Despite its occasional fragility, Adrian Newey's RB6 was the undisputed F1 car of the year in 2010 - but what set it apart from its rivals and can its core concepts help Red Bull continue their success into 2011?
The key to Red Bull's ultimate success this season with the RB6 was the grounding it had in last year's RB5.
Newey claims Red Bull does not have the resources of Ferrari or McLaren but the reaction of his team to regulation changes brought in for the start of 2009 was key to this season and he recently said that it was his team's ability "to out-think (their rivals) in some ways, come up with a good package and develop it sensibly" that enabled them to break into the big time.
Had it not been for Brawn's loophole-exploiting double diffuser, Red Bull could well have won last year's title too, given their performance in the latter races, and there were several factors that began in 2009 and ran into this year that put the RB6 at the front from the off.
Uncompromising packaging has always been one of the core elements behind Adrian Newey's designs, with a focus on shrinking every element of the design to create a tight conceptual baseline layout and optimising every part of the car within it.
In the RB5-RB6 family the use of tight packaging to isolate aerodynamic flow as much as possible has been a major focus, and this is played out in two key devices, one at the front and one at the rear.
Every part of the car affects the airflow over it, from the front wing rearwards, and each obstruction affects both the drag created through turbulence and the subsequent ability of different elements further down the car to create downforce, ultimately affecting the overall speed of the car itself.
Although the front wing on the RB6 has developed into a complex design that provides high downforce and is most effective in medium and high speed, it is the way it works with the v-section beneath the driver in the front section of the chassis that is key to the car's performance.
This v-section is a highly intricate design that carefully steers the flow of turbulent air from the wing around the chassis and away from the underside of the car, allowing a smooth flow along the flat bottom which then enables the double diffuser at the rear to work harder and help produce a large proportion of the car's overall downforce.
At the rear, the fact that Newey pioneered the car's packaging around a pullrod suspension concept and a very compact gearbox has allowed the ever-popular 'coke-bottle' design to get narrower and narrower, enabling the aerodynamic devices at the rear of the car - the double diffuser and rear wing - to work together in relative isolation from the turbulence-generating rear wheels.
The narrow rear end also enabled Newey to innovate again, by bringing the old concept of 'blown diffusers' back from the dead - but in a very different way.
Newey's design sees the exhausts inject energy into the air flowing into the area between the diffuser and the rear wheels to help generate more downforce from the flow out of the diffuser, and this defining design surprising seemed to go un-noticed by most of Red Bull's rivals early in the season.
It is understood that the aero department of one other front-running team tried to pioneer this concept in 2009, only to be told it was impossible from a packaging perspective - but in Red Bull's case, Newey's uncompromising approach allowed the concept to come alive and gave their rivals plenty of catching up to do.
This was, of course, not the only innovative design approach developed by Red Bull this year - although most of the others were controversial and/or debatable.
Red Bull continually denied they had some trick suspension that altered their ride height to make the car perform well at both full and empty fuel loads, and indeed whether they did or not was never proved. What it did serve to do, however, was act as a welcome distraction to hide the blown diffuser concept from the headlines.
The flexi-wing controversy, in contrast, seemed undisputable. There was no question the Red Bull front wings (and Ferrari's) were bending under load and generating more downforce - but as Red Bull continually insisted when contested throughout the year, their designs passed all FIA tests (even if that did not necessarily deem them within the rules).
Attention to detail
The attention to detail on all cars was noticeable throughout the season's aggressive development programme - but it always seemed that Red Bull were at the sharp end when it came to introducing tiny new tweaks in numerous areas that together added up to a tenths or so of performance improvement.
This precision design approach often focused on the aerodynamic influencers all over the car, such as bargeboards, innovative suspension fairings (which were eventually banned in Turkey), gurneys and diffuser strakes, and they worked with the core of the car's concept to improve airflow bit by bit and slowly optimise each main aerodynamic element.
In addition, Newey's design was helped by the fact that the Red Bull engineers had developed most of the season's more complicated and concept-focused innovations, forcing their rivals to spend time playing catch-up. They missed a trick on the f-duct, but compared to the blown diffuser, that was an easy innovation to add in to the car's design and they soon developed a successful solution themselves.
It seemed the only element on the car that Red Bull were not totally happy with was their Renault engine.
Complaints of a lack of top-end pace were certainly proven at fast tracks like Spa and Monza - resulting in regular comments about this fact and regular failed attempts to get the FIA to allow an engine parity adjustment.
That said, perhaps this year's most important performance factor for engines was not necessarily top-end power but fuel economy, as with refuelling banned from the start of the year the more economical the engine the less fuel had to be put in at the start of a race and the faster the lap time could be at the start.
In addition to that, the performance profile of the engine and its mapping technology all go in to defining its overall influence on lap time around the circuit - and while the Renault was certainly down on top-end speed, either the Red Bull car or those other elements were enough to balance out that top-end deficit in the overall picture.
Technical regulations will change again for 2011, with new tyres creating a different feel, balance and set-up to the car and the reintroduction of KERS likely to change packaging a little, but neither should alter the overall core concept of the Red Bull design.
The banning of the f-duct and introduction of the new movable rear wing should also have limited effect as one effectively replaces the other, so it should only alter how the active aerodynamics work and is likely to end up with a similar result.
The only question is whether any other team has had a chance to move their design forward quicker than the men in Milton Keynes. The only front-running outfit to put tools down on their 2010 car early this year was Mercedes, as McLaren and Ferrari were locked in a fight to the finish with Red Bull to the end - so unless they come up trumps, the RB5-RB6 family looks set to continue its success into the future.
- Red Bull
- Adrian Newey