TREMAYNE: Exactly 34 years after making his mark, Adrian Newey is surely now the greatest designer in F1 history



Lap 16 of the Japanese Grand Prix would prove an enlightening highlight. No, not lap 16 of Sunday’s race – I’m thinking of a day spent at Suzuka in 1988. But there is a very strong connection.

That year, the McLaren-Hondas were so omnipotent that the only time they lost was at Monza, when Ayrton Senna tripped over latecomer Jean-Louis Schlesser and was stranded on a chicane curb. But at Suzuka, a Miami Blue car actually overtook one of the red and white MP4/4s, and we all snapped to attention at that exact moment as we realized we were witnessing something very special.

It was a March 881 run by the Leyton House Racing team and driven by Ivan Capelli, one of many good guys I’ve been lucky enough to meet over the years and whose career never quite ended. delivered on its initial promises.

That day, as Ayrton recovered from a poor start (and would eventually clinch his first title with victory), Alain Prost had taken the lead over Gerhard Berger and Ivan. The Ferrari driver succumbed to the Italian on lap 6, and suddenly Ivan set the fastest laps, even though his naturally aspirated Judd V8 gave Alain’s turbocharged Honda V6 at least 50 hp and Alain himself was a bit press.

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On lap 12 the Frenchman felt the pressure, and four laps later the unthinkable happened: as they accelerated out of the chicane, a clumsy gearbox caused Alain to miss a change, and suddenly the Marche was in head !

Alain repaired this embarrassment almost immediately by diving on the inside of the first corner, and three laps later the march was gone, apparently with an electrical fault. But he had left his mark.

The March 881 was one of the first cars designed by Newey to show promise

The link, of course, is Adrian Martin Newey, the silent man whose aerodynamic originality had made this March a standout performer and would do so again in 1989 with his successor Leyton House CG891.

If you didn’t know what he does for a living, Adrian isn’t the type to tell you. He runs with distinction in the historics, so he must have a pretty strong ego, but he seems well controlled. He is a bit old fashioned and still likes to draw his cars on a life-size drawing board rather than CAD/CAM. “I just like having everything laid out in front of me on a reasonable scale,” he explains. “One of the limitations of a CAD/CAM system, of course, is screen size. It’s just a personal preference of mine.”

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Another is that he prefers his cars to speak for him. And they’ve had a lot to say for him over the years. Sunday was just another iteration, as Max Verstappen won the race and clinched his second world championship.

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Newey was a key part of the vintage Williams era that made world champions Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve

Frank Williams and Patrick Head were quick to sign Adrian for 1991, and he worked well with the latter. At the time, he had strange ideas; Still looking for a narrower front end, he once came up with a setup where the driver’s left foot would sit on top of the right, to make the monocoque ever narrower. His forward-thinking ideas were tempered by Patrick’s renowned pragmatism, and the result was the revolutionary Williams FW14.

Reliability hurt its chances that year, but it won seven races, and the 1992 FW14B was the dominatrix that helped Nigel Mansell win his world championship. Williams, designed by Newey, made champions of Alain Prost, Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve too, and his designs won 58 races for Frank’s team.

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But he was restless and moved to McLaren, where the first thing he did was paint his office teal to protest Ron Dennis’ penchant for gray. It was typical of Newey, the rebel who admitted he left school under a cloud and struggled with his OND qualification after entering the University of Southampton in 1977.

But again his cars won: his MP4/13 and MP4/14 designs made Mika Hakkinen a double champion, and by the time he left to join Red Bull his cars had won 44 more Grands Prix.

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Another of Newey’s cars to win the world title – the McLaren MP4/13

Red Bull became his real home though, and there he got the freedom he craved to not just express himself, but do things the way he likes. His designs won four world championships with Sebastian Vettel between 2010 and 2013 – and the constructors’ titles that go with it – and even when he felt close to burnout he had the time and opportunity to work on the America’s Cup, Grand Turismo 5 diversions and road car projects. When he returned full-time to F1, he was supercharged by others.

Last year his revised RB16B helped Max Verstappen win his first title, and this year the RB18 has been the undisputed class of the peloton, backed by Red Bull’s superb management and strategy, which has left Ferrari far behind. behind despite their F1-75’s ability to challenge the speed of the RB18.

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The RB18 is one of the best looking of a beautiful new breed of F1 car, and that’s no mistake. Newey admits that if there are two routes that the wind tunnel believes will produce similar performance, he will always go with the one that looks better.

Colin Chapman is widely regarded as the greatest innovator in F1 design, but Newey is operating in a time when regulations are much stricter, and both far more prescriptive and proscriptive, making true innovation nearly impossible. Undoubtedly the area where the originality is the greatest remains aerodynamics, and there it excels. Have we heard of porpoising with the RB18?

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As a young child, he built Tamiya F1 kits and aspired to be a racing driver; later, having strengthened his maths, he studied astronautics and aeronautics. They won him his later post at Max Mosley and Robin Herd’s March operation at Bicester, which provided the launch pad for his career, and over the years no one has come close to matching, let alone challenge, its unique reputation for aerodynamic innovation.

“I took this particular course because I felt race cars were closer to airplanes than road cars,” he admits. His skills were recognized by an OBE in 2012.

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I had to smile when Sky’s Craig Slater stuck a microphone under Adrian’s nose at Suzuka last Sunday night because he looked so uncomfortable having to acknowledge his own greatness because he was pointed out that his RB18 was his most successful design to date with 14 wins (and more to come, of course). He spoke of the team effort that went into it, and on that point Red Bull has some great boffins who work quietly but so effectively behind the scenes with him and, like him, seem happy to avoid the spotlights while constantly exchanging ideas with each other. .

Adrian’s official title is Technical Director; Rob Marshall is Director of Engineering; Craig Skinner is the lead designer; Enrico Balbo is responsible for aerodynamics; and Ben Waterhouse is in charge of vehicle performance.

Always thinking, always planning, Newey has been integral to Red Bull’s success

Adrian says he had engineering autonomy at Williams and the wider responsibility he wanted at McLaren, but it was at Red Bull that he had the opportunity to grow and investigate everything. who engages his scientific brain, while stimulating and challenging his colleagues and participating in things beyond pure design. He liked having a strong contribution in new factories and operations, for example.

His cars have won 191 Grands Prix, won Damon Hill, David Coulthard, Jacques Villeneuve, Mika Hakkinen, Kimi Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen (and given Nigel Mansell, Riccardo Patrese, Alain Prost and Sergio Perez is more likely to win), and has won 12 World Drivers’ Championships and 11 World Constructors’ Championships (with a 12th imminent). And as Suzuka has demonstrated, it’s still as competitive in every sense of the word 34 years out of racing after a Newey-designed F1 car led a Grand Prix for the first time.

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It’s not hard to suggest he’s the greatest designer F1 has ever seen, is it? He’s happy to see Max Verstappen and Christian Horner all smiles this season. But you can bet the contender inside the race’s most self-effacing technician was just as thrilled as they were with Red Bull’s extraordinary success.

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