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Interview with Adrian Newey

Adrian Newey on the central stage of the Autosport ShowRed Bull Racing's head of technology Adrian Newey paid a visit to the central stage of the Autosport International Show on Sunday, talking about his work at Red Bull, his career, and more.

Q: I know you're too modest to admit, but the rest of the world calls you a design genius. But is it true?

Adrian Newey: "What's the definition of genius? I don't know. I just enjoy designing racing cars."

Q: But you routinely produce incredible machines that win endless Grands Prix and countless world championships. Can you sum up in a few sentences what the knack is?

Newey: "I don't think there is a single knack, I mean it's what I always wanted to do. I guess I am reasonably artistic, got a reasonable maths brain as well, and managed to combine the two into what I do. But what the trick is, I don't know."

Q: Do you think that now, in modern Formula One, it's so much about the guy who designs the car than about the guy who's driving it? Because it was never like that in the past, was it?

Newey: "I think it always has been, to an extent. But also you are crediting everything to me. I am one person in an engineering organisation - I think we have 120 engineers in Red Bull - so whilst I am the leader and the figure-head, my job is really to try and set the tone through the organisation and let the individual talents through the organisation to come out and shine. We've got some great engineers, but it's a team job, though.

Q: You've come out of really, really famous and well-established GP teams like Williams and McLaren, and you're at Red Bull. And Red Bull has been created in a very short time; it's got not quite as many people as Williams and McLaren but it's getting close now. There's real enthusiasm and optimism, isn't there, at Red Bull Racing?

Newey: "Yes, there is. It's actually a really good team, I feel very invigoration by joining them. For me, it was a kind of a fresh start, an unfinished business. When I joined Williams and McLaren they were both established teams that won championships, won races. Perhaps the time I joined they lost their way a bit and I was able to help get them back to the front.

"Red Bull isn't like that. It's a new team - only one year old when I joined, and this will be its third season. And to try and be involved in a young team at the start and be instrumental in how it shapes itself and how it forms, is for me a really fresh challenge and one which I am really enjoying.

Q: Some people might say that Red Bull Racing is a marketing exercise rather than a winning races exercise. What will you say about that?

Newey: "Some people will say that. I mean, Red Bull is obviously, marketing wise, a very strong company. It's been incredibly successful - it's had something like 30 per cent growth year on year for the last ten years, which is phenomenal. But that is not the reason they're in Formula One first and foremost.

"The real reason they are in F1 is because Dietrich Mateshitz, the owner, is passionate about Formula One, and he is in the privileged position where he can own a Formula One team. But the reason he owns the team is because he wants to see it winning. He doesn't want to just come along to the races and watch the cars at the back. He is very driven, he's a person who has been very successful, and he wants to see us do well.

Q: You've been in Red Bull for a year or so now, and the RB3, the 2007 car, is the first full Adrian Newey car. How is the design of the car been going? Is it finished? Is it ready?

Newey: "Design wise, yes it is finished. The design office did its final drawing to the car on 2pm on Friday; we fire the engine up on the 17th, and we should be out at Barcelona on the 26th, so it will be great to get out and be running again.

Q: You mentioned the engine. Of course, Red Bull secured Renault engines for 2007. That's a world championship winning engine mated to an Adrian Newey chassis. Expectations are very high

Newey: "yes, unfortunately I think expectations do seem to be quite high, which is a shame. I would much rather sort of go in, in a fairly low key way, and if we do better than expected then that's great. We are still a young team and that means that some of our infrastructure and resources aren't yet as good as some of the more established teams. How much that will hold us back? That sounds like an excuse, it's not meant to be, it's a fact. I think we have the basic structure and the basic facilities to do a decent job this year, and then try to build year on year from there.

Q: 2006 was very much a fire-fighting year; the year started in difficult circumstances with the cooling issues. You haven't had much influence on that car. Are you doing a lot of catch-up?

Newey: "We are doing a lot of catch-up, certainly 2006 for Red Bull was quite a weak year. And that's, in my experience, is almost an established thing that the team quite often comes in in its first year - 2005 in Red Bull's case - they do better than expected and then they seem to flounder around a little in the second year.

"The car had various problems and then really from about mid season we decided that since we were clearly not going to be properly competitive in 2006, we would concentrate our efforts on the 2007 car. So that also meant a slight further tail-off towards the end of the year. But we are keen to turn this around for this year.

Q: Was it a case of a clear sheet of paper - you absolutely start again?

