With the 2012 regulations on exhaust gases
taking away Red Bull’s massive advantage taking away downforce teams are looking for new ways to go faster. Many suspect that the slot-gap in the Bull’s nose is not just for driver cooling, but a way of increasing downforce in some manner. The following is my view on the slot based on a picture I saw of the Red Bull sans nose.
I believe that Red Bull decided if they couldn’t blow extra exhaust onto the diffuser, they’d just switch the gas. Instead of burnt petrol, they decided to use air. You might think this is silly, since air flows through the diffuser at all times and is at a relatively low temperature compared to the exhaust. However, looking at pictures of the slot-gap in the nose, it is clear that while some air flow does indeed to towards the driver, there are channels on both ends taking air towards the sidepods.
I have not seen any pictures of a Bull without it’s sidepod casing on, but I’m willing to bet this air gets channeled around the radiators and engine. This heated air could then be diverted to the diffuser, energizing it. This could explain why the car is fundamentally the old model with a new nose and changed exhaust exits. The team thought this heated air concept could keep downforce high without a rethink in car design.
I’m going to make another prediction here. I believe that Red Bull in 2012 will be like Lotus-Renault in 2011. I think Red Bull are clinging to this diffuser-centric design at all costs, as over the last few years it has become the cornerstone of their car. It is a known quantity. We know Hamilton will be blindingly fast but aggressive to a fault, we know HRT will blow, and we know Red Bull will design their car around a diffuser. If they want to be competitave this year, they need to change that.
There are other possibilities for sure. The air could be diverted to the rear wing for a Mercedes-style super DRS, but unless they have pressure-dependent flaps to control it (which I doubt) this is a less likely scenario. There is also the possibility that too much air going towards the driver would disrupt the flow over the helmet and unbalance the rear of the car. These pipes could just be a way to channel excess air away and keep flow attached. Until I see a sidepodless Red Bull (and with the way Seb is driving that may soon become a reality) I won’t be able to say for certain.