Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Red Bull’s Traction Secret

In Singapore two weeks ago, Sebastian Vettel had a huge tractional advantage over any of the other teams’ cars. While they’ve been ahead for much of the season, comments from various Formula 1 figures have suggested that Red Bull may be using (illegal) traction control:

Whilst all the other drivers speeded up on the same stretch, Vettel was able to speed up before them. The thing that surprised me the most was the RB1 engine’s output sound. Besides speeding up 50 m before any other driver, the Renault engine of the German’s car grinded like no other French engines on track, neither like Mark’s. That sound was similar to the sound made by the engine when the traction control system got into action in the past seasons.

Traction control is forbidden. To ensure that it remains off the cars, all teams use the same engine control unit, and its code is checked prior to the start of the season. It is therefore unlikely that any sort of illegal traction control is at play here.

However, it’s also unlikely that Red Bull is able to get such a tractional advantage over the other teams purely by aerodynamics. Sam Collins of Racecar Engineering has a theory on how they’re doing it:

It is theoretically easy to modulate the output torque and charging input torque to an electric motor/generator using capacitors, batteries, inductors and a feedback signal. Torque changes are instant and control is easy and legal.

Got that?

Red Bull might be modulating the output from their KERS system. Ingenious.