Mark Hughes: 'Maybe this time, Adrian Newey has accepted Ferrari's F1 offer'

“Essentially, this season, Adrian Newey is serving out his gardening leave”

As the Red Bull human drama continued to play out, the team confirmed on the eve of the Miami Grand Prix that Adrian Newey, its resident technical genius since 2006, would be leaving at the end of this season. He turned up at Miami and took his usual perch on the pitwall, but from now on would be outside the loop of any technical development discussions. He might attend the occasional race later in the year, he said, but essentially this is him serving out his gardening leave. He will be free to join another team, if he so wishes, from May ’25.

They were not originally the terms of the contract he signed at the end of last year which took him up to the end of 2026 with a year of compulsory gardening leave after that if he chose not to renew again. Under those terms he would not have been free to begin working for another team until 2027. So almost two years have been wiped off his obligation. This was the work of negotiation by Newey’s manager, one Eddie Jordan. You may have heard of him.

It’s amazing what can be negotiated when there is a large sum of money at the end of it and Jordan will have brought a hard-headed bargaining style on behalf of Newey that Adrian himself could never hope to emulate. EJ will have had something to work with in that negotiation by the ongoing case regarding Horner and the suspended employee. Another part of the agreement is that Newey helps sell the remaining production run of his RB17 hypercar which Red Bull invested so heavily in and took on 120 new employees for.

There are a lot of moving pieces to this story. In April the American computer giant Hewlett Packard announced a multi-year partnership with Scuderia Ferrari. Correction, ‘Scuderia Ferrari HP’ as the team is now officially named. The branding made its debut on the red cars in the Miami Grand Prix and in the livery celebration link there of the NART-entered blue Ferrari in the 1964 US Grand Prix, the blue conveniently reflected HP’s colours. Two flags of convenience, then, separated by 60 years.

What does all this have to do with Newey? Maybe nothing. But a big part of Ferrari attracting HP was the concept of Lewis Hamilton joining the team, an idea Ferrari boss John Elkann had been working on for much of last year. Hamilton and HP should be considered as one deal.

The marketing value of Hamilton is immense and Elkann for sure would have been using the lure of that to bring HP on board. Hamilton in turn needed to be lured. HP wished to be part of a championship-winning Ferrari team, not merely a competitive one. If Hamilton were to join, asked HP, what would he need of Ferrari to make that vision a reality? The answer came back: Newey. That was number one on his wish list.

“Ferrari may consider Newey’s salary cheap at almost any price”

“If I was to do a list of people I would love to work with, he would absolutely be at the top,” said Hamilton in reply to the Newey question. So was this discussed as part of his Ferrari negotiations? “I cannot say,” was Hamilton’s smiling reply.

“Adrian has got such a great history and track record,” added Hamilton. “He’s obviously done an amazing job through his career and engaging with teams and the knowledge he has. I think he would be an amazing addition. He would be a privilege to work with.”

Adrian himself insists he’s made no firm decision on his future, that he’d just like to take a break before deciding what to do next. But he did have Jordan negotiate his early departure from Red Bull. If all Newey intended to do was retire, why would he have done that? And as he says elsewhere in this issue of Motor Sport, F1 is still what gets him up in the morning. He’s been offered the keys to Maranello before. Maybe this time he’s decided to accept them. The monetary rewards an HP-backed Ferrari could offer Newey would be stratospheric, but then so would be the marketing worth of a Ferrari/Hamilton/Newey partnership. Ferrari might even consider Newey’s salary cheap at almost any price.

Imagine the value of a Newey-designed and labelled Ferrari supercar…

A cynic might suggest that with the marketing super team providing the profile and $, that Hamilton and Newey would be the equivalent of soccer superstars taking a late career payday and boosting the value of the whole operation – Ferrari’s and F1’s. Leaving the existing core of the technical team and Charles Leclerc to attend to the actual competitive grind. That would be the narrative favoured by some at Red Bull who seek to minimise Newey’s part in the current success, even though the ’22 RB18, which the current car is still a development of, is essentially Newey’s concept.

It’s easy to imagine Newey’s irritation at that narrative fuelling him. It’s also almost impossible to imagine either Newey or Hamilton, two of the most competitive souls the sport has ever seen, going into this with any intention other than to be top of the pile. If Newey has or does sign on the dotted line, might we be looking at the beginning of a new Ferrari-dominated era of F1?

Since he began covering grand prix racing in 2000, Mark Hughes has forged a reputation as the finest Formula 1 analyst of his generation
Follow Mark on Twitter @SportmphMark