Rob Widdows

The Newey Philosophy

Monday morning in Milton Keynes. Pretty much like Monday morning in any English town, except this is home to the 2010 Formula 1 Constructors’ Champion. Inside an ordinary-looking building, at a drawing board, is an extraordinary man. A genius, some do say. The chief technical officer of Red Bull Racing left school at 16 without any A-levels but graduated from Southampton University with an honours degree in aeronautics.
“I could have done maths, physics and chemistry at A-level but had no interest in chemistry. So I took an OND (Ordinary National Diploma) in technology and it was tough to get into university without the maths. But I muddled through.”
Talking to journalists is not Adrian Newey’s preferred way of passing the time. There’s an F1 car to design and build. But Newey has never feared deadlines; he likes to cut things fine.
“My philosophy is to spend as much time as possible in research and design, and if the job is done correctly then we should need less testing pre-season. It’s all a bit of a balancing act.”
Where do the ideas come from?
“Not in the bath, I don’t seem to have time for baths, but occasionally in the shower. The human brain is an amazing piece of kit and I find with problems that have been churning over for a month that an idea suddenly pops up. Sometimes it’s a good one, sometimes not. What is fascinating about race car engineering is that it’s a combination of art and engineering gaffing those ideas to stand up to the test of well-established physical principles.” So where does he go from here?
“Performance-wise RB6 was obviously decent but now we have regulation changes. The ban on the double diffuser is a big loss of downforce and we have to recover as much of that as we can. Then there’s minor aerodynamic changes to the front wing endplate and chassis, and the Pirelli tyres. We won’t properly understand the tyre characteristics until well into the season, so it’s difficult to adapt the car for them. The weight distribution range is fixed this year which takes out one of the big tyre-tuning devices if a car is weaker at one end, then weight distribution is a powerful way of addressing that. So it’s one variable taken away, but it also helps in designing the car because we know the range we have to accommodate. With KERS and a heavier driver like Mark (Webber), gaffing the car under weight with a bit of ballast to spare so we can tune the weight distribution is a challenge.”
Patrick Head says that rivals will try to imitate RB6. Is he flattered?
“If Patrick says so, then yes. But let’s see what appears in the pitlane, that’s the test. I guess it is the sincerest form of flattery.”
How long will racing cars continue to challenge him?
“There’s pretty direct feedback because we’re out on display every two weeks and then there’s the man-and-machine bit, working with sportsmen. I looked at yacht racing it’s a parallel universe in terms of technological challenges aerodynamics, hydrodynamics, lightweight structures, control strategies and simulation, but applied differently. But 1 realised that America’s Cup racing is even more anti-social than motor racing from a family point of view. Two years development, two years away racing, a bit like being in the army.”
As I prepare for Madame Megane to return to the Regie (sad it’s a very good car) I ask what he drives on the road these days?
“The Ford GT40 and lightweight E-type are road-registered. They’re good fun, but not very comfortable. Then I have a Jaguar SS100, but as a treat to myself for the championship I bought an Aston Martin V12 Vantage. It was delivered just before Christmas, in the snow. I jumped in, went about 10 yards, but couldn’t get out of the drive. I had a proper go on Boxing Day and I love it.”
For a man who muddled through university, things have turned out pretty well.