Adrian Newey’s not-so-greats – Part Two

Adrian Newey is a legend among Formula One fans, a timeless genius who needs no introduction. If you’re a Red Bull fan, he is the man to whom you devote your undying gratitude; should you be a passionate supporter of any other team he is the man you most want to lure to your camp.

However, not all of Adrian Newey’s many Formula One designs have been winners. Indeed, since his maiden effort with the March-Judd 881 in 1988 there have been at least five Newey machines that, by rights, should have secured Championships for their respective teams. But why didn’t they? What was it that let the manufacturers down? Newey or the drivers? Read on…

In the first part of this feature (see here) we covered Newey’s Williams days and took a look at three of the machines he designed that didn’t quite make it to the top spot. In 1997, Adrian was lured from his long-time employers at Didcot down the road to Woking, where a resurgent McLaren team, three years without a victory since Senna chalked up his 1993 Australian Grand Prix victory, were in the process of regaining that lost glory.

1998 and 1999 were halycon days for West McLaren Mercedes; a return to winning ways in 1997 with David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen had put the outfit firmly back at the sharp end of the grid and 1998 was a dominant season for the MP4/13, racking up 9 victories from 16 races and allowing Coulthard to clock a top speed of 219mph on the flat-out blasts through the forest on the old Hockenheim circuit. The World Championship for Hakkinen and the Constructor’s Championship for the team was just reward for a superbly-executed campaign, and 1999 brought more of the same as Michael Schumacher, Hakkinen’s arch-rival, crashed out of contention with a leg-breaking accident at Silverstone. Ferrari did however secure the team’s trophy for themselves, and it was an ominous sign of the ‘red dawn’ that was about to break over Formula One in the new millennium…

The MP4/15 was an evolution of the 1999 title-winning MP4/14.

The MP4/15 was an evolution of the 1999 title-winning MP4/14.

For 2000, Newey drafted the MP4/15, an evolution of his ’99 title-winning MP4/14. The neatly-packaged car was arguably the fastest of the season, but a slump in form from Hakkinen and a measure of bad luck for Coulthard meant the team was narrowly beaten to the Championship by Schumacher and a revitalised Ferrari. While the F2000 fielded by the Italian team was itself a development of the previous season’s F399, its aerodynamic profile had been greatly increased and allowed the Scuderia to use a more powerful engine (90 Degrees V-Angle against a 1999-style 75 Degrees), which all added up to the first title for Ferrari in 21 years. Hakkinen, by his own admission, had been ‘drained’ by his title defence in ’99 and suffered as a consequence, although he put up a scintillating overtake on Schumacher for the lead of the Belgian Grand Prix. Likewise Coulthard pulled a pass on the German at Magny-Cours in the French GP, infamously giving Schumacher the ‘V’-sign as he grew ever more frustrated with the Ferrari’s strong-arm defensive manoeuvres. Sadly for both McLaren men, they were all-too rare moments of triumph in an otherwise-disappointing year.

VERDICT: The MP4/15 was certainly an incredibly fast car; 11 fastest laps from 17 races illustrates that to a tee, but in the end the team’s own philosophy worked against them. Hakkinen was emotionally wrecked at the conclusion of the 1999 World Championship and never really recovered, his career ending in 2001 after another lacklustre season. Coulthard, once the dominant force at the British team, had spent too long as the Finn’s understudy and was not ready to step up to the task when his team mate faltered. Without a shadow of a doubt, 2000 should have been McLaren’s year. Thanks to failures in both management and driving prowess, Ferrari made sure it wasn’t.

For 4 long years McLaren were forced to witness their Italian rivals romp to title after title, Michael Schumacher amassing an unassailable record of poles, wins, fastest laps…and championships. Despite taking on the services of Finnish ‘Super Rookie’ Kimi Raikkonen from Sauber in 2002, a mere four races were to fall to Bruce McLaren’s team between 2002 and 2004. Coulthard was dismissed at the conclusion of the ’04 season and replaced with Williams Colombian star Juan Pablo Montoya. A fan of colourful language and hard-racing, the flamboyant South American was the perfect foil for the quiet Raikkonen and 2005 seemed to herald a revival as the MP4/20 was quick out of the box. Pre-season testing revealed deficiencies in the car’s mechanical reliability however, and it was not until the Spanish Grand Prix in May that Raikkonen secured the team’s first victory of the season. Victories in Monaco and Canada followed, with Montoya eventually getting out the blocks with a fine win at Silverstone. As the summer gathered pace, Championship leaders Fernando Alonso and Renault seemed within reach but just as in 2003, things were to turn sour for Raikkonen. A suspension failure at the European Grand Prix and hydraulic failure in Germany put him on the back foot and despite claiming four further victories, a tyre failure in Italy finished off his title chances which never recovered.

Kimi Raikkone has just one World Championship to his name. Had the MP4/20 been good enough it could have been two...

