Horner: “Visibly different” Red Bull RB20 has “great innovation” that will bring performance gains despite similarity to Mercedes’ W14

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Christian Horner believes Red Bull’s new 2024 F1 car, the RB20, carries some “great innovation” despite some clear resemblance with Mercedes’ ‘zero-pod’ concept. It marks a significant departure from what the team ran in 2023, despite the RB19 winning all bar one race last season, in what he described is not a “conservative” evolution.

The team’s 2023 challenger, the RB19, proved to be a dominant force and set an aerodynamic trend that most of its rivals started to follow in the middle of last season or at their new machines for 2024, given it was by far the class of the field.

But just as most of the teams started to converge to a design philosophy along the lines of the RB19, the Milton Keynes squad is again a step ahead of the competition, with very noticeable changes on the aerodynamic surfaces of the new car resembling those of Mercedes’ recently abandoned ‘zero-pod’ concept, with a vertical cooling inlet and some huge gulleys on the engine cover just like the W14 launch spec from 2023.

It makes for a surprising view, given the squad still had a sizeable advantage over the rest in the closing stages of 2023, to make such a change in concept. Speaking to selected media after the launch of the RB20, team principal and CEO Christian Horner explained how the team has managed to evolve the car in a way that is not “conservative” with some “great innovation” that should make the car – worryingly for its rivals – a clear step forward from the all-conquering RB19:

“I think there’s some great innovation on the car as well which will no doubt get scrutinized over the coming weeks,” Horner said. “Creativity has been strong in the team and you can see that in some of the solutions that they’ve come up with. It’s not a conservative evolution, there’s some great innovation on this car.”

When asked about the similarities with a concept Mercedes has just moved away from after failing to find any significant performance with it, Horner explained the “visibly different” solution adopted is the one that will give it the most gains according to their simulator:

“It’s not tactical, it’s based on performance and what we’re seeing through our simulation tools,” said Horner. “Obviously the car looks quite visibly different in certain areas to last year. Only the stopwatch will tell but in the virtual world we wouldn’t have committed it to design if we didn’t feel it was better.”

The 50-year-old also praised his team’s ability to put “exquisite detail” on the car and to have “no complacency” despite dominating last season by some margin.

“It’s marginal gains in all areas, so you’re constantly looking to try and evolve,” he said. “If you look at the detail on the car there’s some really exquisite detail, and I think the team… There’s been no complacency. They’ve continued to evolve, to push the boundaries.

“We can see other cars have had an influence from RB19, we’re expecting other teams to converge.

“I think the team have done a wonderful job on RB20, they haven’t sat on their laurels and you can see that they’ve pushed the boundaries with the car. We’ll only see when we get on track what the relative pecking order is for the start of the season.”

Horner acknowledged that just as Red Bull moves away from its previous concept in an aggressive evolution, most of its rivals are only just starting to move in that direction of being heavily influenced by last season’s dominant car – but he still expects there to be some convergence between the teams due to the stable regulations which will make it difficult for Red Bull to go one better and win every race this season:

“You can see that RB19 being the most successful car of all time has had an influence on quite a few cars,” he said. “But yeah there’s some interesting details on some of the cars that demonstrates the creativity that there is in Formula 1, and despite it being stable regs there’s still interesting solutions that are being delivered by others.

“I think to set a target of winning all the races would be very difficult.

“I mean, we achieved 21 out of 22 last year and only Singapore got away from us, so technically we can improve, but logically there’s going to be convergence with stable regulations.”

He also expects the package won’t have any major upgrades in the first race of the season compared to its launch/testing spec due to the difficulties imposed by the cost cap, which Red Bull famously bridged in 2021:

“I think just the way things are set at the moment there’s probably limited change between test one and race one,” he explained. “With the budget cap the way it is now you’ve got to be much more selective in your spending and your development.”

Horner is still facing an internal investigation at Red Bull due to alleged inappropriate and controlling behaviour from him towards a female coworker in the team.