As promised, I’m digging up the F1 interviews I did last year as part of the lead-up to the 2011 Formula 1 SingTel Singapore Grand Prix!
Starting off with Sebastian Vettel, I’ve had Christian Horner and Mark Webber. Today it is Adrian Newey, Chief Technical Officer of Red Bull Racing:
Before the five red lights go out and the 20-odd drivers fight each other out on the grid, a lot more work goes on behind the scenes to get the cars onto the track. Formula 1 is very much a team sport that entails more than just the driver.
When I interviewed Christian Horner of Red Bull Racing, the youngest team principal in the F1 paddock, he told me,” Behind the scenes there is a lot of effort by the hundreds of engineers, technicians, manufacturing guys. In other sports it tends to be about a group of individuals or an individual himself, whether you’re a golfer, tennis player, football player or cricketer.”
“But in motorsports, the driver is only one element and there has to be a huge support mechanism to ensure that the cars can deliver what the driver wants. The driver is one very important part of the team, but it’s not all about the driver,” he added.
It is true that the technical part of F1 is very crucial as it determines the set-up of the car which then dictates how fast the drivers are on the track. I had the opportunity to speak to Adrian Newey, the Chief Technical Officer of Red Bull Racing, when he was here in Singapore during the 2010 Formula 1 SingTel Singapore Grand Prix.
Newey is a very special guy.
Despite the continuous technological advancement of F1, he still prefers to use the drawing board instead of a supercomputer when he’s feeling creative. When asked what the greatest challenge of his job is, Newey replies, “The most challenging thing about my job is time. This is a job that requires a lot of discipline and I try to be very careful about how I allocate my time. I aim to be as hands-on as I can and I spend a significant part of my time at the drawing board.”
The 51-year-old British-born has 30 years of experience in motorsports, starting out in the Fittipaldi F1 team shortly after graduating with a First Class honours degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the University of Southampton in 1980. He went on to achieve commendable successes in IndyCar and Formula 1 as a race engineer, aerodynamicist, designer and technical director. When he moved to Williams at the end of 1990, his first car for Williams won seven races in 1991 and then five more Constructors’ titles followed in the next six years, along with the making of World Champions Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve and Alain Prost.
After Williams he left for McLaren where he contributed to three more championships: the 1998 Constructors’ title and two Drivers’ Championships for World Champion Mika Hakkinen. His last season with McLaren in 2005 saw 10 wins of the season’s 19 races, before he decided to leave the team for Red Bull Racing, where he still is at present. It was the attraction of the potential to create a winning team virtually from scratch that mooted Newey’s move to Red Bull Racing.
He said, “In truth when I joined Williams and McLaren, they were teams that had won championships and clearly had the infrastructure to be capable of doing so in the future. It meant they were able to get to the point of winning races and championships quite quickly.”
“However, Red Bull Racing was a very different case – which was what appealed to me. It was a very young team which offered me the opportunity to be centrally involved in developing not only the design of the car but the whole infrastructure of the engineering team.”
2009 was the perfect testament to what he said – Red Bull Racing’s breakthrough season saw Newey’s RB5 car take five pole positions and six victories to finish second in the Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championships, as the only worthy contender for the title against Brawn GP. In 2010, Red Bull Racing won its first World Championship – both team and driver – and this year they practically dominated the season so far with a commanding lead in both championship titles. “The regulation changes implemented for the 2009 season allowed me the freedom to sit back with a clean sheet of paper and work out first principles for the best solutions to those regulations. That’s what I like best,” Newey shared.
So how does someone like Newey stay in the sport for so long?
“I like my job because of its variety and the technical challenge of it all. Basically, I get the opportunity to effectively merge solid engineer principles with the artistic side. Engineering principles do not give you solutions, they give you guidelines that you need to combine with fairly artistic ways.”
“It’s a fast-paced world here. Some of my classmates from university are in the aeronautical industry for example and that has a much slower pace. For example, they might be working on a design for some part of the aircraft that won’t fly for 10 years or so. But here in F1, the feedback is direct and immediate. You can be designing and working on some component on a given day and depending on how big that component is, it will be on the car somewhere between six days and six months later.”
The reason for Red Bull Racing’s success in 2010 and 2011? Two words – Adrian Newey.