Adrian Newey – F1’s greatest designer and his cars

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Adrian Newey has made headlines in Formula One in recent days following the announcement that he will leave Red Bull after almost 20 years in 2025.

The decision opens the door to the possibility of joining a new team ahead of F1’s regulation shake-up in 2026. It’s widely thought the 65-year-old could join Ferrari or Aston Martin after he revealed last year the missing pieces in his career are working with Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. The pair returned the sentiment, saying it would be a privilege to work with him.

Ferrari have previously tried to coax him to Italy without success, which Newey said was due to the impact on his family, but with Hamilton bound for Ferrari in 2025, and Alonso committing to Aston Martin until 2026, the ideal opportunity may have presented itself.

Newey, who has been in F1 for over 40 years, is widely regarded as the greatest designer in the sport. His career stats boast cars which have won 13 drivers’ championships, and 12 constructors’ championships across three teams. His salary is rumoured to be around £15 million and his unique role at Red Bull has become more hands-off in recent years, dedicating around 50% of his time to F1. As teams begin falling over each other for offers many would agree he’s worth it.

Aston Martin owner Lawrence Stroll labelled him a “unicorn” for the breadth of his skillset. “I think Adrian is a unicorn … he’s very special, maybe exists once,” he said.

His enthusiasm for cars started at an early age. In an interview with Beyond the Grid podcast last year, he said at the age of 11, having learned how to weld, he would use some metal working equipment from his father’s garage — who had an interest in modifying cars — and make 12 scale models. Before long, he became bored with making other people’s designs, so he began sketching his own.

“While, of course, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, the practice of sketching and turning that into a 3D object was great practice from a very young age,” he said.

Newey went on to study a degree in aeronautics and astronautics, and in his early career around 1983, joined March/Leyton House, where he drew sports cars chassis, before he joined Williams in the early 1990s, which was spearheaded by Patrick Head. Together the duo became integral to the team’s success in the era, with the 1992 Williams-Renault FW14B Newey’s first championship winning car.

Nigel Mansell won the drivers’ championship in dominant fashion with 10 out of 16 race wins on the car which had active suspension — meaning hydraulically-operated actuators could adjust the height of the corners on the car, allowing for improved aerodynamics and drag reduction.

– Unlapped: Listen to ESPN’s F1 podcast

Over the next few years the car evolved around the now fully electric active suspension with further additions including power steering, anti-lock braking system, and more downforce. The improvements would see Williams’ Alain Prost win the drivers’ championship in 93′, and Williams claimed five constructors titles between 1992-1997.

Later that decade, he moved to McLaren as technical director. Mika Hakkinen claimed his first of two drivers’ championships with the McLaren MP4/13 as the car to beat with its narrow, longer profile for enhanced aero, and grooved tyres which supposedly encouraged stability.

By the time Newey joined Red Bull in 2006, his role had evolved from race engineer, to aerodynamicist, to designer and his present role, chief technical officer and he carved his route to becoming statistically the most successful car designer in the modern era.

The 2013 Red Bull-Renault RB9, the last iteration of the Sebastian Vettel era, was the most efficient of the team’s first period of dominance with a huge amount of downforce and a Coandă effect exhaust that encouraged flow to the brakes and sides of the diffuser.

However, the 2023 RBPT RB19 is arguably Red Bull’s greatest car, which delivered Max Verstappen to his third world title. The car boasts an improved floor, capable of being efficient on the straights and producing additional downforce, and won 21 out of 23 three races across the season.

Although F1’s technology has moved on in the last 40 years, Newey prefers his traditional method of sketching, rather than computer-aided design (CAD).

“I use a drawing board because to me it’s the language I’m most comfortable, most fluid in,” he says. “If I tried to use a CAD I feel I wouldn’t be as fluent in it. I will spend too much time thinking about how to operate it and not just drawing naturally, subconsciously. Drawing has to be subconscious – or for me it does.” He goes on to explain that the technology doesn’t come naturally for him, and the practice from his youth in the garage sketching and then creating the object was beneficial. “I seem to have a good ability to visualise something in 3D and put it down on paper in 2D, whereas the CAD system does that for you.”

The pleasure of sketching stood him in good stead for his passion projects outside of F1 — the well-known Aston Martin Valkyrie which, in partnership with Red Bull, is a performance car with F1 technology that is road legal. Production has been limited to 150 with a cost of £2.5-3 million. Excitedly, Fernando Alonso said recently, his “little gift” to himself arrives soon — “having Adrian Newey’s car!”

Newey’s Valkyrie will race in Le Mans in 2025. Outside of that, he created the RB17, a ‘no rules’ performance car that isn’t road legal which was a lockdown project. The sole purpose was speed, with no constraints of regulations — surely every designer’s dream — but the downside is the £5m price tag.

Newey’s stellar career has covered a huge area of progress and development in and out F1, and paved the way for other aerodynamicists and the wider technical teams to continue to push boundaries. On Friday, he told Sky Sports’ Martin Brundle he wants a break, and is exhausted by F1’s all-consuming nature.

“It’s been 18 years, an amazing ride, starting at Red Bull from the ashes of Jaguar and being involved with Christian [Horner] and building it up and honestly, when I joined I didn’t know where I would end up, it was quite a big career risk for me, and it’s just been an amazing ride since then. It’s been a tremendous honour working with all the guys and girls at the factory, and the race team, it’s just been fabulous.

“F1 is all consuming, I’ve been at it for a long time now … there comes a point where, as Forest Gump said ‘I’m feeling a little bit tired’,” he said.

However, as someone with an eye for detail, he adds that he enjoys the challenge of regulation changes, which bodes well for what’s to come in 2026.

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