Red Bull set to unleash more extreme Mercedes-style F1 sidepod

The RB20 has earned comparison to the Mercedes W14 from 2023 courtesy of new engine cover bodywork that features a high waistline, with full-length gulleys running from the edge of the halo. 

Red Bull has also moved away from an underbite-lookalike sidepod inlet, a feature now widely used by other teams, to an overbite where the top surface extends beyond the main intake.

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But Autosport understands that this design is due to remain only for the hot conditions of pre-season testing and the opening rounds in Bahrain, Australia and Saudi Arabia. 

As F1 then moves to Japan in early April, where temperatures will drop and cooling will be less marginal, the RB20 will be upgraded to a design reminiscent of the Mercedes size-zero sidepod.

This was a concept that Mercedes struggled to unlock throughout 2022 and 2023.

Mercedes’ theory was that by shrinking the bodywork to increase the surface area of the prepotent floor for the new ground effect era, greater downforce could be achieved.

However, while these strong numbers were simulated in the wind tunnel with perfect control conditions, the car was moved outside of its narrow operating window by the bumps in the surface at real-world circuits.

Mercedes eventually abandoned that layout for the 2023 Monaco Grand Prix, where the team shifted to more conventional downwash sidepods, as pioneered most notably by Red Bull.

Red Bull should be able to facilitate its own move to a so-called ‘zeropod’ as the launch-spec RB20 appears to have more compact vertical sidepod radiator inlets to allow for tighter bodywork.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing, Christian Horner, Red Bull Racing Team Principal

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing, Christian Horner, Red Bull Racing Team Principal

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

The team can make further use of a trick it deployed in 2023 to partly offset the Aerodynamic Testing Restrictions which limit wind tunnel runs and CFD simulations – with Red Bull the most affected last year due to its lead in the constructors’ championship in addition to a further 10% cut as punishment for exceeding the 2021 cost cap.

The Aerodynamic Testing Restrictions allow exceptions for “wind tunnel testing solely for the development of power unit heat exchangers that reject heat to air, or the running of the power unit from a boundary commencing at the power unit air intake ducts”.

As per last season, and again with a shift to Mercedes-style zero-pods, Red Bull has placed an emphasis on upgrades that lean towards cooling. The repackaging of the internal components falls outside of the ATR to then enable the team to spend less of its allowance refining the external bodywork.

Speaking at the launch of the RB20, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said: “Logically, there’s going to be convergence with stable regulations. We can see other cars have taken an influence from the RB19.

“So, I think the team has done a wonderful job on RB20. They haven’t sat on their laurels, and you can see that they’ve pushed the boundaries with the car…

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“You’re constantly looking to evolve. If you look at the attention to detail on the car, there’s some really exquisite detail. There’s been no complacency, they’ve continued to evolve and continue to push the boundaries.

“There’s great innovation on the car as well that no doubt will be scrutinised over the coming couple of weeks, but I think creativity has been strong in the team… It’s not a conservative evolution.”

Asked about moving towards a Mercedes-style engine cover, Horner replied: “It’s not tactical. It’s based on performance and what we’re seeing through our simulation tools.”

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