Feb.6 Adrian Newey, the genius behind the last two world championship winning cars, speaks about his latest creation – the Red Bull RB8 – upon which the team are targeting a hat trick of titles for Sebastian vettel and for the team themselves.
Does recent success add to the pressure to maintain it or lessen it, as you have continuity?
Adrian Newey: The last few years have been really good, really successful; it’s been an incredible journey to get there. It’s the fourth evolution of the RB5 this year, so obviously the pressure is to try and stay there if we possibly can. It’s a difficult task, we have lost the exhaust technology with the restriction exhaust outlet position that we were able to develop and perhaps be ahead of the pack on in the last couple of years, that led to a big re think over the winter. Whether that will affect us more than other people is difficult to know of course. We designed the RB7, last year’s car, around that exhaust position and were probably the only people to do so, so it may be that we’ve lost more than other people through that. Only time will tell, it will be good to get out to do some testing and to see where we get to.
Do you find that frustrating or more of a challenge?
Newey: Regulation restrictions like the lost exhaust are a bit frustrating in truth, because they are exactly that, they are restrictions, they’re not giving new opportunities or revenues particularly, they’re just closing a door. Regulation changes I enjoy, regulation restrictions I rather lament.
How have you coped with the removal of the exhaust blown diffuser for RB8?
Newey: RB7 was designed around the exhaust, this year knowing that the exhaust position from last year would be taken away, we’ve had to go back and look at how we developed the car through the last one and two years with the side exit exhaust and try and, if you like, make sure that the routes we had taken that were only suitable for that exhaust position we now had to re-evaluate. Probably one of the key things there is the rear ride height. The exhaust allowed us to run a high rear ride height, it’s much more difficult without that to sustain a high rear height so we have to go back down and have to redevelop the car around that lower ride height.
The other major change is the height of the nose. Did that present difficulties?
Newey: The restriction nose height which is a maximum height just in front of the front bulkhead hasn’t really changed the chassis shape very much. We’ve kept more or less the same chassis shape, but had to drop the nose just in front of the front bulkhead, which, in common with many other teams, has led us to I think I’d probably say a slightly ugly looking nose. We’ve tried to style it as best we can, but it’s not a feature you would choose to put in were it not for the regulation.
Would you say RB8 is still an evolution of RB7 or did you have to rethink many aspects?
Newey: I’d say RB8 is the fourth generation of what started with the 2009 car, the RB5. So I guess this is the great grandson of that car.
Do you simply hate to lose or is the thing that keeps you coming back the process of solving the design puzzle created by the regulations?
Newey: I’ve been lucky enough through my career to have had a good amount of success and people often ask will I retire soon or whatever, the answer is that as long as I keep enjoying it then I’d like to keep going. What really fascinates me about it is the technical challenge, the fact that we’ve moved a very high, fast pace, so every two weeks we’re out being evaluated, which if we’re doing well is great, and if we’re doing poorly is painful, so at least you know where you are and you get to see the product of your work very quickly. So I really enjoy working with my colleagues, my fellow engineers here at Milton Keynes, with the drivers of course at the track and it’s a job that has many facets and many varieties that you always get that immediate feedback and that really motivates me about the job.
In Sebastian you’ve got a driver who seems to be getting even better. What do you expect from this season?
Newey: I think we have a great driver line up. Sebastian, obviously double World Champion now, I think matured tremendously through last year. In 2010 he drove a great season, showed immense talent and thoroughly deserved to be World Champion at the end of it. It was a rocky year, he was a very young lad, showed incredible determination and ability to learn from his mistakes. Like all people he made mistakes through that year, but he never made them twice and I think that ability to learn from his mistakes and to always be searching and trying to improve really showed in his driving last year. He really made no mistakes last year, he was aggressive when he needed to be, he was patient when he needed to be, he really showed incredible maturity and there is no reason to think that won’t continue.
And in Mark you have a driver with a point to make after a difficult 2011. Do you think Mark will find RB8 an easier task then RB7?
Newey: Mark had a rocky ride last year. Through his 2010 he had a very good season and he was unlucky in many ways not to be World Champion at the end of that year. 2011 he initially I think struggled a little bit to understand how to use the Pirelli tyres. It took a little bit of time for him to adapt to them. He’s had a great winter, he’s tremendously fit, he’s really looking forward to the start of the season and I think he’ll be one to look out for this year I hope.
Is part of what keep you coming back the process of evolving this team? Is it still a work in progress?
Newey: The team is still a relatively young team, it’s come a long way in a very short period and we had a great deal of success over the last two or three years but we still occasionally show our youth, we still occasionally make mistakes which hopefully is like the swan that looks graceful on the top but there is lot of action going on underneath. So we’re still learning, but I think the fact that we are a young team with tremendous spirit and determination is great, which means that we do learn and we do try to evaluate and to continue to criticise ourselves and see how we can improve. I would hope with the confidence of the last few years and our steady improvement, we can keep maintaining and keep learning.
How do you approach that moment of first dropping the car on track? Are you quietly confident or is there a dread of what other teams will bring?
Newey: People often ask just before the new car runs, what’s the expectation for this year and my answer is always, I have absolutely no idea. We know what we have done through the winter, we know how we have developed the car but we have absolutely no idea what everybody else has done, with the regulation changes and restrictions then it’s quite a different game to the end of last year. Have we made as much improvement as others, more, less? It’s impossible to know. There is always trepidation when we start preseason testing and preseason testing itself is very difficult to read from. If we are hopelessly uncompetitive to another team then we will probably realise it, if there’s two or three of us that look broadly similar then it will be very difficult to pick actually who is the quickest out of those. So it won’t be until we get to Melbourne qualifying that we’ll really get more of a feel for it.
Finally, how does the OBE feel?
Newey: To be recognised by the Queen with an OBE is very flattering, I’m particularly proud of the fact that it’s for engineering achievements. I think so often engineers in the UK are overlooked and that’s a shame given our proud roots through the Victorian area of developing industry and technology engineering. I feel real pride actually that I’ve been awarded that and a tremendous thank you to everybody who feels that’s been appropriate. I’ve had an enormously enjoyable career and to be recognised as an engineer gives a very good feeling.