14 detail

Mercedes W14 detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

As per how Mercedes built its wings during 2022, the new version has an interchangeable panel section, meaning that the team could make quick changes to adjust how the wing performs.

There’s always a trade-off when making decisions based around the amount and type of wing being used at each circuit, as while using a lower downforce wing will gain speed on the straights, it might ultimately result in losses through the corners.

Inevitably it comes down to what is quicker over the course of a lap, while also considering how much of an impact that choice has over the course of a race stint, with tyre degradation a crucial factor in those decisions.

This is something that Mercedes was still trying to quantify going into FP3 in Bahrain, as George Russell’s W14 donned the high downforce rear wing, and Lewis Hamilton’s car was fitted with the new, lower downforce variant. 

In the end, the numbers fell in the favour of the new design, with both drivers taking to qualifying and the race with it mounted on their cars. 

Ferrari’s single pillar rear wing test

Ferrari’s pre-season testing run plan included back-to-back comparisons on two rear wing specifications. 

The newer of these featured numerous changes, not only to the shape of the mainplane and upper flap, but also in the endplate’s tip section. But the most notable change was the switch from a double mounting pillar arrangement to a single pillar.

The single pillar version was mounted on the car briefly in the early stages of free practice, as the team looked to gather more data ahead of its more likely introduction in Saudi Arabia. And while it seemed to flex a lot at the pillar, the team is committed to trialling it again.

Ferrari SF-23, old rear wing
Ferrari SF-23, new rear wing

The design differences between these two specifications of rear wing are all about the trade-offs of one solution over the other.  

The single pillar is bulkier, in order to counter the extra load it sustains, also requiring a crescent-shaped mounting that enables it to wrap around the exhaust. The single element pillar also meets with the DRS pod in a swan-neck arrangement, whereas the twin pillars intersect with the underside of the mainplane.

These changes not only have physical ramifications in regards to how the loads are transferred, but also aerodynamic consequences too, as the central portion of the wing will see different effects depending on the wing in use.

Ferrari has also adopted a small aero trick first seen on the Alfa Romeo with its newer specification rear wing, as the flap pivots take on a teardrop shape and are skewed relative to the centreline.

Red Bull tweaks its floor

One area that will see significant development this season is the floor’s edge, due to the regulation changes that have been made to the region that have forced teams to make adjustments to their solutions.  

Red Bull has wasted no time in this department, as its floor edge solution stands out as being significantly different, not only with last year’s design (inset), but in some ways from how it differs with the rest of the field.

The rear section of the elongated edge wing bears the hallmarks of designs seen elsewhere, including on the Mercedes and McLaren. 

However, the forward section of the floor and the edge wing are treated a little differently. The edge wing has been contorted into a twisted C-shaped profile that lies above a similarly shaped floor edge and cut-out.

These two surfaces sit slightly askew of one another, also being cranked upwards, to form a pair of winglets either side of the cut-out.

Red Bull Racing RB19 floor comparison

Red Bull Racing RB19 floor comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

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