|Red Bull Racing RB6 Renault|
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Formula 1 is very much a team sport but there are always individuals inside the team that really make the difference. The two drivers are the most visible of these key players. Although operating more the in the background, the chief designer, arguably, is even more important. This was once again underlined by the arrival of Adrian Newey at Red Bull Racing in the spring of 2006. Having already designed championship winning cars for Williams and McLaren, he helped to gradually lift the young team from back of the grid to the very front. Six victories were scored in 2009 and much more was expected for 2010.
Although the 2009 was Red Bull's breakthrough year, the team started it on the back foot because Newey's RB5 did not feature the controversial 'double diffuser', so successfully employed by Brawn GP. Halfway through the season, the Renault engined machine was fitted with a new diffuser and it quickly became the car to beat. The year ended on a high with Red Bull winning the final three races and securing the runner's up position in both the constructor's and driver's championship. With no significant changes to the rules, many believed and feared that Red Bull would be the team to beat in 2010. Anticipation was raised ever further by the team's decision to sit out the first of three pre-season test and instead spend more time in the wind-tunnel.
The result of the engineer's labours over the winter was the RB6, which once again featured Renault's V8 engine in the back. Visually it was clearly a development of the outgoing RB5 with its 'bumps' on the edges of the nose becoming even taller on the new car. These serve to control the airflow over the nose and were copied by almost every other team. Another distinguishing feature of the RB5, the pull-rod rear suspension, also returned on the RB6. This unconventional layout results in a lower centre of gravity and a better airflow out of the back of the car. The biggest rule change was the ban on re-fueling during the race, so a significantly larger fuel tank was required. This had to be carefully placed to limit the effects of fuel load changes on the car's balance.
At the season opening Bahrain Grand Prix, the RB6 immediately made its mark by clinching pole with Sebastian Vettel behind the wheel. During the race, however, a plug failed and the young German was forced to yield certain victory to Fernando Alonso. Vettel was on pole again for the next race, narrowly beating team-mate Mark Webber. Another technical failure for Vettel and an incident packed race for Webber meant that the obvious pace was still not converted in a victory. There were no such problems in Malaysia where Webber scored the team's third consecutive pole position by switching to intermediates on the drying track. It was Vettel who managed to score Red Bull's first, however, beating his team-mate by a handful of seconds.
The RB6's pace in qualifying raised questions about the legality of the car. Some of the rivaling teams were convinced the Red Bull featured adjustable suspension, which allowed it to run low in qualifying and still have enough ground clearance when filled up with fuel for the race. The cars were extensively tested and no illegal parts were found on the car. Later in the season a second complaint surfaced concerning the flexibility of the front wing and floor. While the car passed the existing load tests, the wing was visibly closer to the ground on the track than in the paddock. More stringent tests with higher loads were introduced in August. Some modifications were believed to be made and the RB6 once again passed all tests.
What did give the RB6 its edge over the rivals, was, ironically, the hugely complicated double diffuser layout. Additional downforce was created by also feeding the air from the very low mounted exhausts into the diffuser. This 'blown diffuser' made the RB6 so efficient, that even running on seven cylinders, did not prevent Vettel from setting the fastest time on the twisty section of the Bahrain track. As with all great ideas, it was eventually copied by the rivaling teams. Red Bull Racing was also forced to copy a design feature introduced by another, McLaren. This was the so called 'F-Duct', which, when closed by the driver, fed air onto the rear wing on the straights, significantly lowering the drag. Red Bull's solution required the driver to actuate the system with his left hand, forcing him to drive on the straights with just one hand on the wheel.
Throughout the year the Red Bull team managed to maintain their qualifying advantage, eventually clinching the pole position in 15 of the season's 19 races. Unfortunately the reliability problems remained and drivers also did not perform flawlessly. This was most evident at the Turkish Grand Prix where Webber was chasing his third straight victory and leading the race. Running in second but clearly quicker, Vettel decided to dive up Webber's inside. Inexplicably, he then moved over straight into Webber. The subsequent accident saw Vettel retire and Webber drop down to third. After that there was no love lost between the two team-mates. A few races later, Webber felt he was treated as the team's second driver to Vettel, who is a 'product' of the Red Bull Junior program. All these problems allowed the rivals to pick up more points than warranted by the performance of their cars.
Despite all the struggles, Webber emerged in the lead of the championship with just three races to go. It all seemed to slip away at the inaugural Korean Grand Prix with Webber crashing out early and Vettel retiring with a spectacular engine failure. This once again handed the victory to Alonso, who had very impressively converted a 46-point deficit to an 11-point lead going into the final two races. Webber was dropped to second and Vettel was in fourth, a victory worth of points (25) behind. The Red Bull team shrugged off the bitter disappointment and put in a stellar performance in Brazil. Vettel won the race ahead of Webber but Alonso was in third. Many suggested the team would have been better off in the driver's standings had Vettel yielded victory to Webber. The one-two finish was enough to clinch the Constructor's title.
The very close driver's championship would have to be decided at the Abu Dhabi season finale. In addition to Alonso, Webber and Vettel, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton was still also in the hunt but for him to win it would require a victory and zero points for all his rivals. Vettel made no mistake, took his tenth pole of the season and scored a fine victory. Webber, on the other hand, wobbled in qualifying, setting only the fifth fastest forcing him to start behind Alonso. In the race the Australian stopped early for tyres as did Alonso. They were both caught behind several other drivers who had stopped even earlier and finished a lowly 7th and 8th. This was enough of a gap for Vettel to become the, youngest ever, World Driver's Champion. Interestingly this was also the first time he ever led the championship standings in his career.
Bringing in the silverware for both Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing, the real star of the 2010 season was the Adrian Newey designed RB6. It took 15 pole positions and eventually won 9 races despite all the reliability issues and the struggles within the team. It has confirmed Newey's status as the best designer of the modern era. As far as we can tell the talented Brit is now the only designer in Formula 1 history to have won championships with three different teams. He will once again have his work cut out for him as for 2011 both the double diffuser and the F-duct will be banned.
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