Newey: A great adventure joining Red Bull

Adrian Newey keeps an eye on proceedings in the Red Bull pit garage

Oct.19 (Red Bull) Which of the two Formula One world championships is the more important? For the sporting public at large, the Drivers’ title holds sway; in the F1 paddock, the Constructors’ probably just edges it – and not just because there are bonuses and bragging rights at stake. The Constructors’ title is for the team: it recognises every long shift in the factory and every quick pitstop at the race track. It celebrates shared effort and exhaustive commitment …it also says you had the best car.

Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing, Adrian Newey (GBR) Red Bull Racing Chief Technical Officer and Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing on the podium.

Adrian on the Sepang podium with Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel last year

Adrian Newey is no stranger to success. As a designer, a race engineer and a technical director, he’s spent the last 20 years racking up victories and championships across a variety of formulae and in a range of teams. The 2011 RB7 is the latest in a long line of technologically superior racing cars that have sprung from Adrian’s drawing board (which he still uses). In reflective mood, before hurrying back to Milton Keynes from the Far East, Adrian answered a few questions on his most recent triumph and his design philosophy in general.

After working with many championship-winning teams in the past, does it mean more to do it with a team starting from scratch?
Newey: It’s been a great adventure joining Red Bull. People thought I’d really lost it this time and taken on too much but it’s been such a great atmosphere. Obviously [I joined] with the aspiration and hope that we could win races and perhaps even championships. That’s why you start an F1 project. That’s why you’re in F1. However it’s one thing hoping it might be possible, it’s quite another achieving it. That made last year so special. We had a good year in 2009 too but didn’t quite do it. I think there are a few people who thought it was a one-year flash in the pan, and that we would fade away. But thanks to everybody’s hard work and dedication and drive, we’ve managed to keep it there

Adrian Newey Christian Horner Sebastian Vettel

Adrian celebrates with the Red Bull team after Sebastian Vettel wrapped up the 2011 F1 title in Japan

You go to great lengths to acknowledge the efforts of your team, but for you specifically, how do you design a car? Where do you begin?
Newey: First of all it depends on whether or not you’re working with a new set of regulations. We had a big regulation change at the start of 2009, which meant a clean sheet of paper, blue sky approach, trying to think of what those regulations demanded and what were the best solutions we could come up with to meet those regulations. You try to avoid preconceptions and work it out from first principles. That was RB5. The two subsequent cars from last year and this year have been evolutions of that car. Luckily it was a sound car and one that we were able to evolve. There have been big regulation changes since then but all changes that we could fit into the basic philosophy of the 2009 car. To answer the question more directly, it’s the old 95 per cent perspiration, five per cent inspiration. The perspiration is just trying to evolve the car in a Darwinian way: looking at it; critiquing it; figuring out when bits could be a little bit better and then trying to make them that little bit better.

Adrian Newey (GBR) Red Bull Chief Technical Officer.

Adrian during testing in Jerez in 2006 shortly after joining the team

The other bit is more the lightbulb of looking at something, perhaps feeling a bit frustrated by it, feeling as though there ought to be a better idea out there, a better solution. Personally, I often find I get stuck, walk off and do something else. I might leave it for a day, a week, a month but the brain’s an amazing thing. These problems sink into the subconscious and quietly tick away. Then when you’re doing something random, having a shower or something like that, the idea will come up and you have to rush into work and sketch it out on the drawing board. After that comes the decision bit. It’s no good having those ideas if they don’t make the car go faster. You see so many people, they come up with an idea and are naturally proud of it: they chase it, pursue it and won’t let it go, even when it starts to become evident that actually it isn’t the right way to go. There has to be a combination of the artistic brain and the physics, working together and trying to ensure that you don’t stick with an idea that’s going to end up as a pile of poo.

Do you feel nervous in the winter when the car’s about to go to its first test?
Newey: There is nervousness when the car first runs. You obviously have your wind tunnel figures and so on, and you have done your research, so you know what it should do in principle. You don’t know whether that will be enough, relative to the opposition, because you don’t know what they’ve managed to achieve over the winter. But more immediately when the car first runs there’s always that concern of, actually, will it behave like the wind tunnel numbers say it will – or is there a hidden problem with it? Take last year’s car, the RB6, when it first ran in a wet test at Jerez. Initially the car really didn’t behave. We had a couple of problems with it – and I was thinking ‘this might be a long season’ but we now have the research tools that, if we use them wisely, we can iron out minor bugs and off you go.

What does Sebastian Vettel bring to the package, and what does he demand of you?
Newey: First of all Sebastian completely belies his age. He has an experience and maturity that is quite stunning. But also, he works hard at it, and very much keeps his feet on the ground, he’s very dedicated to understanding the car and his own driving. He spends a lot of time in the evening looking at that. He’s sensitive to good feedback and I get the impression that, every time he drives the car he learns something new. He’s a little sponge. That’s refreshing for everybody. It helps bring the drive the team has in all senses. If you have a driver who’s naturally very gifted, but lacks dedication then that can start to reflect in the team, in certain areas. Sebastian – and Mark – are very determined, very driven.