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What Newey expected when he first joined Red Bull

It’s a mark of his fabled reputation – and spectacular success – that Adrian Newey is thought capable of miracles. Following the announcement that the design guru will leave Red Bull in early 2025, we revisit a GP Racing interview by STUART CODLING with Newey from his early days at the team in 2007

Adrian Newey, Red Bull Racing, Technical Director

Photo by: Andre Vor / Sutton Images

Who’d have thought – just a year ago, when they were still suffering a ‘Jag Rac’ hangover – that early in 2007 Red Bull Racing would be fighting against the notion that they’re going to do rather well this season? For all that the creation of a modern F1 car is a team process, there are still those who believe that one person can make a difference.

Has the hiring of Adrian Newey made such a difference at Red Bull? Perhaps – but perhaps not. It was Newey himself, at the Autosport International show in January (before the RB3 – the car that clearly bears his authorial stamp – had even turned a wheel) who was the first, in public, to play down those high expectations.

“The truth is I can’t remember what I said,” muses Newey. “Certainly I never feel comfortable with hype; there was a lot of it when the [McLaren] MP4-18A was released, that it was the car that was going to beat Ferrari – when, in truth, it was one of the worst cars I’ve been in charge of [the 18A was tested extensively in 2003 but never raced, but then the 2004 MP4-19 was essentially the 18A, rebadged]. So I’d rather be in a position of exceeding expectations – because if you don’t, you get rubbished. That’s the nature of the sport.

“But also, from a pragmatic point of view, Red Bull are a young team and that was part of the attraction of joining them. You could say they’re an old team, just Jaguar rebadged, but that really isn’t the case. On the engineering side I’d say that over 50% of the staff are post-Jaguar. The workforce are tremendously talented in all areas but we haven’t really had long to get to know each other. And, equally, we don’t yet have the resources of an established team.”

It’s interesting, some might say extraordinary, to hear that – because there’s an understandable perception that the Red Bull organisation are mouth-wateringly wealthy (as I put this to Newey, team principal Christian Horner, who has just sauntered in to pick up a laptop, exclaims “Uh oh!” and departs at speed). Yet there’s obviously a crucial difference between simply having money and having the infrastructure that ensures it’s spent productively.

PLUS: How big a blow is Newey's exit to Red Bull?

“Yes, there is,” says Newey. “Red Bull have a healthy budget, but this myth that’s being put about by some of the other team owners that we’re big spenders – the Chelsea of F1 – is total tripe. I certainly wouldn’t use budget as an excuse if we don’t perform, but we don’t have the budget or the resources established manufacturer teams have.”

Newey arrived at Red Bull when owner Dietrich Mateschitz was still growing the team into an F1 powerhouse

Newey arrived at Red Bull when owner Dietrich Mateschitz was still growing the team into an F1 powerhouse

Photo by: Andre Vor / Sutton Images

And he would know, having enjoyed for a decade at McLaren the best F1 production and R&D facilities money can buy. Where, then, are Red Bull short on resources? They’re still comparatively light on staff (450, excluding marketing, as opposed to the 550-odd at Honda and McLaren, according to Newey) despite a flurry of senior recruitments over the past 18 months.

“We’ve grown rapidly already,” says Newey. “Now we need a period of stability while we put all the systems in place and get to know one another. And we’re still building up our facilities: the wind tunnel will be good, but it doesn’t yet have some of the features the leading teams have; and there are simulation facilities that take time to build up. You can’t just order them off the shelf and get an express delivery for the next day.”

Red Bull commissioned their new wind tunnel last June. Whatever cutting-edge features it may lack, it is a 60% tunnel, yielding quantifiably more accurate results than a 50% facility for a similar lead time (the main downside of a 100% tunnel is the time it takes to craft the parts to be tested). Having decided early in his employ at Red Bull to focus on the RB3 rather than developing the troubled RB2 during 2006, Newey then had to delay aero testing of RB3 until the new tunnel was commissioned, rather than moving from the old one to the new one.

"When I first joined it would have been wholly understandable if a few people ended up with their noses out of joint. But all the engineers at Red Bull have been tremendously welcoming and supportive" Adrian Newey

“Nowadays,” he says, “to be starting with a new car – it wasn’t just an RB2 model developed, it was totally new – in the middle of June is much later than one would like. So there have been time-scale pressures.

“From my own point of view I spent some time trying to understand the RB2, the different philosophies that had gone into it. But I felt that to give the RB3 its best chance I needed to start to put into place what…” and he pauses, as if trying to orient himself within the labyrinth of Ronspeak that this sentence constitutes “…what we all agreed collectively, after discussion, were the system changes we needed to implement.”

From that you can take it that not only would the RB2 need to have taken a bigger competitive leap than it was capable of, but also that Newey found certain aspects of its development path wanting. It may be erroneous to describe RB3 as a ‘Newey car’, F1 design being a collegiate process, but his hand is evident in many of its details. And it looks markedly different from its predecessor, unusual in the third year of a stable set of aerodynamic regulations when most of the other cars on the grid have taken on nuanced rather than radical change.

The RB3 was the first Red Bull car to have a true Newey influence on it

The RB3 was the first Red Bull car to have a true Newey influence on it

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

Technically speaking, Red Bull Racing have the most lopsided ‘top table’ of any team: a sitting technical director (Mark Smith) and head of aerodynamics (Ben Agathangelou), joined by a chief technical officer (Newey) and a chief aerodynamicist (Peter Prodromou, Newey’s right-hand man at McLaren). It would be understandable if the internal politics are interesting down Tilbrook (Milton Keynes) way – although Newey, once described by Ron Dennis as “one of the most competitive men I’ve ever met”, has little taste for man management and prefers to work in isolation, at a drawing board rather than a CAD terminal, relying on Prodromou to direct the translation of his sketches into carbon fibre.

“When I first joined,” says Newey, “it would have been wholly understandable – because I was coming in at the top of the tree – if a few people ended up with their noses out of joint, particularly, I guess, Mark and Ben. But both – indeed all the engineers at Red Bull – have been tremendously welcoming and supportive. Having Mark as technical director was perfect because he does a fantastic job of technically running the organisation – managing the engineers, providing overall direction. It means I don’t have to get involved in all that.

“And it means I can operate in a slightly maverick fashion: if I want to spend all day at the drawing board, I can. I try to minimise the amount of time I spend in meetings, although they’re an essential part of the position I hold. I want to have the time to come up with fresh ideas and look at the engineering of the car in some detail.”

Can one man make a difference in modern F1? Well, Dietrich Mateschitz obviously thinks so or he wouldn’t be paying his new chief technical officer $10 million a year. Visually the RB3 is definitely a product of Newey’s aerodynamic philosophy, but perhaps not in a way that’s uniformly good: the ultra-tight packaging made the drivers uncomfortable and contributed to the reliability problems that blighted pre-season testing.

“Can my arrival at Red Bull affect the results this year compared with what would have happened if I hadn’t joined?” he asks. “The answer – I suppose – is yes, I hope it can. But, at the same time, my arrival – without the support, enthusiasm, skill and dedication of all the other engineers – would be completely useless.”

Under Wheatley (far left), Newey (centre) and Horner (centre right) Red Bull transformed from midfield fighters to multiple world champions

Under Wheatley (far left), Newey (centre) and Horner (centre right) Red Bull transformed from midfield fighters to multiple world champions

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

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