For the 2021 season, the Formula 1 teams were only allowed to make limited adjustments to their cars. Red Bull also did not talk about a completely new car this season, but evolved the RB16 from 2020 into the RB16B. In the very first race it became clear that the Austrian team would become a serious title contender.
And so it happened. Max Verstappen won the drivers’ title on the very last lap of the very last race, but Mercedes took off with the constructors’ title. Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas received an all-important upgrade midway through the season. Suddenly the German racing stable was very fast and almost unbeatable.
Honda came with smart upgrade
The main upgrade from 2020 to 2021 for Red Bull came straight from Japan, where the Honda guys completely overhauled the design of their power source. Various adjustments to the efficiency of the various engine components allowed for a new design, which was much narrower than the 2020 design.
A narrower engine meant a narrower rear end of the RB16B. This gave not only an aerodynamic advantage. It gave Red Bull a lot of freedom to change the rear of the car significantly. Honda also managed to require less cooling, so the radiators on the RB16B were smaller than those of its predecessor.
Honda was able to largely close the gap with the strong Mercedes engine with the narrower, stronger and more efficient engine, but a stronger engine was not enough to make the difference. With the so-called tokens, Red Bull contributed its own money to make an important adjustment to the chassis for 2021.
Rear of Red Bull car on the shovel
Red Bull spent both tokens for 2021 on a new gearbox, which is located in the back of the car. Not necessarily because the gearbox was due for an upgrade, but with the adjustment, the Austrian racing stable was able to realize the bigger plan: a completely renewed rear suspension. With the space available, the suspension was pulled further back, creating more space between the rear wheels and the diffuser.
This diffuser is extremely important for Formula 1 cars. The extra space between the wheels and diffuser meant more room for airflow at the rear of the RB16B. At high speed, more air was drawn from under the car towards the diffuser, creating much more downforce.
In short, the RB16B got a few big advantages through a smart collaboration between Honda and Red Bull. Not only was the power source faster, more efficient and smaller, but the rear also received a significant aerodynamic upgrade due to the available space. The strong start of 2021 was decisive for Max Verstappen’s world championship.
Mercedes hit back at Silverstone
After years of dominance, there was finally a challenger for Mercedes. The German racing stable seemed somewhat shocked by Red Bull’s speed in the first races of the season, but showed halfway through the season what makes a top team a top team. A massive aerodynamic upgrade gave Hamilton and Bottas new ammunition for the second half of the season.
For the British Grand Prix, the W12 car received arguably the strongest in-season upgrade on the field. The upgrade at Silverstone changed the entire philosophy of the airflows on the side of the car. The airflows could be better directed to the diffuser in a way that more downforce was generated at medium speed.
The new aero package also ensures that at high speed the angle of the diffuser changes in such a way that the downward pressure partly disappears. The downforce is useful in cornering, but ensures less speed on the straight. This allowed Mercedes to drive with more wing in the second half of the season, while also maintaining speed on the straight.
The adjustment at Silverstone was ultimately the key to success for Mercedes. Without the aerodynamic upgrade, the German racing stable could whistle for the constructors’ championship. The drivers’ championship was ultimately not achieved, but that was certainly not due to the speed of the W12 in the last races of the season. Without an incident in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton had whistled to his eighth championship.
Even Hamilton would not have become champion in Verstappen’s Red Bull
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