F1: Adrian Newey signs for Red Bull
The announcement will be seen as something of a coup for Red Bull, which will also use Ferrari V8 engines next year. The deal also means the 46-year-old will be reunited with David Coulthard, who he worked with at McLaren and Williams.
Speculation over Newey’s McLaren future has been growing through the summer. Even so RBR team principal Christian Horner has pulled off a masterstroke by gaining his signature. Newey nearly joined the team once before, when it was under the moniker of Jaguar Racing, but McLaren’s team boss Ron Dennis talked him out of it. After Michael Schumacher, Newey is considered the single-most significant factor in turning around a team’s competitiveness.
Newey’s F1 career began in 1986 with the Haas Lola project. But he first received recognition with Leyton House March in 1988 where he produced cars capable of punching above their weight thanks to aerodynamic excellence.
He then switched to Williams in 1991 where he worked alongside Patrick Head, and during his time at the team, Newey’s cars won five constructors’ championships.
McLaren swooped in to secure Newey’s services in 1997 and he was considered largely responsible for its dominant campaign the following year, which secured both drivers’ and constructors’ crowns.
Newey has stayed at McLaren ever since although after the Jaguar affair made noises that he was disaffected with the sport and revealed his desire to design an America’s Cup yacht. After years of Ferrari domination, 2005 saw a Newey-inspired McLaren once again lead the way in F1.
Although the team narrowly missed out on both titles, Kimi Raikkonen’s Mercedes-powered MP4-20 was largely considered to be the fastest car on the grid and Newey admitted recently that he was enjoying the sport once more.
JAMES ALLEN’S VERDICT
But as ITV-F1’s commentator points out – it has ramifications for the political side of the sport as well as those for Red Bull and McLaren. Until this season, every Formula 1 world championship for 13 years had been won by either Schuey or Newey.
That is the scale of impact of today’s announcement. It is the equivalent of Michael Schumacher joining Red Bull, perhaps even greater because Schumacher’s powers have a shorter shelf life. And it forces us to totally re-evaluate Red Bull as a force in F1.
Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz did not get where he is today by standing on the sidelines. He has dived in and pulled off the biggest coup in F1 since McLaren signed Raikkonen.
F1’s most established car designer Adrian Newey has decided to take on a fresh challenge at the sport’s most upstart team.
And the timing could not be more significant. Newey’s genius is never more in evidence than when there is a major rule change. Time and again he has responded best to new technical regulations, both with Williams and McLaren.
With the FIA planning a radical new set of rules for 2008 and beyond, it means that Red Bull could be the benchmark team in just two seasons’ time!
At Red Bull he will be working with a highly talented team of engineers, many of whom were already there, some of whom have been handpicked by team boss Christian Horner; men like former Renault designer Mark Smith and ex McLaren and Ferrari electronics guru Anton Stepanovitch.
Newey has been described as a “helium balloon” – brilliant but likely to float off into the clouds. He has been at his most successful when he has had a practical engineer alongside him to temper his wilder ideas, like Patrick Head at Williams.
What is perhaps most surprising about his decision is that although Newey will have entertained offers from BMW and maybe other manufacturers, he has chosen to go to a team using customer Ferrari engines with no works supply deal in sight.
What does this tell us about Red Bull’s plans in that direction? In April they were delighted with the Ferrari deal as it allowed them to use the name Red Bull Ferrari with all the attendant marketing kudos.
But Newey’s recruitment raises the bar considerably and hints at a greater plan. Perhaps Mateschitz will ultimately attempt some kind of takeover of the works Ferrari team?
Newey’s arrival at RBR will certainly put a lot of pressure on Ross Brawn and his team at Ferrari. They have never faced any competitive pressure from a customer team, not even this year when they had a poor car and Sauber was on Michelins.
Looking at the bigger picture, it is important news for Bernie Ecclestone too because it means he will have another strong team on his side of the split post 2008.
Ferrari will have another top team to race against now. If Bernie can pick off Toyota and maybe Honda too, it will be game over for the GPMA.
And where does this leave McLaren? The timing is interesting because whereas at the start of the year McLaren was having to tighten its belt, it has just landed a massive new title sponsor from the computing world as well as deals with Hilton hotels and Johnnie Walker.
So the money is there. And the Mercedes effort looks more solid now with F1 fan Dr Zetsche recently taking over as president of parent company Daimler Chrysler.
McLaren has strength in depth and will weather Newey’s departure, but it will ask significant questions of the top engineers who must now fill his shoes.
It’s not easy – Williams hasn’t won a world title since Newey left them (discounting 1997 when he designed the car but left before the season started)
Newey has been at McLaren for nine years – longer than he stayed at Williams – and a long time in a job by anyone’s standards.
In terms of his relationship with the key figures, Newey lost out in a battle of wills with McLaren MD Martin Whitmarsh over the 2004 car.
Whitmarsh’s plan was for an evolution of 2003’s MP4/18, which never raced, to be running in November 2003. Newey wanted to take more time to build a different car for the start of 2004 season. The 2004 car was not initially a success, only by mid season, when it had been heavily modified at considerable expense, was it quick.
It is interesting that Newey has let the clock run down on his contract, like a footballer on a Bosman. He will now be free to go to Red Bull with no period of gardening leave because his contract ends in the New Year.
He will have little immediate impact on the 2006 car, which has been designed by Mark Smith, but his influence will become clear very quickly and the 2007 car should be pretty special.
To sum up, it’s a significant day in F1 history. It’s bad news for McLaren, great news for Red Bull Racing, Bernie Ecclestone and perhaps also for fans of F1, because we will soon have another top team making the challenge for the world championship even more competitive.