F1 design genius Adrian Newey holds key to Lewis Hamilton Ferrari success

Newey has never worked with seven-time world champion Hamilton but the design guru’s exit from Red Bull paves the way for a dream partnership in Italy – if Newey wants one final challenge

Kieran Jackson
Formula 1 Correspondent
Wednesday 01 May 2024 10:24 BST
Interview with Red Bull's Christian Horner and Adrian Newey

It is difficult not to overstate the importance – with a knowledge of Formula 1’s complicated and intricate mechanics unparalleled in the sport – of Adrian Newey at Red Bull. The design guru’s exit from the world champions has been confirmed to shake up the sport. When Christian Horner first acquired Newey’s services in late 2005 following a season of courting, purposely bumping into Newey around the paddock to build a rapport, it was a sign that Red Bull were here to stay. Here to win. Now though, there is uncertainty surrounding the team’s future and whether they can extend their dominance in the years to come without Newey.

Lo and behold, five years later, the energy drinks giant turned F1 team won their first world championship with Sebastian Vettel. Six have followed in the years since, largely due to Newey’s genius.

So after last week’s revelation, confirmed on Wednesday ahead of the Miami Grand Prix, Newey is to leave Red Bull after 18 years at the team in what amounts to earth-shaking news in the world of F1. The current furore surrounding Horner and allegations of coercive behaviour towards a female colleague – and the rumblings of team politics the probe has blown wide open – has unsettled Newey to the point that he is keen on pastures new.

There are still many moving parts. Newey is on a £10m-a-year contract until the end of 2025. His immediate future, once he departs Red Bull at the start of 2025, remains uncertain in relation to joining another team, which might only occur in 2026. As such, his influence on a new outfit may not be seen until a year or two after that.

Losing their chief technical officer is a seismic blow to Red Bull, the sport’s dominant frontrunners. And opens up a world of opportunities for their competitors.

Newey is regarded as the greatest car designer in F1 history. He is old school, still crafting new designs with a pencil in his notebook and known for using the pre-race chaos on the grid to keep an eye on Red Bull’s rival cars. The 65-year-old first made his name during Williams’ successful era in the early-90s before moving onto McLaren in 1997, where he tasted victory with Mika Hakkinen. Over 30 years in the sport has seen him win 12 constructors’ championships.

His vast and unique knowledge of the current regulations – he wrote a thesis at university in Southampton on ground-effect aerodynamics – is unmatchable across the vast array of Oxbridge-educated engineers in the paddock.

Adrian Newey looks set to leave Red Bull after 18 years at the team (Getty Images)
Newey tasted success with Williams and McLaren in the 1990s (Getty Images)

When Mercedes and other teams experienced porpoising of their cars in 2022, Red Bull were unaffected. Newey saw the issue coming – and altered the car appropriately. Max Verstappen’s utter dominance in the last two years, winning 38 of the last 49 races, is down to Newey’s philosophy.

Indisputably, with the RB18, RB19 and this year’s RB20, he has designed one of Formula 1’s most dominant range of cars.

It makes his next move – if there is a next move, he is in his mid-60s and may wish to take an early retirement – absolutely fascinating. All speculation points to Ferrari at this stage, with a dream partnership with Lewis Hamilton next year, mere fantasy a matter of months ago, a distinct possibility.

Newey has grown tired of the political tension at Red Bull, unearthed amid the Christian Horner saga (AP)
The design guru has never worked with Lewis Hamilton (Getty Images)

Newey has never worked for Ferrari, rejecting three offers over the years from the Scuderia. He last year admitted he harbours an “emotional” regret that he has never worked for the sport’s most illustrious outfit. He was close in 1993, but didn’t want to move to Italy. Now though, there’s speculation his wife Amanda is looking at properties around Maranello. Newey was reportedly pictured at Bologna airport a few weeks ago.

All the signs make Ferrari the most likely destination for his services. Newey has never worked with Hamilton, either; if the Brit had any lingering doubt about moving from Mercedes to the prancing horse next year, the acquisition of Newey would wipe that into oblivion. For Ferrari and for the sport, it would be a dream partnership.

Ferrari boss John Elkann and team principal Fred Vasseur should move heaven and earth to land Newey in the months ahead. It could be the fine detail which propels them back to the front of the pack.

But there’s still some way to go in this tale. Aston Martin, on the rise with Fernando Alonso and billions of pounds worth of investment from owner Lawerence Stroll, are interested and have already tabled a big-money offer. Should Newey want to stay in the UK, Aston is the obvious pick. Horner could yet persuade him to stay at Red Bull. Yet a Ferrari final hurrah, to coincide with Hamilton’s last dance, is the romantic next step.

Wherever Newey’s future lies beyond Red Bull, his input would not be seen immediately. Red Bull will win the championship this year and likely in 2025, too. Yet new regulations in 2026 could shake the pack up and Newey’s influence will be key. If he steals a march like he did in 2022 – the last regulation change – the consequences for whoever has his services will be monumental. We wait to see what happens next.

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