Kimi Raikkonen has just one World Championship to his name. Had the MP4/20 been good enough it could have been two.

VERDICT: Of the 19 races it contested ( the 2005 US Grand Prix was not contested by Michelin runners after a safety-scare during qualifying) the MP4-20 set pole position for 8, secured 12 fastest laps and won 10 Grand Prix’. The relentless onslaught of Fernando Alonso and Renault proved too much however, and despite a season that would have seen him take the title most other years Raikkonen was forced to play second fiddle. Montoya recovered from his early season mishaps and recorded 3 victories, but never managed to get himself back into the championship battle. Despite this, the MP4/20 is seen by many today as the ultimate design of the V10 era; the V10 engines made way for smaller V8 units starting in 2006 and McLaren endured their first winless season since 1996. The MP4/20 then was a brilliantly fast car, but, when it mattered, it let its star driver down. The failure of 2005 probably still sits in the back of Adrian Newey’s mind, driving him on to achieve both aerodynamic supremacy AND mechanical harmony in his current endeavours.

By 2008 McLaren were back on top, with Lewis Hamilton snatching the World Championship in dramatic circumstances at the Brazilian Grand Prix. While the British team celebrated like there was no tomorrow, one of their former employees was poring over a bad day at the office for Red Bull. When Newey jumped ship to the Austrian team there was a camp of thought that money had finally lured him into a position from where there was no return. A promising 2005 debut had given way to disaster after disaster as Red Bull slipped ever further down the order. Newey wasn’t thinking about what had just happened at Interlagos that soaked Brazilian afternoon however; he was working out the complexities of his 2009 campaign. For in 2009, big changes were on the way…

The RB5, the first Red Bull of the modern F1 era, looked rather odd compared to its predecessors. With a large front wing, tall and narrow rear wing, bereft of aerodynamic flicks and curls and slick tyres back for the first time since 1997, F1 was re-inventing itself after a 2008 season that lacked star-studded quality. Lewis Hamilton remained at McLaren, Felipe Massa was eager to avenge his 2008 defeat with Ferrari and Brawn GP, born from the ashes of the former Honda team, were lighting up the timing screens in pre-season testing. Red Bull’s ace card was a young German named Sebastian Vettel, a relative newcomer who had stunned the world by winning last season’s rain-soaked Italian GP, allied with the wise head of Mark Webber, the Australian entering his 3rd successive year with the team that he had driven for as Jaguar in 2003/2004.

Since new regulations were introduced in 2009 Red Bull have ruled the roost. Except for one season...

Since new regulations were introduced in 2009 Red Bull have ruled the roost. Except for one season…

Designed without the revolutionary ‘double diffuser’ fitted to the Brawn, Toyota and Williams cars, the RB5 was nevertheless quick and netted a maiden win for the team in the wet Chinese Grand Prix. It was, however, a rare chink in the armour of the Brawn BGP001, whose early domination of the season in the hands of Jenson Button seemed unstoppable.

However, unstoppable it most certainly was not and Vettel should have won the Turkish Grand Prix but for a mistake that allowed Button to cruise past. He finally put the record straight with a crushing triumph at Silverstone before Webber took an emotional maiden victory at the Nurburgring. With development of the RB5 reaching a high point, Newey overcame the ‘diffuser deficit’ and overhauled Brawn in the development race. With little money left in the British squad after Honda’s withdrawal, very little could be done to stem the flow of rivals who pushed past Brawn in terms of outright pace; first Red Bull, then Mclaren, Ferrari and Toyota all clamoured to stake a title campaign, but it was Newey’s RB5 that remained the pace-setting machine.

It came as a surprise then, the neither Vettel nor Webber was to stand on the top step of the podium until the German crossed the line at the Japanese Grand Prix. By then, Button had closed to within just a handful of points of title glory despite struggling throughout the late summer and early autumn. In Brazil, Vettel drove to 4th place but it wasn’t enough and both the drivers and constructors championships slipped from the grasp of the Austrian team.

VERDICT: Despite starting the season at a perceived disadvantage, the double diffuser never gave the teams that used it a huge performance advantage; indeed, the very design of the RB5 rendered it incapable of carrying the device in its fullest form and yet the Red Bull, from Bahrain onwards, was the class of the field. The qualifying margins eked out by Vettel and Webber at pure racing circuits like Silverstone, Suzuka and the Nurburgring showed the RB5 to be in a class of one. In fact, it was so good the 2013 RB9 can trace its basic design back to that very car that, by rights, should have triumphed in 2009. That it didn’t is a combination of perseverance from Button and Brawn GP, bad luck (failures in Singapore and Valencia costing both Webber and Vettel serious points) and immaturity (the Vettel of 2009 was barely into his second full season of Grand Prix racing). The RB5 was a gem; the long dynasty of title-winning cars it spawned is testimony to that, and proof that Adrian Newey continues to show the way in car design well into the 21st century.


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