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Hunger, ingenuity and modesty – How ‘Einstein of F1’ Newey helped transform Red Bull’s fortunes

Staff Writer

Mike Seymour
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Adrian Newey was in the headlines during the build-up to the Miami Grand Prix with the announcement he is to leave Red Bull in early 2025, ending an almost two-decade stint at the operation that has so far yielded a whopping 117 race wins, six constructors’ titles and seven drivers’ crowns.

For a special feature charting that journey, and with some help from the F1.com archives, we compiled what former drivers and colleagues have had to say about Newey’s trophy-filled time at Milton Keynes, homing in on the impact of his arrival, determined work ethic and unique approach to designing.

READ MORE: Red Bull confirm legendary F1 designer Newey is to leave the team

How Newey got to Red Bull

The story began when Red Bull targeted Newey shortly after their F1 arrival in 2005, with Team Principal Christian Horner and driver David Coulthard devising a plan to get hold of – even at that stage – one of the most esteemed designers in the sport’s history.

After producing promising cars for March/Leyton House at the beginning of his career in the late-1980s and early-1990s, Newey got his big break at Williams, playing a key role in five constructors’ and four drivers’ titles – with Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve – from 1992 to 1997.

Then, for his next chapter, Newey joined another established British team in McLaren, where he again tasted title glory by contributing to both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships in 1998 and another drivers’ title in 1999, with Mika Hakkinen spearheading that particular charge alongside Coulthard.

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Newey designed his first F1 car, the March 881, back in 1988 – scoring two podiums that year

An important side note is that Coulthard had been a colleague of Newey’s at both Williams and McLaren, meaning he was well aware of his capabilities and could make the necessary introductions at Red Bull – which led to decisive talks in Austria with late company co-owner Dietrich Mateschitz.

Changing the team’s image

And so, in early 2006, Newey walked through the Red Bull factory doors to get to work.

ANALYSIS: Adrian Newey’s Red Bull exit is confirmed – what next for the star designer?

But according to Christian Klien, who raced alongside Coulthard across Red Bull’s first two seasons, there was a noticeable change regarding the squad’s perception amongst their rivals before Newey had even settled into his new office and put pencil to paper (his preferred way of designing F1 cars).

When Red Bull took over the Jaguar entry and landed in the paddock, they were quickly given the ‘party team’ nickname thanks to a combination of bold marketing activities, enormous hospitality areas and a general approach that had not been seen in F1 before.

But Newey’s arrival helped to shift the narrative and demonstrate that, while Red Bull were shaking things up off the track, their primary goal was to succeed on it.

“It was really a milestone for Red Bull to get Adrian onboard,” said Klien, who had raced under the team’s previous Jaguar guise and was retained when they were purchased by the drinks company, completing part-campaigns alongside Coulthard in 2005 and 2006.

What makes Adrian Newey so good?

“You could also feel in the paddock that Red Bull were not only there to be the party team, but they were also taking it seriously if they had [signed] Adrian Newey.

“It’s not just that you’re there to fill the grid slots, you want to achieve something. I think that was the turning point for the team to get onto the road to success.”

TREMAYNE: ‘He’s the man who can see and bend air’ – Why Adrian Newey will be such a big loss to Red Bull

Winning is never enough

That success soon followed, for after 2007 and 2008 seasons featuring points finishes and a couple of podiums, the rules reset in 2009 presented every design team on the grid – including the one Newey had been overseeing and building up at Red Bull – a golden opportunity.

While some rivals (see Brawn GP) gained an early advantage via the controversial double diffuser concept, Red Bull still leapt up the order with a much more competitive package compared to previous years, claiming their first pole positions and victories and finishing second in both championships after they introduced their own version of the aforementioned innovation.

A year later, Red Bull were double world champions and heading into a period of domination.

Mark Webber, who was in the cockpit for the transformation from points scorers in 2007 to world champions in 2010, noted how Newey’s previous experiences of winning with Williams and McLaren were of vital importance as Red Bull stepped forward.

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Webber and team mate Sebastian Vettel enjoyed plenty of success in Newey’s cars

“When we started to have early successes, a lot of one-twos, I think that was great for Christian too, because Christian obviously hadn’t experienced that, and Helmut [Marko, Red Bull advisor] hadn’t experienced that, but Adrian had,” he commented.

“Adrian was sort of working out, ‘Well, hang on, our pit stops are still s**t, let’s work on those.’ There were always other layers and it was like, ‘Holy hell, when’s this guy going to finish?’”

Highlighting Newey’s unquenchable thirst for success, Webber said: “He continues to understand that yesterday was never good enough, and that’s what I loved about him.”

READ MORE: Horner concedes Red Bull will be ‘very sad’ to see Newey leave as he hints at what star designer will do next

Pushing the boundaries

In that 2010 season, the Newey-led technical team went up another gear, introducing their own groundbreaking developments such as the blown diffuser – used for two campaigns before it was outlawed – which Webber and Sebastian Vettel deployed to devastating effect.

