Red Bull rivals seek rules clarification to cut RB6’s qualifying advantage

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Sebastian Vettel has taken pole position for both races so far this year
Sebastian Vettel has taken pole position for both races so far this year

Red Bull are the subject of much speculation over their suspension system, which rival teams believe get around the rules on ride height adjustment, allowing them to run different ride heights in qualifying and the race.

Sebastian Vettel was on pole position for the first two races of the year and the team achieved their first one-two in qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix.

The data below shows the RB6 is performing better in qualifying than in the race. If the FIA force Red Bull to make changes to the car, or the other teams can emulate their device, their advantage in qualifying could be wiped out.

The interest in how teams are managing their ride heights will come as no surprise to F1 Fanatic readers as we discussed the problem before the season began:

Heavy fuel weights at the start of a race present another problem for designers. For optimum performance the cars need to run as low to the ground as possible. But as the fuel weight decreases the cars will ride higher because there will be less mass pushing down on their suspension springs.

In the last two seasons when refuelling was not allowed in F1 ?ǣ 1992 and 1993 ?ǣ many teams solved this problem using active suspension technology, which could be programmed to compensate for the ever-decreasingly fuel load by gradually reducing the ride height.

But two clauses in the 2010 rules prevent those kind of systems from being used:

10.2.2 Any powered device which is capable of altering the configuration or affecting the performance of any part of the suspension system is forbidden.
10.2.3 No adjustment may be made to the suspension system while the car is in motion.
FIA Formula 1 Technical Regulations 2010

The regulations appear not to rule out teams designing mechanical systems to adjust ride height during pit stops, but that may prove too complicated and time-consuming to achieve.
Five problems F1 designers face in 2010

Rumours claim Red Bull have a system which allows the car to run lower in qualifying than it does in the race, achieving a better lap time.

For proof of this we can look at the how the teams’ lap times in the race compare to their qualifying time.

If Red Bull are running a device that allows them to get a better qualifying lap out of their car then we would expect a greater difference between their qualifying and race times than their rival teams. Let’s crunch those numbers…

Red Bull’s qualifying advantage

Bahrain Grand Prix race lap time vs qualifying time
Bahrain Grand Prix race lap time vs qualifying time (click to enlarge)

This graph shows much slower each driver’s lap time during the Bahrain Grand Prix was compared to his qualifying lap time. Only Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren drivers are included. Any slow laps or laps where a driver was stuck behind another car (within 1.5 seconds of a rival) are discounted.

As you’d expect, throughout the race the drivers got closer to their qualifying lap time as their fuel load reduced.

But right from the off the McLaren and Ferrari drivers were closer to their qualifying lap times than the Red Bull drivers were. It took until the end of the first stint (lap 16) for Vettel to get within 7.2% of his best qualifying time, while Jenson Button was within that margin from the beginning of the stint.

The effect was even more pronounced in the middle part of the race (laps 13-32). While Vettel was typically 5.3-6.6% slower than his qualifying lap time, the McLarens were in the 4-5.5% range and the Ferraris off by 5.1-6.1%.

On the face of it you might conclude that Red Bull’s race pace isn’t very good. But we know there’s nothing wrong with their race speed – they’ve led more laps than anyone else.

The reason for the greater difference between their race and qualifying lap times is their superior qualifying performance.

How big is their qualifying advantage?

It’s hard to say with any certainty how much time per lap this is worth. A lower ride height could be more beneficial at some circuits than others depending on how bumpy they are and what kind of downforce levels the cars are running.

Plus, we only have useful data from one race. The lap times from Australia are much less useful because of the disruption caused by the rain, the safety cars and traffic.

With those caveats, the Bahrain data points to Red Bull having a performance advantage in qualifying of around 0.5% per lap. That would be around half a second on Vettel’s pole lap of 1’54.101. Even if we conservatively assume their advantage at Sakhir was only half that, it would still be the difference between Vettel qualifying on pole position instead of Felipe Massa.

