Red Bull managed to close an early season performance gap against Ferrari and clear in both championships. But how did they do it exactly? Mark Hughes takes a closer look at the development race in 2022, with technical illustrations by Giorgio Piola.
Looking at the performance patterns between Red Bull and Ferrari this year, the switch to Red Bull appears to have begun at the French Grand Prix in July, the 12th of 16 races so far.
Until that time, the Ferrari was often the fastest car, although the results did not always match that performance status. Since then, Red Bull has dominated on performance and results, leaving Ferrari struggling.
READ MORE: ‘Max is on fire right now’ – Horner gloats over Monza win as Verstappen closes in on title
The technical factors behind this will likely be a very complex combination, but we can get some clues as to the direction of development each has taken during this time.
It was during the French Grand Prix weekend that both teams introduced new floors to their cars.
For Red Bull, the specific objective this weekend was to move the center of aerodynamic pressure from the underbody to the rear, in order to maintain the same balance despite a smaller rear wing. This way the car could be quick on the straights without saturating the tires on the long corners on what was shaping up to be a very hot weekend.
But the general direction of Red Bull’s development has been to give it a stronger front end than it started the season with. This was largely achieved through a weight saving program which removed more weight from the front of the car than from the rear.
POINT SWAPS: What Verstappen must do to secure F1 title in Singapore
As Max Verstappen explained to Monza: “The car was very overweight. [The weight] was also in the wrong part of the car, which is why it understeered a lot more and tended to lock up in the front.
When a car’s weight distribution changes, ideally the team will also make the appropriate adjustments to the aerodynamic center of pressure, so that they match, otherwise there will be a mismatch in characteristics between fast and slow corners.
As the weight came off the front of the car (thereby shifting the weight distribution to the rear), it would also have been possible to shift the center of pressure to the rear. Red Bull has tended to use ground adjustments to do this rather than just raising the level of the rear wing.
Moving the center of pressure less rearward than the weight distribution would allow for even more front balance than Verstappen prefers, as he can tolerate levels of rearward instability that other drivers cannot.
TECH TUESDAY: What Monza wing levels tell us about Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes performance
With the weight removed, it gives the team much more leeway to vary the driving characteristics of the car with an aero setup, as they are no longer constrained by improper weight distribution.
The weight reduction will have given Verstappen engineers a larger window of aero balance to play with over a wider range of cornering speeds. “We had a lot of different challenges on different types of tracks,” Verstappen said, “and now the car seems to really work on every track.”
Besides its effect on handling balance, weight reduction alone is an extremely powerful tool for reducing lap time. Even without any other changes, a 10kg weight reduction is typically worth 0.3 seconds of lap time.
In the 11 races before France, Red Bull’s average dry-track qualifying deficit to Ferrari was 0.176s. Given that Ferrari only started the season very slightly above the minimum weight limit, one can understand that all or part of their small pace advantage in the first part of the season could be explained simply by this .
READ MORE: ‘I’m sure we can win other races’ – Leclerc frustrated at missing out on Monza win but sees opportunities to end Verstappen’s run
With Red Bull then reducing weight, it would make sense if that was enough to change the order of performance between them.
Looking only at performance (not reliability and strategy skewed results) from the 11 races before France, we see the following:
Red Bull v Ferrari in 2022
|Event||Balance of performance|
|Bahrain||Ferrari slightly faster|
|Saudi Arabia||Seemed almost equal|
|Imola||Very close (Ferrari’s grained front tire in the Sprint gave Red Bull the edge)|
|Miami||Red Bull edged it out (again due to Ferrari’s front grit)|
|Spain||Ferrari comfortably faster|
|monaco||Ferrari slightly faster (but bad strategy)|
|Azerbaijan||Ferrari had a small advantage|
|Canada||Very evenly (the difference was probably just in the respective qualifying rounds of Verstappen and Carlos Sainz)|
|Britain||Red Bull faster|
So, in summary, in six of the first 11 races, Ferrari was faster; in three of them, Red Bull was faster; and in two of them he was too close to call.
In the five-race streak since then, Verstappen’s Red Bull has been faster everywhere, although that has often not been shown in qualifying.
READ MORE: ‘With Ferrari everything seems bigger’ – Sainz defends strategic Scuderia team
At Spa-Francorchamps, the Red Bull had a far greater underlying pace advantage than any car has experienced all season, and at none of the five circuits Ferrari was able to match Red Bull’s race day pace.
Is this all down to Red Bull’s weight and balance improvements? Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto acknowledged some difficulties with the F1-75 during this period.
“We certainly had issues with the balance of the car and having an open balance… [which] generated overheating in the tires themselves, which somehow [leads] to degradation,” Binotto told Monza.
“We know that the balance of the car was not good. The reason for the poor balance of the car was due to the aerodynamic developments which brought us there… It was a question mark for us.
Ferrari’s floor update in France aimed to increase the car’s overall downforce, with a redevelopment of the entry area to the venturi tunnels – a taller interior entry designed to achieve greater flow mass of air in the back of the car.
F1 NATION: Max’s dominance, De Vries’ delight and the Alpine driver’s dilemma – that’s our triple review
While Ferrari insists the floorboard brought the targeted increase in downforce, it may have altered the balance, giving more of an inherent understeer trait than before.
While riders will always have been able to adjust the balance with all normal tools, it may just be contributing to the tire issues Binotto is referring to.