It’s just one of the many bright ideas Newey has unleashed during his lengthy career in F1, and at Red Bull specifically, with those who have worked alongside him – and witnessed how he operates behind the scenes – often taken aback by how he seemingly rewrites the rules.

He continues to understand that yesterday was never good enough, and that’s what I loved about him.

Mark Webber

Robert Doornbos, who served as a Red Bull test driver and made three Grand Prix appearances for the outfit in the closing stages of the 2006 season, highlighted this with an amusing tale.

“Adrian is like the Einstein of F1,” the Dutchman stated, explaining that he “really understood his brain” when they worked together during a test day.

READ MORE: Newey opens up on when he first thought about leaving Red Bull as he admits to feeling ‘a little bit tired’

“At one stage, he asked me if I thought it would be possible to drive an F1 car with two feet on top of each other, with the brake on the bottom and the throttle on top of the brake, so the car could be sleeker and slicker on the front end,” Doornbos continued.

“I was like, ‘Physically that’s not possible’. He looked at me and wrote something down. He said, ‘I want to change something’. I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘It’s between the steering wheel and the engine’. I said, ‘That’s me!’

“Basically, if you give him a free hand, he wants to have a robot inside the car or something, so the balance of the human factor and him thinking only in numbers and data is quite extraordinary to work with. He pushes the boundaries.”

TECH TALK – The evolution of Adrian Newey's F1 cars

Understated and humble

In addition to his wide-ranging skills as a designer, Newey has received plenty of plaudits for his humble and respectful nature.

He is known for shying away from the spotlight at race weekends, rarely speaking to print media or broadcasters, and when he does put himself forward for an interview, he often redirects compliments that come his way to the team around him.

READ MORE: Verstappen reveals what he said to Newey before confirmation of star designer’s Red Bull exit

At the Miami Grand Prix, for example, when Sky Sports F1’s Martin Brundle quizzed him about leaving Red Bull, his very first answer was an attempt to move the focus elsewhere.

“Honestly, when I joined, I had no idea where we were going to end up,” he began. “It was quite a big career risk from me, and it’s just been an amazing ride since then. It’s been a tremendous honour working with all the amazing guys and girls at the factory [and] at the race team.”

It’s something Webber experienced first-hand as he praised Newey for an “extremely open and honest” way of operating and working effectively with those around him.

Newey’s title-winning Red Bull cars

SeasonCarChampionship(s)
2010Red Bull RB6Drivers’ and constructors’
2011Red Bull RB7Drivers’ and constructors’
2012Red Bull RB8Drivers’ and constructors’
2013Red Bull RB9Drivers’ and constructors’
2021Red Bull RB16BDrivers’
2022Red Bull RB18Drivers’ and constructors’
2023Red Bull RB19Drivers’ and constructors’

“He’s a tremendous listener – you don’t have the career that Adrian’s had if an individual like him doesn’t listen,” said Webber, who won nine Grands Prix in Newey-designed cars.

“I love how understated he is, I love how immensely humble he is. He should be knighted, end of. It’s not even a discussion in my book.”

READ MORE: ‘A huge loss for Red Bull’ – Team bosses give their take on Newey’s exit and whether they hope to sign the designer

A foundation for future success

Over the years, Newey has taken steps back from the frontline and then returned to the fore without fanfare, most recently ahead of F1’s new era of ground effect regulations coming into play in 2022 – allowing him to tap into experiences from some three decades ago.

But as touched on above, the wider design team at Red Bull now includes talents such as Technical Director Pierre Wache, Head of Aerodynamics Enrico Balbo and Chief Engineer for Performance Ben Waterhouse, amongst others.

As well as praising Newey for the race wins and world titles delivered so far, team boss Horner made clear that the 65-year-old has played his part in developing the strength in depth Red Bull now boast for the future.

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It remains to be seen whether Newey will join another team when he leaves Red Bull in early 2025

“We’ve been having to think about this moment for some time; it was always going to come at some point,” said Horner shortly after news of Newey’s impending exit dropped.

“I think the structure that we’ve got in place – which Adrian has helped contribute to morph and mould into the package that it now is – is well set to take up the baton and continue to produce fantastic cars like we have.

READ MORE: Our writers share their views on where they’d love to see Adrian Newey next after his Red Bull departure

“Adrian’s role was unique. Adrian is unique. He drew on a drawing board and the way he operated was totally unique. He didn’t have anybody report to him and he was a free spirit within the organisation.

“The organisation stays exactly as it is, we’ve got strength and stability and strength in depth, and we’re grateful for the time and the shape that he’s left the technical team in.”

With six rounds of the 2024 season completed, Red Bull are well on their way to what would be a third successive title double – and the perfect end to Newey’s spectacular spell onboard.

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