Based on the data, it’s easy to understand why Red Bull’s rivals are trying to clip their wings. Whether the FIA should ban Red Bull’s device, or whether the other teams should imitate it, is a different debate. I’ll let you thrash that one out in the comments.

Image (C) Red Bull/Getty images

122 comments on “Red Bull rivals seek rules clarification to cut RB6’s qualifying advantage”

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  1. Mouse_Nightshirt
    31st March 2010, 11:16

    Well, if it is mechanical, I hope it’s legal, simply due to the fact it’s not contravening the rules. It would make a mockery of the double diffuser and F-duct rulings if it was declared against the rules.

    Mind, it looks like we’re set for a few Red Bull front rows then! I’d absolutely love to know how they’re doing it.

  2. The teams who want it banned are just sour grapes, I thought by bow they would no Newey is a geniuose and here he has clearly out smarted them.

    1. Good luck to Newey.

      I knew he’d come up with something to outsmart them.

      If they can get their reliablility sorted now, they’ll be golden!

      1. Oh yeah, he’s a real genius. He has produced a car that’s perfect for qualifying but not much else.

    2. I agreee, I dont see why mclaren is complaining, they have a manual device (drivers leg) for high speed sections…..

      1. McLaren aren’t complaining. They just want it clarrified as to what is allowed. They want to apply their own system in China. If it is legal they catch up Red Bull in quali. If not Red Bull lose their quali advantage.

        1. Paul McCaffrey
          1st April 2010, 5:01

          It was nice when teams updated their cars to catch up to their rivals instead of complaining to FIA.

          1. That’s what the teams are trying to do. But before they spend the time and money to develop and manufacture such a system, they first want to confirm that Red Bull’s interpretation is correct and the new system would be legal. If you thought something might not be legal, would you not check into it before wasting resources on something that then wouldn’t be able to be used?

  3. I am not sure if they do have such a system. Christian Horner was very open to FIA investigating them to clarify that they don’t have such a system.

    Is it not possible that Red Bull designed the car for a better qualifying performance considering how refuelling ban has made qualifying very important?

    Your stats are fantastic though Keith, defenitely their qualifying is way better but we are still not sure due to what! If not ride height adjustment what else could give them such an advantage, does anyone have any ideas?

    1. Maybe this is something that the drivers are doing intentionally? If Vettel is leading the race by 10 seconds, why push as hard as you can only to risk a shunt, and destroy your tires?

  4. I thought they were allowed to change the ride height between Q2 and Q3? With that I mean that they would be riding low in Q2 and then increase the ride height for Q3.

    Then the difference between Q2 and Q3 could be an indication of the benefit of an ride height system.

    Of course the problem then is that in Q2 the top teams don’t need to go flat out and since they only do so few laps, errors weigh in too much.

    BTW Mercedes wants the systems banned. McLaren simply wants to build their own system, but they want to know from FIA that it will indeed be legal.

  5. Sour grapes indeed. Instead of whining they should reflect on the fact that they didn’t come up with that sort of system themselves. Isn’t it the part of the sport to have smarter engineers and designers than others have, of course within the regulations.

    1. Who says anything about whining?

      1. Exactly, the problem is for some teams (from the sound of it Mclaren) have these parts in the pipeline but probably dismissed them because of concerns over legalilty. As with all these things the question is it innovative or illegal. They just want clarification so they know they can run their system.

        1. Are these the same sour grapes borrowed from Red Bull from last year when they complained about Brawn/Toyota/Williams double diffuser?

    2. I guess its not the same as Red Bulls relentless moaning last year because they got outsmarted with the double diffuser?

      1. I don’t think they carped on about it quite as much as Ferrari did – they were still complaining about it when they launched the F10!

        1. I seem to remember that what Vettel commented on most of the season was not having the ‘magic button’, as he called it, of KERS.

          My response would have been, which car would he have preferred to be in for the whole season the RB5 or one of the cars with KERS.

