In the past Grands Prix, Red Bull Racing had problems with the medium downforce configuration, which gave the team some headaches. TV images clearly showed the top element of the rear wing flapping when the DRS was activated. The problem appeared to be caused by the activator of the DRS system, which could not withstand the enormous pressure at high speed. In Qatar, the problem arose during free practice, after which Red Bull switched to the high downforce rear wing for qualifying. There were no problems with that variant.
The decisive races in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi require a low or medium downforce package, which means that Red Bull will have to find a solution to the problem in the coming days. Team boss Christian Horner acknowledges that the rear wing could cause problems in the coming races. “If that wing is needed for Jeddah or Abu Dhabi, we will have to have solutions ready for the flap and the DRS mechanism.”
The fact that the DRS activator is a homologated component does not make things any easier for the Milton Keynes formation. The designers are therefore not allowed to make changes to the system, even if a solution would be simple in theory. However, Horner is confident the team can come up with a solution: “In terms of reliability, I think it should be relatively simple. We have been driving this for many years, it is not new technology.”
Red Bull’s wing problems explained
The problem relates to the top flap of the rear wing, which flaps when the DRS is used. This flapping occurs when the DRS activator and the connection to the flap do not remain stable due to the pressure exerted on these components. It does not provide a performance benefit, so there is no regulatory circumvention. Still, Red Bull wants to come up with a solution quickly, to prevent the FIA from intervening for safety reasons.
Red Bull Racing RB16B DRS Activator and Connection Comparison
Illustration: Giorgio Piola
All teams have two versions of the DRS activator and connection to the wing available for the 2021 Formula 1 season. To be able to change this, a token is required. However, Red Bull has already used the two available tokens at the start of the season for the new gearbox housing. This means that the design of the homologation, mid-2020, must be used. The design of the rear wings on the Red Bulls has not changed significantly since then, but there are other aspects to consider.
The team has three different downforce configurations (high, medium and low) in the pool, each of which has been used several times this year. In addition, there is the ultra low variant for the Italian Grand Prix. All these versions are adapted and refined for the different circuits with small flaps and Gurney strips. In the past, teams could customize the DRS activator to match the wing being driven. Due to the homologation, intended to save costs, that is no longer allowed this season.
Red Bull Racing RB16B Rear Wing Comparison
Illustration: Giorgio Piola
In Qatar, Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez experimented in Friday practice with both the high and medium downforce rear wing. The team assumed that the medium variant would be used during qualifying and the race. However, the DRS problem was such that they opted for the high downforce wing, at the expense of top speed on the long straight. To indicate what impact this decision may have had on performance: Red Bull has only driven this variant twice this season, in Monaco and Mexico. So it’s very important to have things under control for the last two races.