Adrian Newey knows a thing or two about designing Formula 1 World Championship cars, this year’s Red Bull RB16B penned by his team being his 11th title-winning creation, but he admits luck and the safety car helped Max Verstappen to the Title.
But this one was among the toughest battles the Red Bull design guru has experienced in his illustrious career – as the preeminent F1 designer of the past three decades – ending the dominance of Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes.
The Title was decided on the very last lap of a controversy packed Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, when Verstappen, with the RB16B in fine fettle on fresh Pirelli Soft tyres, muscled his way past Hamilton’s Mercedes W12 on ageing Hards. But it very nearly slipped away on the night.
Newey recalled in an interview with Sky F1: “In the laps before the safety car, it looked like it was slipping away from us. Inevitably you start thinking about the year and what we could have done. Some unlucky moments.
Newey: Max thoroughly deserved it on balance
“Copse in particular which personally still really grinds with me what happened there. And then the Safety Car happened. We got lucky in that sense. There are no two ways about it, we would not have won without the safety car
“But if I reflect – and of course I am biased, I know – I think that Max thoroughly deserved it on balance,” argued Newey; a view shared by most neutrals who witnessed this year’s grand campaign.
Newey, 62, has a long and illustrious history as one of the sport’s most successful car designers. You’d think it would get easier with age and experience, but he admitted that this year’s epic battle had been the hardest of them all.
“The one where I’ve probably come closer to having a heart attack and going unconscious afterwards. I’ve had other ones that have gone to the last race but never the last lap,” recalled Newey.
While much can be said about the RB16B, it was Verstappen that made it the winning machine it was in 2021 with ten victories by the Dutch ace and one for newcomer to the team, Sergio Perez.
It took a genius behind the wheel to deliver the result at Yas Marina on the night, and in Verstappen, they have a driver that highly impressed Newey who has also worked with the likes of Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Jacques Villeneuve, Damon Hill, Mika Hakkinen and Sebastian Vettel.
Newey: There are no pretences with Max, he just comes in, gets on with it
Of Verstappen, Newey gushed: “It was amazing… absolutely amazing. He has such talent, such drive and he is still so young. He’s on a steep learning curve still. He’s just amazing. And the best thing about him is that’s he’s just so easy to work with. There are no pretences, he just comes in, gets on with it.”
This year’s Red Bull might have been the RB17, but it was instead an evolution of last year’s car according to Newey: “To go back a little way when we moved from the RB15 of 2019 to the RB16 last year, there were some things on the car that we didn’t fully understand.
“Even with the wind tunnel programme and all of our simulation tools there are still things that can trip you up, and that’s exactly what happened at the start of 2020.
“It took a bit of time to get on top of those issues. The benefit of that, as is often the case, is you learn things that you otherwise would not. You learn more out of mistakes than when you do the good things.
“That stood us in good stead for what we did over the winter, and those developments have us where we are now,” which is Verstappen is Red Bull’s 2021 F1 World Champion, explained Newey.
Newey: Coming out of the test we felt we had a competitive package
“I think those changes bought us a reasonable step forward. When we got to Bahrain it looked like we’d read the regulations on the aerodynamic restrictions reasonably well.
“Checo, of course, hadn’t driven the RB16 but Max instantly felt the new car was a decent step from the previous one and was very complimentary.
“Coming out of the test we felt we had a competitive package, but you never really know where that’s going to be. You don’t know what engine modes people were running, what fuel loads they had in and so on, trying pre-season to understand where you really are is a minefield.
“It took the Bahrain Grand Prix to confirm that yes, were competitive. We didn’t win that one but it’s been nip and tuck since then,” added Newey
Thus ended the final chapter of a formula that was dominated by Mercedes for almost a decade, clean sweeping every F1 Constructors’ Title of the first turbo-hybrid era since 2014, with 2021 blemished for them by Verstappen and Red Bull nipping the Drivers’ crown at the very end of this chapter.
Newey’s F1 title-winning cars include: 1992 Williams FW14B, 1993 Williams FW15C, 1994 Williams FW16, 1996 Williams FW18, 1997 Williams FW19, 1998 McLaren MP4/13, 2010 Red Bull RB6, 2011 Red Bull RB7, 2012 Red Bull RB8, 2013 Red Bull RB9 and the Red Bull RB16B in 2021.