        2. Yeah thats true, i just seem to remember someone from red bull moaning because of there pull rod suspension and resulting gear box placement meant that the whole rear end had to be re-designed. Its all swings and roundabouts, its too be expected, i like the little innovations and bending the rules anyways.

          1. The sad thing is is that a couple of years ago the teams would’ve moaned once, and then build there own system. Now they moan for ages because building there own “costs to much money in times of spending less”. Which is absolute nonsense if you ask me.

        3. Keith, you’ve repeated the 2nd and 4th paragraph.

          1. Fixed it, thanks matt90.

    3. DamionShadows
      31st March 2010, 17:39

      That’s EXACTLY how I felt on the double diffuser debacle. Even if it is taking advantage of some sort of loophole, it should be allowed because it shows innovation and creativity in designs just so long as it isn’t outright illegal.

  6. This is normal procedure. Every teams questions each other’s innovations. Double diffuser, F-duct, mechanical(?) ride height adjustment. And thats just in the last year.
    They just ask the FIA to check it out, I don’t think any of the teams asking really think it’ll be anything illegal, its just standard practice to ask. And I’m equally sure that Newey isn’t losing any sleep about it being investigated. Just another day for an F1 engineer.

    1. DamionShadows
      1st April 2010, 1:12

      I haven’t thought about it that way, good point.

    2. I agree. If I were in another team, then I would want to make sure that there was nothing that I could be doing to match the Redbull team. I think it is just fair and open disclosure. They don’t need to say HOW they are doing it, just that the car has a ride height system. I appreciate that Mclaren won’t display the F-duct system, but I do like that I, the fan, can see that they are doing something. This sort of thing is what makes it interesting.

      If only at years end we would have the right to have the new technology exposed and explained; this would increase “the show” and allow the smaller teams to try and develop something similar for the following years car.

    3. By asking what it is legal and for a clarification is a round about way of admitting the other team had developed something they didn’t think of. Just asking for a clarification of the rules is the best way to allow teams to develop their own systems and show how creative each team can be.

  7. Mentioned this in another thread. Apologies to those who have already read it.

    You can design a suspension system that raises the height of the vehicle without the need to revert to such things as gas filled dampers. An example is Earles forks on a motorbike. When braking hard on a motorbike fitted with Earles forks on the front, the front of the bike actually rises.

    Red Bull has likely modified the geometry of their suspension to produce similar results, raising the cars ride height under heavier loads. This would account for the car scraping the ground during qualifying, running fine during the race with a full fuel load, and why they are not scared of any ruling.

    Their suspension system is purely mechanical requiring no adjustment between qualifying and race.

    1. Makes sense to me but you have to wonder why other teams didn’t pursue it.

      1. Red Bull is the only obvious team currently using a levelling system. The difficulty with such a system is getting the dynamics right:
        – You only want enough hight adjustment to compensate for the fuel.
        – You need to soften the suspension enough to compensate for downforce causing the car to lift in hight
        This is a very fine balancing act.

        Red Bull had a very good chassis/aero in last year’s car to base this year’s car on. This meant they could concentrate on other things, such as suspension, rather than spend excessive time on aero.

        Most teams would rather run very stiff suspension, limiting any hight change due to fuel and concentrate on chassis and aero. I would not be surprised to see Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren introduce similar suspension in the near future.

    2. Thats exactly what I thought when it was mentioned first. Surely there could be a way of using the force of the additional weight to move some sort of system rather than manually. That would mean as the race goes on and the car gets lighter the height would adjust itself.

    3. I’ve been trying to get my head around this. Not too much around to describe the Earles Forks system, but I have some vision of how it would work.

      The best I can visualise is a simple pulley system. Heavy load goes down to raise something else. I guess the suspension works on something like this?

      Mechanical yes and once set, no further adjustment is required. Sounds great and hats off to Mr Newey is this is his solution.

      1. I also visualized something of the same sort.

        The fuel tank being one side of the pulley. And the car floor being the other side of the pulley.