Newey: "Yeah, I think it really is. Perhaps the brake pedal or something is the only common part [with the 2006 car]. The car is a totally new car. We've got a mixture of new people - we've got a new chief designer who's brought with him his ideas; a new aerodynamicist - Peter Prodromou who joined in November, but he hasn't really had any chance to influence the car yet. And obviously my joining.

"So with some fresh blood, coupled with the knowledge and experience of the engineers that are already there, then it's been quite a melting pot. And that has been quite exciting actually, and I hope that excitement will breed a car that looks quite fresh and will take us forwards.

Q: A slight change to the driver line-up for Red Bull Racing in 2007. David Coulthard remains. He's won 13 GPs in cars all designed by you. I think you're probably fans of each other, then, aren't you?

Newey: "We seem to be sort of in this occasional or return marriage, where we keep drifting back together again. David's a driver I've got a lot of respect for. He gives very good engineering feedback, he's a very intelligent driver both in the car and out the car, and is therefore able to bring things to the team that some other drivers aren't. He's very dedicated and I enjoy working with him.

Q: Mar Webber joins the team for 2007 from Williams. He's a young man in a hurry. Expectations are high. David will have to raise his game against Mark; it could be a good partnership.

Newey: "Oh, I hope so. Mark has done about four season now, so he is sort of reasonably experienced. David's very experienced. I think it will be a very strong partnership, and a partnership which we chased quite early in the season.

"We looked at the drivers that were available for 2007, and we're very happy with David. I've always had a lot of respect for Mark - the way he's driven the car, I thought that last year he did a very good job at Williams. [Nico] Rosberg came in as the new boy on the block and was flavour of the month amongst the journalists for a while, and Mark just really knuckled down and through the balance of the season I think he was significantly quicker than Nico.

Q: There's been a lot of noise lately about customer cars. As someone who is involved very much at ground level with chassis, what do you think about this issue? Is it good or bad? Should it be allowed?

Newey: "It is a very emotive one. I think, to be perfectly honest, that in modern F1 - where we have six manufacturer teams who either wholly or own significant percentages of the teams that carry their engines, they are always going to be there and not use somebody else's cars - the idea of Mercedes using a BMW chassis is not going to happen. So you are guaranteed a minimum six constructors as long as those manufacturers stay in.

"But for some of the very small privateer teams - like perhaps Aguri or Spyker - it's very difficult for them to come up, on a much smaller budget, with a car that is going to be competitive against a manufacturer team.

"So I think the opportunity for those small teams to be able to buy competitive packages from a manufacturer and go racing is actually a very opportune one.

"Red Bull, we are kind of in the middle in as much as we are not a manufacturer team, we're the biggest privateer team, but we are determined to do our own thing. But I think the point is, if you free things up, there is a choice.

"And in terms of enhancing the racing, I think it has to be a good thing. Because let's face it, some team like Minardi, for instance, in years gone by they found some fantastic drivers; they found Alonso, and a few other drivers that I can't remember who had their first drive in a Minardi. If that Minardi had in fact been a current Renault, then they would have been right up there and would have been able to show that these young drivers are able to achieve much more than they actually did in a car that was under-financed.

"I sympathise with the FIA's stance. In modern F1, where there are so many manufacturer teams, I think it is a good thing.

Q: You enjoy competing yourself in historic events. 2006 probably not one of your better years, with some high-profile problems at Goodwood and at Classic Le Mans. Are you going to compete again in your fabulous old cars?

Newey: "Yes. For me it is a hobby. Unfortunately, as you said, 2006 is a year I would rather forget with a couple of fairly big accidents. But this is just a bit of fun for me, a way of relaxing. It's still four wheels and an engine, but driving historic cars as a hobby as against engineering a Formula One car as a profession is two completely different things. Both of them combine my passion for cars, but in a different way.

Q: Must be fascinating for somebody like you, who is working in the pinnacle of race-car design and engineering, to study the underneath of a Jaguar or a GT40.

Newey: "It is interesting to look at the cars and try and get into the minds of the designers of the time, what their thoughts were and why they came up with the solutions they did. And you have to respect them. The cars are very slow obviously compared to modern cars. But they didn't have the research facilities that we now have available to us. We have about 120 engineers at Red Bull, and Ford - when it first did the GT40 - it was probably designed by about five or six people.

"That difference in research capability brings a much more refined product. But if you look into the ideas that went into the GT40, it's actually a very advanced car."

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