Adrian Newey, the Red Bull technical director is back in the F1 paddock this weekend after a few weekends based at home, developing updates for the car.
Newey is a fascinating character. On the surface he looks like a real quiet, studious person, but when you see him in action and talk to him you realise that he is one of the most competitive people in Formula 1, drivers included.
He has that rage to compete, which marks out the real champions. It was very much in evidence during his Leyton House, Williams and McLaren days, but after many seasons of dominating F1 and winning race sand championships, inevitably that rage to compete began to wane.
It’s now been quite a few years since one of his cars won a world championship, a decade in fact and F1 was wondering whether he ever would again. The move to Red Bull from McLaren was a move from an established top team to a new team with ambition, but it’s taken time for all the pieces to come together.
Watching him in the Red Bull garage yesterday, I could see that he is fully fired up. Newey carries one of those ring bound A4 notebooks you can buy at Rymans and he paces around with an intense look on his face, totally absorbed in the car and thoughts of how to make it faster.
This car has already won a race, been competitive at all the other races and Newey can see that there is a chance to win the title with it. They have a very aggressive development plan in place and if it turns out to be more aggressive and fruitful than Ross Brawn’s team, they might well do it.
After practice yesterday he sat down in the Red Bull motorhome with about 20 of us, the first opportunity for a while to download his thoughts
Do you think Red Bull has the strength to fight all year for the championship?
“I think from a resource side we are clearly smaller than some of our rivals, but from a hunger and drive side of it then we’re going to keep pushing.
“So what can I say? History will tell the answer.”
Are the rules this year such that a clever design by the likes of you or Brawn can overcome the money that Ferrari, McLaren and BMW have?
“That’s obviously what we’re hoping, yes.”
Do you fear that they will just throw money at it?
“Well they will, but I suppose one of the things about getting a bit of success is it gives the team confidence.
“Red Bull Technology, we did win a race last year obviously at Monza, but I think when the cars are in the same place as the design office, then it gives people a bit more confidence. It is more immediate.
“It’s a funny thing about winning races. If you’re not winning then it looks an impossible task and you can feel sometimes a bit deflated that you can’t seem to win a race.
“If you do win a race, you don’t feel as if you’re doing anything differently, [but] I suppose it’s the old saying, it gets the monkey off your back.
“From the people at Milton Keynes, who were at Jaguar and are now at Red Bull, we shed that monkey in a way that perhaps they feel it more than when we won at Monza last year.”
You’ve been building up to this for quite a long time, putting all the pieces in place. Is Red Bull now a top team?
“Well, it’s been a top team for the last four races. As we all know, motor racing is a fast-changing business, so the challenge now is obviously to keep us up there.”
Is there still an opportunity to make big performance gains as this year progresses, or is it an incremental process?
“I think generally it will be incremental, but there is a chance – because we’re still at a relatively low level of understanding of the overall package – that there perhaps are some large fruits still to pick.
[This is a common view among most technical directors, with the new rules they feel that there are lots of areas to exploit and the diffuser ruling – to allow holes in the floor – opens up all kinds of possibilities. We are likely to see some massive improvements this season]
If you are able to get the double diffuser ready for Monaco, will you run it on both cars or only one to start with?
“We might well run it on one car on Thursday and then put it on the other if it all performs correctly.
“One of the things that we don’t have is an aero test between now and then where we will be able to test it.
“When you’ve put something that is as different as that on the car, you want to know that it is performing as you expect it to.
Monaco is hardly a proper runway test for something!”
You have been racing against Ross Brawn for over 20 years and now you are both heading independent teams and yet fighting for the championship. What is the difference between the way you do your job
“Ross is obviously a gifted engineer… I don’t know, you should talk to Ross about how he runs his technical teams – but from what I hear he takes a fairly managerial approach to the job of technical director, whereas my interest and strength has never been management, to be perfectly honest.
“What I love and what gets me up is design, in the broadest sense of the word – I don’t just mean mechanical design, but aerodynamics, the overall performance package of the car.
“That’s what I find exciting about motor racing. So I like being hands-on, yes.”
It is funny that after all these years Newey and Brawn should find themselves competing against each other not with McLaren and Ferrari, but with Red Bull and Brawn. It is symbolic of the changing times and its clearly no co-incidence that with two of F1’s brightest and most successful engineers in their teams, it is these two independents that are keeping the rest behind them