A quick look at the history books will show Red Bull Racing’s RB7 as one of the greatest cars to ever race. With 18 poles from 19 starts, 12 victories, 10 fastest laps, and a drivers’ and constructors’ title double, it’s very much an icon.
Yet despite that stellar track record, it’s probably going to be more fondly remembered for things like doing donuts atop of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, bombing down a ski slope in Austria, or traversing the Australian Outback.
Since 2012, a pair of RB7s — along with an RB8 which joined them in 2018 — have taken on a second life as the stars of Oracle Red Bull Racing’s “Showrun” program. It’s a unique promotional approach to Formula 1 that’s been seen by countless people across the world, but between its recent stops in Chicago and Nashville, the team gave RACER a rare insight into the inner workings of the operation.
The RB7 replaced the RB1 as Red Bull’s toy of choice, which ended its Showrun life sporting a bodykit to help it resemble a 2009-10 car. While from the outside, the RB7 of today still looks identical to how it raced in 2011 — save for an updated livery and some minor alterations to the sidepods to aid cooling — if you peel away the skin, you’ll find more substantial tweaks to the machine that took Sebastian Vettel to his second world title.
“We’ve got the RB7s that we use for show events and the filming side of things, and with those cars we sanitized them a lot in taking lots of bits and pieces off them, more to make them more reliable or to make them easier to maintain,” Red Bull’s heritage chief mechanic Greg Borrill tells RACER. “If it was just a race car, for example, we’d be bashing bits and pieces off them left, right and center, but we’ve taken some stuff off to make them a lot easier and more reliable to run.
“That loses a lot of the downforce that the car was originally designed with, so for track running we’ll use an RB8. The RB8 is pretty much taken straight from the racetrack in the fact that the diffusers all still intact; brake ducts, inlets, front wing, rear wing… it’s all very much a race car, so whenever you’re on track the driver’s got a lot more confidence in the car and knows what it’s going to do.”
That “sanitation” means that the RB7’s defining feature has had to take a hike. Sort of. Vettel recently got back behind the wheel of one for a run at the Nurburgring, where he was quick to note that the car’s famed blown diffuser that helped him and Red Bull carve out a dominant streak in the early 2010s was not present on the car.
“Well, technically it did still have the blown diffuser,” Borrill points out. “All the exhaust system and the floor, more or less, was still there, but what it didn’t have was the engine maps that you’d need to run to enable the blown diffuser to work properly, because then you’re looking at gasses still coming through when you’re off throttle and all that sort of business.
“They’re a lot more harsh when you’re running those sorts of maps and require a lot more upkeep on the engine side of things, but also from a car point of view.”
Speaking of harsh, Red Bull’s high jinks in the hands of regular demo drivers Patrick Friesacher and David Coulthard put the RB7 through a torrent of abuse, but when the race drivers get involved, that’s turned up another notch.
“That is generally when they catch fire, they don’t tend to give much of a hoot about it,” Borrill says with a smile. “The difficult thing with the cars is, with what we’re doing, we’re generally in confined spaces, we don’t have much speed, we’ve got a lot of high RPM because we’re doing donuts, we’re doing burnouts, we’re doing crowd-pleasing stuff, which is kind of what we’re here for. But because we don’t have the speed out of the car, we don’t have the airflow over the car, [so] we don’t have the cooling.
“On the 7s and 8, we have fitted radiator fans to try and help with the fact we’re doing this sort of stuff. They’re fully integrated onto the radiators and they’re controlled on the steering wheel with a rotary switch by the driver, so he can switch them on and off as he requires.”
“Obviously a standard F1 car doesn’t have fans fitted to the radiators or anything like that, but being an F1 car, we still have limits of what we can drive to.
“Water temperature is our biggest tell, so the dashboard of the car has the water temp readout, and we’ve got maximum of what it can be before the driver has to cool down the engine — so no donuts, no burnouts, just a couple of cool laps up and down to get the temperature back under control and into a level where or into a range where we’re happy for him to go again.”
The biggest victim of the RB7’s diet, though, is the KERS. Eliminating the electrification element not only helps ease-of-use, but is a safety precaution as well — and it goes some way to explaining why Red Bull has persevered with decade-plus-old machinery for its fun and games.
“You quite simply take the KERS system off the car,” Borrill explains. “You couldn’t do it nowadays with the current cars — the ERS and everything like that is fully integrated into the whole car — but with 7 and 8 it was simply a matter of being able to remove it. We’re operating with a lot less people in environments that are far more harsh than a race circuit, certainly less controlled than a race circuit.
“If we have any issues and the KERS system is fitted, we’re looking at possibly putting public or marshals who know less about the systems in a bit more danger. So we remove it for that aspect. But it just makes the car a lot simpler to run, as well.”