Technical Analysis: does the RB16B suffer on more abrasive asphalts?
Mercedes demonstrated a significant margin over Red Bull in Turkey – in all conditions.
Throughout the weekend, the W12 seemed to have the edge over Adrian Newey’s RB16B; during the practise sessions, Max Verstappen had indeed a few complaints about the balance of the car.
Red Bull analysed the data gathered on the Friday, and made changes to the setup already in FP3 – but did not entirely solve the issue; Max Verstappen had quite a conservative race on Sunday for this reason, and managed to still bring home a brilliant P2.
Rarely has the RB16B shown a noticeable performance deficit compared to Mercedes this season – with the exceptions of Barcelona and Budapest; Mercedes has performed significantly better on tracks with more abrasive asphalts and in higher temperatures. On the other hand, the RB16B has often been more effective on tracks with lower levels of grip and city circuits.
The key to understanding what happened in Istanbul Park is in the renewed levels of grip of its tarmac, which was “cleaned” with a high-pressure water jet in order to avoid a repeat of last year’s Grand Prix.
This satisfied the W12’s needs – a car that performs better when the grip is higher – but caused some issues for Red Bull, due to the High Rake angle of the RB16B, which compromised the front axle performance. Max Verstappen complained about having “too much understeer”, which is not unexpected for a car with a very aggressive rake setup, in high grip conditions.
Indeed, this is a “déjà vu” of what had already happened in Spain and especially in Hungary, where Red Bull struggled from the first Friday practice session. Red Bull’s Team Principal Christian Horner was however mostly focused on Mercedes’s straight line speed, their Power Unit seemingly able to supply their drivers with more power since Silverstone.
In Turkey Hamilton‘s car was fitted with the fourth ICE unit (Internal Combustion Engine) already from Friday, and during the race the reigning champion completed most of his overtakes on the straights. For quite some time now, Red Bull has been keeping a close eye on the Mercedes Power Unit. The first Request for Clarification (not a protest) was however discarded by the FIA.
Red Bull’s straight-line speed advantage at tracks like Paul Ricard and Zeltweg came down to the team opting for low-downforce configurations on their rear wing, in lieu of pure engine power.
The Newey-designed car manages to generate more downforce from high-efficiency aerodynamic parts (underbody and diffuser) thanks to its High Rake, and is therefore able to optimize its straight line speed with a low-drag solution on the rear wing.
Red Bull tested out this solution with Pérez in FP2 in Istanbul, the Mexican driver fitted with a low-drag rear wing while Max Verstappen stayed with the high downforce configuration he had already tested in FP1. However, Pérez suffered higher levels of tyre degradation due to the increased levels of grip of the Turkish tarmac.
Mercedes also tested two different rear wing configurations with Hamilton and Bottas; Hamilton’s car was fitted with a wing with a visibly bigger flap, while Bottas’s setup favoured the Finn’s top speed.
Christian Horner was mostly “surprised” by this: Hamilton was able to overtake down the straights without DRS, while registering the highest speeds in the speed traps. Hamilton was however aided by the track itself, which offers many overtaking opportunities – even with just a slipstream.
Bottas, on the other hand, was able to keep Verstappen safely behind, the Dutchman never posing a threat. The Finn had quite the conservative race itself, only pushing in the last lap to get the additional point for the fastest lap.
In Turkey Mercedes tested other solutions on the front of the car as well; the new front wing – first tested during the Russian GP practice session – made a comeback in FP2. This wing has a low drag middle section, with a lower and more aggressive upper flap, but it “lifts up” towards the outside, adding load there – in a shape that mirrors that of the “outwash” profile wing we have seen on the Red Bull.
This wing however was discarded again on the Saturday, Mercedes happy to just gather data and their drivers’ feedback before switching back to their old front wing.
Thanks to the high levels of humidity in the air, this weekend in Istanbul we were also able to appreciate the Y250 vortex generated by the W12’s front wing.
Differences in pressure between the lower and upper edges of an airfoil create a turbulent motion of the air, which is used in Formula One to increase aerodynamic efficiency.
Author: Rosario Giuliana
Illustrations: Rosario Giuliana