Since the start of the F1 rule review in 2022, teams have tried to keep the designs of their ground effect floors a closely guarded secret, with engineers estimating that as much as 60 per cent of a car’s performance is now generated by largely hidden aerodynamic components.
But over the course of the weekend in Monaco, everyone had a rare opportunity to get a good look at an area of cars that is usually hidden from view thanks to the circuit’s unique nature.
The first instance followed Lewis Hamilton crashed his Mercedes at Mirabeau in the final stages of practice.
When his car was lifted high into the sky in Monaco by a crane – instead of being placed on the back of a flatbed truck – the W14’s heavily upgraded floor was completely exposed and left at the mercy of the photographers.
This prompted Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff to joke that the crane operator must have come from the famous Cirque du Soleil he admitted the unintended disclosure was “sub-optimal”.
Just hours later, the chassis of Red Bull’s dominant RB19 was shown to the world Sergio Perezqualifying maneuver.
Mercedes’ Andrew Shovlin said F1 teams will be “totally” photographing the 2023 Red Bull to try and spot any features they may have missed.
“I suspect they’re more annoyed about leaving their car in the sky than we are about ours,” added Shovlin.
Aston Martin Performance Director Tom McCullough said the RB19 display will provide teams with useful information.
Red Bull floor pic.twitter.com/nphZauxrVg
— Christian Falavena (@CFalavena) May 27, 2023
“Of course, there are some great photos,” he said. “There were a lot of people there so I’m sure the aero guys will keep a good eye on all the cars being lifted.
“Fortunately, ours hasn’t been lifted yet.” Let’s try to keep it that way!
“Aerodynamicists never want you to show it. You can learn a lot just by watching a board wear out. You learn from what is touching.
“There are a lot of very excited aerodynamicists up and down the pit lane looking at it all.”
So is Red Bull the biggest loser on their floor exposed to prying eyes?
Not according to team principal Christian Horner, who insisted he was fine with rivals getting a chance to check out a rarely seen area of their car.
“It’s very rude to look up people’s skirts,” Horner joked, dismissing concerns about Red Bull’s secrets being revealed.
“It was a bit of a show for all the teams this weekend,” he added. “They were all in the air once. So it’s the same for everyone.
“Floor photos are taken in and around the paddock. They come in vans, they work on cars, the blinds are up. Each team will hire spy photographers to take photos of dismantled cars. So it’s common practice.
“I wouldn’t have thought it was the first photo of the floor. Probably the first time he was hung on a crane. But all teams are always looking to get that information.”
Williams’ head of vehicle performance Dave Robson also downplayed the usefulness of the images.
Robson pointed out that due to the sophistication of Red Bull’s floor layout, it would be difficult for other teams to replicate it.
And then there is an additional factor Cost Limit F1 – set at $135 million for 2023 – to be considered.
“It’s so complicated in a 2D photo because of the way light is so curved that you can’t figure it out,” Robson explained.
“I think it’s just a coincidence that they do it all that way because that’s how they get downforce. But that’s not half as hard to copy!”
Sky reporter Ted Kravitz said Red Bull’s floorboard makes Mercedes and Ferrari designs look “prehistoric” compared.
“It’s a miracle and a beauty,” said Kravitz. “Especially if you compare it with the floor of Mercedes and Ferrari, which we also saw on the cranes, so we had a full picture of that this weekend.
“They look prehistoric. Even the little guides have their own guides in Red Bull!
“It’s so complex in three dimensions – not only do the pieces go down but then they wrap around and it has circles where the vortex starts and then the vortices are generated halfway down the floor.
“Then what do they do with the area under the crash structure and gearbox.
“I’m telling you, when you look at these pictures and compare them to Mercedes and Ferrari, you think ‘okay, no wonder this Red Bull RB19 is so good.’
Even if there were doubts as to whether the teams had much to gain from the photos, they certainly provided a fascinating insight into modern F1 technology and captured everyone’s attention.