Adrian Newey: The hottest property in F1 but what is his secret?

The self-effacing engineer has won world titles with three different teams and gives Red Bull wings. He talks to David Tremayne

Sunday 22 May 2011 00:00 BST
(getty images)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


So, your aim is for your Formula One team to win the World Championship. But do you invest $25 million (£15m)and sign Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel or Fernando Alonso? Or do you rustle up significantly less than that (though still a plentiful bundle of boodle) and wave it in Adrian Newey's direction?

More than anything, that is the measure of the balding, self-effacing engineer, whose creations have won World Championships for Williams, McLaren and Red Bull since 1992. If you want to define genius in Formula One terms, Newey is as good a way to do it as any driver's greatest performance.

He quit Williams when Frank Williams and Patrick Head unwisely refused to allow him a shareholding; and legend has it that his first step upon entering the threshold of McLaren was to offend Ron Dennis's sense of "grey is the colour" by having his office repainted duck-egg blue. But there is a simple truth in the sport: give Newey what he wants, and he will deliver. Ask the Red Bull energy drink magnate Dietrich Mateschitz, who bought the fading Jaguar team at the end of 2004, and saw it win the championship with Vettel six years later.

That other-worldly talent has made Newey the hottest property of them all, and his cars the subject of microscopic scrutiny by all of Red Bull's envious rivals as they try to unlock the myriad secrets. Irritation, or ultimate accolade? "Er, a bit of both, is the honest truth," Newey responds amiably. "It's the accolade, because if nobody is taking any interest in it then it's because it's not very quick. But obviously one of the problems, with the budgets that teams have available now, is that they can copy very quickly. The challenge is to keep moving, to try and stay ahead of the game."

Newey is an aerodynamics expert, and therein lies one of his secrets. But what is the secret of the Red Bull? Is it the nose-down rake the car runs, a front wing that flexes at speed, or clever mapping of the engine which sends exhaust airflow over the diffuser, all aimed at creating greater downforce, the ultimate arbiter of speed? "Have we been cleverer than other people? I can't really answer," says the man who still draws cars at half-scale on a drawing board rather than use computer-aided design techniques. "There's a clearly defined deflection test, which our front wing passed, and that kind of limits how much you can do. Although there is a huge amount of talk about it, I think it's slightly old hat now. And I'm sure everybody uses slightly different maps between qualifying and race...

"I think that people just point at a part. Last year we supposedly had fancy front dampers which changed the ride height between qualifying and race, or we had levers to do that, flexy wings. We had this, we had that. At the end of the day, a racing car is not about individual gadgets and features, it's about how the whole package works and is integrated. How the aerodynamics of the front end affect the middle and rear of the car, how the suspension characteristics work with the aerodynamics." Simples.

Together with Mercedes's Ross Brawn, Newey is the only technician to have won titles with three teams. But which one gave him the greatest buzz? "Certainly the first championship at Williams was special because any time you achieve something for the first time is special. But I think Red Bull probably is in many ways the most satisfying, because with Williams and then McLaren they were both great teams that had won championships prior to my arrival, so the infrastructure was all there and they had proved themselves but perhaps had got into periods in both cases where they had lost their way a little bit on the design and performance of the car. But it was all there and just needed rekindling.

"Red Bull was a much bigger task, one I underestimated. When I first joined, it wasn't a design job, it was more trying to create the structure and the research capabilities within the team and getting the people working together in a way that we could then go forwards and make it into a design job. I guess in a way there's a career risk doing that, so it's been very satisfying to have achieved it."

But not so satisfying that Newey isn't hell-bent on doing it all over again in 2011.

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