How Adrian Newey became the defining hand of modern F1

The milestones just keep falling for Red Bull, after marking 100 team wins at the Canadian GP and the longest-ever win streak in Hungary

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Walking the halls of the exclusive Repton School in Derbyshire in the 1970s were two boys who’d go on to become A-listers in the world of motoring from the 1990s, up until the present day.

Jeremy Clarkson‘s been the celebrity petrolhead since his episode of old Top Gear, and enjoyed a rising popularity throughout the 1990s and 2000s, before peaking with the show in the early 2010s.

Clarkson, expelled from Repton for ‘generally making a nuisance of himself’, saw his golden age come to a grinding halt in 2015 after being sacked from Top Gear and these days hits the headlines more for his scandals than his successes.

But his peer in those halls and classrooms of Repton continues to be at the forefront of motoring in 2023 and is showing no signs of slowing down.

For Adrian Newey – who was asked to leave the school after he turned his band’s audio mixer up so high it cracked the building’s 19th-century stained glass windows – Red Bull‘s record-breaking win-streak is just the latest in a long line of achievements.

Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner and Adrian Newey, the Chief Technical Officer after 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

The numbers do paint a picture whether it’s that century of Red Bull victories or 24 Formula 1 world championships that Newey‘s won, but the way he’s shaped the sport goes beyond that.

Whether through the desperate fight teams have made to steal, and keep him, or the legacy of the legends he’s helped build up, all point to Newey as the defining hand of modern F1.

Early beginnings

Looking at Newey‘s early forays in F1, you wouldn’t expect him to become the defining hand of multiple eras of the sport.

After graduating from Southampton University – having written a thesis on ground effect – Newey was immediately made chief aerodynamicist for Fittipaldi under Harvey Postlethwaite, but the F8 wasn’t too successful finishing eighth in the 1980 constructors’ championship.

At March the season after, Newey was asked to leave the team after Christian Danner accused him of under-fuelling his car but luckily for both he was handed a reprieve when a fuel leak was found on the car. The partnership went on to be successful in European F2, IMSA, CART and at the Indy500.

Joining the team’s F1 arm as chief designer in 1988, March‘s entry (resplendent in its underrated baby blue and racing green livery) exceeded expectations by scoring three podiums and finishing sixth in the constructors’ championship.

Nigel Mansell leads a race in the 1992 Williams FW14B | Williams F1 team

After his next two efforts failed to reproduce that competitiveness, Newey was picked up by Williams under legendary technical director Patrick Head – after he’d previously worked under Ross Brawn for a brief period in 1986.

Newey blossomed at Williams, able to fully realise his talent for design having needed to produce cost-effective cars at March.

He arrested McLaren’s dominance with his FW14B in 1992, recording ten wins from 16 races, a one-two in the drivers’ championship and therefore the constructors’ crown too. Considered by some to be the most advanced F1 car ever, the FW14B featured active suspension, traction control, semi-automatic transmission and anti-lock brakes.

Seven championships later, Newey bowed out with the FW19, another double-title winner which Jacques Villeneuve described as his favourite F1 car despite saying it felt like he was driving on ice.

A new era

Heading to McLaren for 1998, Newey fired Mika Hakkinen to two championships but was unable to beat Michael Schumacher once Ferrari got into full swing starting in 2000.

Newey‘s time at McLaren came to be characterised by exit rumours and a difficult relationship with Ron Dennis and possibly his most famous design at Woking was one that didn’t race at all.

The MP4-18 was set to be a radical redesign for 2003 but numerous delays and trouble with testing culminated in McLaren racing the entire season with an adapted 2002 chassis – the MP4-17D – as Kimi Raikkonen missed out on the world championship by just two points.

After McLaren were unwilling to give him a payrise, Newey jumped ship to Red Bull for $10 million a year, and the rest is history.

Narrowly losing out the Brawn rocket-ship in 2009, Red Bull then saw off all the big-name challengers in some of the most competitive seasons to the past generation of F1 to record eight championships from 2010-13.

And the bad news for everyone else is this current period of domination through Max Verstappen looks even more dug-in.

What next for Newey?

“I’m lucky enough to be doing what I’ve always wanted to do, loved it,” Newey told Sky Sports F1 at the Canadian GP. “My career can’t go on forever. As long as the team wants me and I keep enjoying it I’ll keep going, but realistically it’s on a countdown.

Christian Horner, Adrian Newey and Helmut Marko at the Saudi Arabain GP | Lars Baron/Getty Images

“It’s been an amazing journey, my dream as a kid was to be an engineer in motor racing, first job and first salary was the big moment, everything else is a bonus.

“All the wins are special. First win in Mexico [1991] stands out. The ones where the championship has gone down to the wire – very often Abu Dhabi, with Sebastian [Vettel] against Fernando [Alonso], and then Max against Lewis [Hamilton].”

How many championships has Adrian Newey won?

YearTeam/CarCarDrivers’ titleConstructors’ title
1992WilliamsFW14B**
1993WilliamsFW15C**
1994WilliamsFW16*
1996WilliamsFW18**
1997WilliamsFW19**
1998McLarenMP4/13**
1999McLarenMP4/14*
2010Red BullRB6**
2011Red BullRB7**
2012Red BullRB8**
2013Red BullRB9**
2021Red BullRB16B*
2022Red BullRB18*

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