        But the fuel tank is attached to the car floor, how exactly does this system works?

        I hope John Beamer can explain this in his technical article soon :)

        1. I know it’s not a pulley, more of a rigid frame that swings. Hard to explain, but I do have a vision.

          I guess imagine an equilateral triangle standing upright.
          The top point is the pivot. Then image it as a childs swing. Move one lower point level to the pivot to simulate a light fuel tank. Where does the other point go? It goes down to lower the suspension.
          Drop the swing downwards to simulate heavy fuel and the other point goes up.

          Hope that explains it. Not sure if it’d work or if it’s what’s in the Red Bull.

        2. John’s input would be much appreciated! Crunching the numbers is so hard I don’t have capacity to deal with the mechanics of it!

      2. Earls Fork a good overview and some pics that show what a clever concept it is. Mechanically it’s just a couple of hinges :)

    4. Ross Brawn was asking the FIA for clarification on what could be done to the suspension after qualifying.

      He was specifically talking about gas pressures.

      I would assume he is referring to some work that the Red Bull engineers might be doing on their cars (filling up some pressure vessel?) which he thinks might not be allowed, or if it is, he wants in on it too.

      Not sure what the point is though. If Red Bull puts a gass in to push the car down for qualifying, why would they need to refill it afterwards? They let the gass leak out overnight and the car is high and ready a big load of fuel for the next day.

      1. Gas gets stiffer the more you compress it, it doesn’t compress constantly. So if they had a valve on their shockers they would have less gas in it during qualifying and top it up at the end of qualifying. Therefore they don’t push it down for qually they lift it up afterwards – if that is how they are doing it. That is quite a simple solution I think they are allowed to top fluids etc. up between qually and the race.

      2. Having a very slow leak would work. Over the race the gas escapes and lowers the car.

        1. I disagree. That would work if the dampers only controlled ride height, but they don’t. Allowing gas to leak uncontrolled from a damper would ruin its effectiveness in bump and rebound. The driver would find less and less control as the gas leaked out. I’ve had leaky dampers on my road car and you *know* when they aren’t working correctly. Thats on a road car, imagine the effect on a highly strung F1 car.

    5. The Earles fork design is not applicable to this problem. It works in the wrong direction. The same kind of geometry is already used to keep the cars flat through corners instead of leaning to the side.

      What you are talking about would essentially make the suspension work in reverse, not what you would want when going over a bump!

    6. Fergus Gallas
      2nd April 2010, 1:56

      Back in the 80’s Gordon Murray did something similar to Piquet’s Brabham. Back then, it was discovered and banned by FIA.

  8. It is not so much other teams wanting the Red Bull system banned but more to clarify what they are allowed to do. I read Martin Whitmarsh saying that if one of the McLaren engineers had come to him with an idea on how to change the ride height a few months ago he would have ruled it out as they thought it was illegal.

    It will end up as another case of clever engineers looking at the actual rules rather than thinking of the so called spirit of the rules. Last year we had the double diffuser and teams still having the side pod deflectors and barge boards.

    This year we have had McLaren’s F-duct, and Ferrari finding a way past the ban on shark gill exhaust outlets and a new interpretation on wheel covers. One of the best things about what Ferrari have done with their wheels is because they are one of the parts homologated at the start of the season the other teams can’t implement the idea during this year.

    A lot of people think that Red Bull have found a way around the rules to adjust their ride height, and if they have I say hats of too them.

    Christian Horner made a remark about McLaren commenting about this, but I seem to recall he claimed both Red Bull and Ferrari had seeked clarification from the FIA about McLaren’s F-duct system even thought Ferrari came out and said they had no problems with it.

