After Red Bull presented its new 2013 contender, the team's technical director was asked about the details of the car. Newey, widely recognised as one of the best car designers ever, immediately acknowledged it is too early too tell if the car will perform well.
Adrian, are you proud of the work you’ve done on the RB9?
We are. It’s a tribute to all the hard work of the guys over the winter because we had a very tight championship battle last year. It was difficult trying to continue development of last year’s car while also doing research into the RB9. Obviously it worked for us, but it gave us a very tight timeframe to design and manufacture this car. To have it here today, two days before the first test, I think is an absolutely remarkable achievement by the guys.
What’s changed between 2012’s RB8 and the new RB9? RB9 is an evolutionary car. Probably the most significant change is not the regulations, but the new Pirelli tyres. We had a quick test with those in practice ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix but in truth we didn’t learn a lot because of the conditions. Pirelli have supplied us data about how the new tyres behave but past experience tells us it’s only when we go testing that we really find out.
Where has the design department concentrated its attention? Because the regulations haven’t altered greatly it’s been a question of refining RB8. The front wing stiffness test has been made harsher, making compliance difficult in terms of how stiff the wing has to be, but the rest of the car is very much an evolution. All the principles are the same as last year’s car but hopefully evolved somewhat.
Where do you think the biggest steps forward have been taken? It’s all in the details rather than saying the gains are in this or that. We’ve tidied up some bits we thought could be improved upon – but as is usual these days, this is a car in transition. There will be one or two new parts appearing by the first race, which I’m sure is the same for everybody. After that it’s going to be about development through the year.
Development through the year has been a key factor in recent seasons – where do you think the significant battlegrounds will be in 2013? I think continuing to develop an understanding of the tyres will be crucial. Every time we thought we understood them last year, some fresh surprise would come up and we would realise our understanding wasn’t complete. There is a change to the tyres this year, so I think that will be a huge learning area. The rest I’m sure will be detailed evolution of the aerodynamics and trying to tune the car to the drivers’ liking.
The RB9 keeps the stepped nose of last year. Was there any thought given to fitting the optional ‘vanity panel’? There is a vanity panel but it’s quite small. It doesn’t extend a huge way forward because that would add unjustifiable weight. Last year we had a letterbox design to reduce the step, which aided cooling. This year the small vanity panel has allowed us to get rid of that.
What’s your gut-feeling about the RB9, will it be as successful as its predecessors? I always find that an incredibly hard question to answer. Our simulation results tell us we’ve taken a step forward – but we don’t know what everybody else has done. We don’t know how big a step forward they’ve taken. Then there’s the nature of simulation: almost by definition simulated results aren’t 100 per cent accurate. Sometimes errors can be positive – rarely in my experience – and other times you have problems where what you predict in the wind tunnel doesn’t bear out on track. We have to wait and see.
Beyond that, F1 over the last decade has really been characterised by the rate of development through the year. It used to be that if you came out with a dominant car at the start of the year, so long as that car was reliable, you would probably win the championship. That’s not the case anymore: teams will come back, they can out-develop other teams. It really is continual development now.
How much development attention will the RB9 receive? Is the 2014 car on your radar already? It is and I think that is a real battle for all the teams. We’ve all got limited resources, so we can’t do everything. How you allocate between this year and the very burdening reality of 2014 requires some difficult decisions. We’ve got heads of department Rob Marshall [chief designer], Peter Prodromou [head of aerodynamics] and Mark Ellis [chief engineer – vehicle dynamics] wearing two hats now: overseeing 2014 but also all putting effort into 2013. It’s a difficult balance and one each team will handle it differently, probably depending on how their 2013 championship is going. The teams that feel they’re in with a chance this year will keep pushing, those that have their future secure but aren’t in a title fight will probably switch their efforts earlier.