Newey surprised by Red Bull competitiveness

Adrian Newey

Red Bull was uncertain exactly how competitive it would be this season despite a strong showing in Formula 1’s pre-season testing.

The Milton Keynes operation emerged as strong favourites for 2021 after just three days of pre-season running in Bahrain.

While that initial advantage looks to have been overstated, the Red Bull RB16B has proved a highly competitive package, winning six of the 11 grands prix so far this season.

“We had a mid-sized regulation change over the winter in terms of some aerodynamic restrictions around the floor and the back of the car, not major ones, but re-optimisation of the cars to go with it,” explained Adrian Newey, Red Bull’s chief technical officer, on the latest episode of the team’s in-house podcast, Talking Bull.

“And then we had what was, I think, being unique, I can’t remember this happening before, this homologation of the previous year’s car into this season as a result of the COVID problems of last year, which when we’re very limited on what we could do to the car, but there were tokens that we could spend.”

With limited development opportunities, emphasis was therefore on achieving the biggest bang for buck up and down pit lane.

At McLaren, its tokens were spent integrating a new power unit, while others split them up and made multiple smaller upgrades around the car.

“We decided to spend those on the gearbox casing,” Newey explained.

“That allowed us to also change the rear suspension arrangements, which was one thing I didn’t feel had worked that well on the RB16 of last year.

“So I think that was a decent step forward.”

The car was positively received by Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez during pre-season testing, giving the team the hope that it had made the step forward it was looking for.

“Coming out of the Bahrain testing, we felt we had a competitive package,” Newey reasoned.

“But of course, you never know where exactly that’s going to be from winter testing.

“You don’t know what engine modes people are running, what fuel loads, and so on and so forth, [it’s] an endless minefield trying to understand how competitive you really are in pre-season.”

Newey also admitted that part of the upturn in pace has been a result of better understanding aspects of last year’s car.

With this year’s F1 field being little more than a light upgrade on the cars which campaigned last year, fundamental design issues have also largely come across.

“I think last year in the start of the year there were some things on the car that we, in truth, didn’t fully understand in terms of the changes between the RB15 of 2019, and 16 of ’20,” Newey conceded.

“It’s just shows even though we have a wind tunnel programme, all our simulations and so forth, there’s still things we don’t fully understand and can trip you up.

“That’s exactly what happened.

“So it took us a bit of time to understand and get on top of those, but as is so often the case, when those things happen, then you actually learn things that perhaps you wouldn’t have done otherwise.

“It’s almost sometimes you can learn more from mistakes than you can from the good things, so I think that stood us in good stead for what we did over the winter and where we are now.”

Red Bull won the final round of 2020, and its five-race streak during the first half of the current campaign inflicted the worst run of results Mercedes has endured since 2014.

Even still, it remains second in the constructors’ championship after a disastrous run in the last two races having accrued just five points versus 61 for its championship rivals.

The 2021 Formula 1 season returns with the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps on August 27-29.

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