Do Red Bull really need that new diffuser?

454936Sebastian Vettel today stormed to pole position for Red Bull Racing with team-mate Mark Webber a very respectable third on the grid.

The duo looked mean and fast throughout qualifying, with Vettel’s confidence such that he was frequently able to leave his flying lap til the very last moment.

The RB5 is without doubt the quickest of the non-double deck diffuser cars, and has shown its pace on three successive weekends now. Vettel was destined for third at least in Australia and Webber was threatening the front in Malaysia, and this weekend the car appears to be dialled in very nicely to the Shanghai circuit.

This raises the obvious question of whether the team are going to need to install the new rear diffuser, modelled on Brawn, Toyota and Williams’ arrangement, that the International Appeal Court this week declared legal. The design of the RB5 is thought to be such that to replace the current diffuser would involve a radical re-design of the car, possibly even a complete re-working of the rear suspension.

As Ferrari will tell you on the basis of their speed in China so far, removing or severely modifying a design is likely to upset the delicate balance of the car. The cars will have been designed with each component finely balanced, and any slight modification can disrupt the car’s grip, speed and handling. This accounts for fluctuation in performance over the course of a season, as teams try to improve their cars by sticking new bits on it.

Because that is such a risky business, head honchos at the Red Bull stable will have to be asking themselves whether they really need to follow the fashion and install a new diffuser. Another point against it is that while technical director Adrian Newey’s cars are invariably fast, they have a tendency to fragility.

The car is a fantastic one, purists will implore the Milton Keynes team; don’t risk sliding back down to middle-pack mediocrity.