Adrian Newey has come a long way since he was “invited to leave” Repton School after an incident in which some windows in the 11th-century Pears Building were damaged by the sound levels of the sixth-form band to which he belonged. “It wasn’t so much that they were left a pile of glass,” he smiles, “just that the leading was sort of damaged…”
Since then he’s designed championship-winning racing cars for Williams and McLaren, and between 2010 and 2013 his Renault-powered Red Bull cars were utterly dominant because of their superior downforce. He’s been compared to famed Lotus founder Colin Chapman, though with 10 world championships to his credit he is statistically unrivalled as the most successful Formula One designer in history.
And in the manner typical of engineers, he is blessedly devoid of political correctness. He deals in black and white, calculating empirically what works and what doesn’t work, cutting through the usual cant of other F1 folk in the most refreshing way.
Last year he was unhappy that the engine became more of a performance differentiator than his beloved aerodynamics, and it’s long been an open secret that part of his mounting frustration with the sport is the recent feeble performance of Renault’s new turbo-hybrid powertrain.
“We had 12 days of pre-season testing and a day’s filming, and we had six major failures. So our mileage was very restrictive because of engine problems,” he says. “The power we have is exactly the same as we had last year and the driveability is very poor. That’s interesting now of course because this season we’ve got drivers that have moved around between teams. We’ve now got comments from, for instance, Pastor Maldonado [at Lotus] and Sebastian Vettel [at Ferrari] saying how brilliant the driveability is of the engines of the teams they’ve gone to.
“And what’s frustrating is that we have some very good people and good methodologies and ways of approaching things, and we keep trying to offer that. But there seems a real reluctance by Renault to engage us.
“It’s one thing being in the position where you’re not competitive but you can see your way out of it. It’s another thing when you’re not competitive and your partner doesn’t seem to be willing to engage.”
And that’s not all. He hates the politics and the restrictions placed on a designer’s creativity.
“My main frustrations would be in terms of competitiveness. There are three main performance differentiators: the driver, the chassis and the engine. And with the current regulations, the engine is disproportionately important, whilst the chassis regulations have become very restrictive.
“We’re in the sixth season in a relatively unchanged set of regulations so the cars are a combination of prescriptive regulations that become more prescriptive every year. With six seasons of development, the cars are converging. You’ve only got to look at them; apart from the small differences in nose shapes, if you painted all of them white you’d need to be a good observer to know which one was which.”
For more than a decade he’s hankered after the chance to get involved with a challenge for the America’s Cup, and as he transitions from his day-to-day role as chief technical officer at Red Bull to a wider role with Red Bull Technology projects, he will work closely with Ben Ainslie Racing where, this weekend, it was confirmed that former McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh is the new CEO.
“My role is mainly advisory. We have a contract with Red Bull’s Advanced Technology Group and BAR for simulation work and that’s massively important. These catamarans are different to anything I’ve really sailed before and so traditional boat designers are out of the window, as so much of this is about simulation as you go about researching and then designing the boat. It’s fascinating because it’s incredibly similar to Formula One in many ways but also in the details hugely different. But, just on the simulation side of things, it’s the same sort of problems, racing round poles; do you go around the apex and keep your apex speed up, or do you veer the corner and then accelerate as hard as possible out of it?”
Having resisted an offer to join Ferrari a few years back, he’s happy to be doing something different while also maintaining involvement in F1 against the day when he might come back more often if the rules alter again. Road cars may also lie in the future.
As Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg lined their Mercedes up on the front row for today’s Australian Grand Prix, Newey’s Red Bull RB11 was only seventh in Daniel Ricciardo’s hands – after more engine dramas. That’s tough for the 56-year-old who takes pride in the role he played helping new owner Dietrich Mateschitz make a silk purse of the sow’s ear that was the Jaguar Racing team that he bought in late 2004.
“We’ve worked hard at Red Bull creating a ‘can-do’ attitude. When we first started from the ashes of Jaguar, their attitude was that it was all too difficult, we can’t be bothered, there’s too much risk.”
And that’s why you know that, so long as Newey is involved in F1, Red Bull won’t be down for long.Reuse content