  9. F1 is about innovation and being able to spot a development opportunity that gains you an advantage within the rules. If Newey and his team have come up with a derivative of the Earles fork good luck to them. The only reason no one else pursued it is that they didn’t think of it. They want it to be investigated in the hope that the FIA ban it. As others have said it’s just sour grapes. They got out thought on this one.

    i thought this was quite interesting – perhaps they are using something like this. i assume other teams would have avoided a similar system for various reasons (complication, weight, packaging etc), but they’ve obviously made it work somehow. very clever.

    alternatively, they have no ‘system’ and are just quick on light fuel tanks because it suits the balance of the car.

  11. I wonder if it’s all part of the RB’s pull rod suspension system? Was it known that refueling was going before Newey penned that design? I’ll bet it was.
    I can see how trick suspension geometry could be used to counter the weight and there’s probably less potential for doing this with the conventional design.
    If RB’s advantage comes entirely from their pull-rod suspension the other teams will have no hope of countering that this year.

  12. If such a system is being used how long will it take for others to come up with their own systems.

    Didn’t Martin Whitmarsh hint they might be able to run something this weekend? But surely not as they are on the road and its only a week between events.

    “an FIA spokesperson in Sepang has denied any investigation, stating: “The FIA has not introduced an investigation into the matter,” Auto und Motor-Sport reports”.

  13. Besides the innovative suspension, Red Bull have one more qualifying advantage: their drivers.

    Am I the only one remembering Mark Webber as the super qualifying expert, who even put the uncompetitive Jaguar on the front row? The first team mate Webber couldn’t out-qualify regularly is Vettel, and we all know how fast he is.

    Having two of the best qualifyers since Senna in the team should be worth a few tenths, no?

    1. Except Ferrari has Alonso.

      1. Massa is a pretty good qualifier too though. For that matter I don’t think Hamilton or Rosberg are too bad at it either.

  14. hah newey…
    I think i’m in love with u……lol
    Hats off.

    1. For designing a bad car.

      1. The RB6 seems very fast though. Is it really his fault that it’s unreliable?

  15. to me it is clear, what Button and Lewis ask of their team, when they talk about getting quicker in qualifying. It’s a brand new ride height adjuster-system!

    Here’s to the development race being on. Shark gills for extra cooling, varying F-duct systems and adjustable ride heigth will all appear in some form on this years cars.

    For next year most will make perfections and somebody finds something new, and on we go with the F1 sideshow. But this is a show only for knowledgable fans.

  16. I hope it is illegal, probably wont be though (very cleaver design), but i just hope it is illegal to see the smug look on Horners face wiped off!

    He’s always complaining about other teams!

  17. Sush Meerkat
    31st March 2010, 13:17

    What if they haven’t got a ride height device?, and getting one on the car would give it even more of an advantage?…

    Just thinking.

    1. Love it; counter conspiracy, or put another way: “Even paranoids have real enemies”!!

  18. Gavin Campbell
    31st March 2010, 13:19

    I think the issue is all the teams assumed there would be no ride hide adjusters apart from possibly in the pits.

    Red Bull has one and its very 50/50 as to whether its legal.

  19. Interestingly,

    Ferrari – 33 Poles between their present drivers
    Mclaren – 24 Poles between their present drivers
    RBR – (6) 8 Poles between their present drivers (two this season)

    Something is going on. ;-)


    1. Jarred Walmsley
      31st March 2010, 19:37

      However when you remember that the other drivers have been in F1 for a lot longer than Vettel and Webber has only really had a decent car for the past two years (’09 and ’10) then those stats make sense

      1. That’s a semi fair comment

  20. In other news, based on qualifying vs. race pace, Jarno Trulli has also been accused of having a secret ride height adjustment system.

    1. Bang on the money there mate!

      I was sitting on pit straight in Melbourne on qualifying day and I can safely say, that the only cars that were regularly bottoming out on a bump halfway down pit straight were the Lotus’s.

      It left me extremely puzzled as to why they seemed to be running so low with no fuel on board… Both Jarno and Heikki’s cars were both the same, bottoming out in the same location. Not even the RedBull’s seemed as low as the Lotus’s, although I have a feeling that’s probably more to do with build quality or suspension stiffness than ride height.

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