Ferrari and Red Bull dominated the first half of the 2022 Formula 1 season, with the Ferrari F1-75 and Red Bull RB18 proving to be the best interpretations of the new technical ground effect regulations.
But despite Red Bull’s big advantage in the championship and the two very different cars, the technical and performance gap between them is almost nil, only the vicissitudes of reliability, accidents and poor strategy distort the picture.
Both cars have a clear performance advantage over the others but, despite fears coming in 2022 that prescriptive regulations will allow very little difference between the cars, Red Bull and Ferrari have produced very different interpretations of the rules – and their cars produce similar lap times. in different ways.
Ferrari and Red Bull’s initial design concepts at the start of the season had more differences than common solutions, especially when it came to aerodynamics. The visually obvious difference was the pontoons.
Red Bull opted for a more conventional design at the rear of the sidepods, but moved the radiator intakes forward considerably to create a wide air passage channel between the sidepods and the ground. Ferrari preferred the air to pass overhead, with the famous “bathtub” created by its scalloped bodywork.
What the two cars have in common is the ability to generate grip induced by the efficiency of the venturi ducts, which are housed in the lower part of the floor.
Both – especially Red Bull – have produced cars that aren’t sensitive to changes in ride height and run well even if the car isn’t completely sealed to the ground.
In comparison, porpoising limited other cars, especially the Mercedes W13 thanks to its design for an optimum ride-height window with a low, flat trim.
As the 2022 season progressed, the F1-75 and RB18 evolved rapidly. Their development paths have been very wide despite the limitations of the cost cap, but as expected, the cars have converged on common design choices and the solutions that bring the greatest performance benefits. It is for this reason that Ferrari and Red Bull have started to adopt similar aerodynamic solutions.
An obvious example is the double T-tray, first introduced by Aston Martin. This was brought over by Ferrari for the first race in Bahrain, then copied by Red Bull at Imola a month later, with nearly all teams producing their own versions.
During the first phase of the year, the main focus of the teams – apart from upgrades – was to troubleshoot the cars to reduce their weaknesses. In Ferrari’s case, the F1-75 was at a disadvantage in terms of straight-line speed compared to Red Bull. But the Red Bull was a slightly more complicated car to tune, with which Max Verstappen was not entirely comfortable.
Ferrari modified its rear wing in Spain for more effective DRS when the flap was open. With the new Ferrari fenders, the DRS chord has been increased at the expense of a smaller mainplane. With the DRS closed the overall load difference does not change, but when the flap is open the deviation from the main plane is wider, with the benefit of less drag.
With the new post-Barcelona rear wing family, Ferrari managed to reduce the speed advantage that Red Bull had in the DRS zones, a gap that was sometimes over 15 km/h (9 mph).
Ferrari had also dealt more carefully with the problem of porpoising, a problem that Red Bull did not suffer from but did not entirely disappear in F1-75. This led to revisions to the floor with a new outer fence, a new side edge, as well as the lower part of the car.
At the rear, the definitive version was introduced in Spain, where in addition to the floor edge area, the lower part of the diffuser was deeply modified. To counter the aerodynamic stall of the floor, Ferrari decided to divert part of the flow in the most external part through what is in fact a channel, putting in place a kind of keel in the lower part of the diffuser which had already been interview in Australia.
Red Bull initially focused on creating a car with less understeer in order to increase load at the rear without unbalancing the car. Another important focus was weight reduction, while on the porpoise front Red Bull seemed the only team able to predict this phenomenon well in winter simulations.
There were no huge upgrade packages for the RB18 until the Spanish GP, just lots of small changes spread over the opening races. Aside from the new sidepods introduced on the last day of testing in Bahrain (something the team kept aside), in Australia the front wing endplate was cut for weight.
After Imola, Adrian Newey and his team pushed hard to seek more performance on the ground, updating the RB18 in several areas. In Baku, six weeks later, the venturi inlets were raised and set back, also in the rear area on the sides of the rear wheels.
Red Bull aggressive, Ferrari conservative
As F1 entered the summer, the development battle intensified with Red Bull making more radical aerodynamic changes than Ferrari. While Ferrari didn’t want to upset a very well-balanced car, Red Bull was aggressive. There were also signs of greater convergence between the two.
Red Bull’s first big package arrived at Silverstone, where Newey’s car got a radical change to the rear. The engine cover took on a different shape to better manage the airflow that then passes through the beam wing area. For most of the races this part of the season, Red Bull used a single beam wing.
The team also updated the floor, introducing what was clearly a Ferrari-inspired anti-porpoising slot. However, in subsequent races, Red Bull shelved this change.
Ferrari, on the other hand, brought its main upgrade of the summer to France. At Silverstone there were small changes to the mirrors, the engine cover, which was tightened around the exhaust, and the sidepod undercuts, which are now also narrower. It was to have less drag.
At Paul Ricard, with the new, extensively revised floor at the front, the air intake area has been radically modified. In the innermost area, the intake channel has widened, while in the outermost area, Ferrari has decided to sacrifice some of the flow in the venturi ducts to favor the passage in the upper edge of the floor.
In this area, Red Bull has been very active in Austria and France, continuing to develop the cars of Verstappen and Sergio Perez. The most obvious change around the ground entrance area was the abandonment of the exterior double fences. At Paul Ricard, the fences became unique and were later stiffened in Hungary due to some structural issues that surfaced during the French GP weekend.
In Hungary, the last race before the summer break, Ferrari did not bring any updates. But Red Bull have brought in a radically revised beam wing from the old specification, making it much more similar to that of other teams.
F1’s 2022 regulations don’t allow much freedom on the wings, but Red Bull were the only outlier team with a significantly different beam wing to their rivals. With its Hungaroring specification, the RB18 aligned more with conventional philosophy, to work better with the engine cover introduced at Silverstone.
Now that the season resumes with the additional consideration of new porpoising measures finally introduced from Spa, the intrigue over which of Red Bull or Ferrari is actually faster will continue throughout the race. to development, even if the championship seems settled.