05 January 2013

ADRIAN NEWEY - The Greatest F1 Car Designer Ever?

Reb Bull Racing has secured their third consecutive Formula One Constructor Championship for 2012 in the newly introduced Texas Grand Prix and subsequently Sebastian Vettel secured his third consecutive title one race later in Interlagos, Brazil. Red Bull Racing (RBR) car, the RB8 Formula One machine in the hands of Sebastian Vettel beat Fernando Alonso is his slower F2012 by mere 3 points, while RBR as a team won 60 points over Ferrari's 400 points, thanks to its consistently well performing second driver.

RBR did not has the best start for 2012, where the RB8 lacks the exhaust-blown diffuser from its predecessor due to the rule change, thus preventing RBR from continuing its 2011 momentum. It took 4 races for Sebastian Vettel to appear as a winner. He retains this strong big-points run along the season before suddenly surged for four-consecutive win from Singapore to India to fend off the diminishing Fernando Alonso who, prior to summer break enjoyed 40 points cushion.

Such resurgence is not possible if everything stays normal unless your opposition suddenly become disable, or the driver suddenly re-discovered a driving skill, quite unlikely. One answer, the improved car. As Fernando Alonso keep saying he was fighting Adrian Newey instead of directly mentioning Vettel, as Mark Webber is usually entangled too in this titanic 2012 season.

Who is Adrian Newey? Every F1 technical geek surely know who he is. Personally, I started reading about him in 1999, when Formula 1 came to Malaysia, thanks to a genius idea by the former Prime Minister to host a grand prix in Malaysia. Adrian Newey is one of the key figure in the technical aspect for F1 car, together with his counterpart in rivalling team such as Rory Byrne, Eghbal Hamidy and Mike Gascoyne. It was by reading his biodata that prompted me to choose Aeronautical Engineering as my field of study in the UK, and the desire to be like him was what inspired me to participate in Renault F1-Altran Engineering Academy back in the good old days.

Adrian Newey graduated in Aeronautical and Astronautic Engineering from University of Southampton in 1980, in First Class Degree no less. Over there, he conducted a research on ground-effect aerodynamics which won an interest from Fittipaldi Automotive where he landed his first job.

Newey then joined March racing team in 1981, initially as a race engineer before start designing racing car, March GTP which went on to win two consecutive IMSA titles. Within the same team, he then designed the Indycar for 1984 season which proved to be successful after taking 7 victories including Indy 500 and CART title in the following year.

In 1986, Newey decided to return to the formula one arena in Europe with FORCE F1 team, a short-lived job when the team withdrew at the end of that season. Newey then re-united with March team as Chief Designer for formula one project. As March team evolved into Leyton House team, Newey was promoted to be Technical Director. The partnership was not eternally smooth-sailing, he was fired in 1990 as the team performance declined.

Then the mega years began. Adrian Newey joined Williams F1 team as Chief Designer. In 1991, the team finished second in the constructor championship, and Nigel Mansell finished second in driver championship behind the legendary Ayrton Senna. The dominance happened in 1992, where the Newey-engineered Williams-Renault FW14B utterly dominated, as Nigel Mansell won 9 races in a season, record-breaking feat for the era.
Williams-Renault FW15C - the active F1 car

Adrian Newey talent continues to shine in the following year, where he, together with Patrick Head engineered an active-car, with continuously electronically adjustable suspension, anti-lock braking and traction controlled FW15C. His leading driver, Alain Prost won the championship that year, ahead of nemesis Ayrton Senna. Read more after the jump.

Ayrton Senna signed for William team for 1994 season. Newey's car FW16 was less than spectacular as the previously dominance FW15C electronic-laden devices were banned for the 1994 season. Rory Byrne instead triumphed that year, with Michael Schumacher secured his first driver title. Fatal accident of his leading driver Ayrton Senna did not help either.

Adrian Newey left Williams in 1996, although the team did triumphed that year when Damon Hill secured his first (and only) driver title. Newey has instead joined McLaren team, and set to battle it out with the rejuvenated Italian team, Ferrari (with Michael Schumacher, Rory Byrne and Ross Brawn in tow) well into the coming decades.

Initial indication is good. Adrian Newey worked on the Neil Oatley McLaren MP4/12 and by the end of 1997, Newey has improved the car design that Mika Hakkinen was able to secure the victory in the season-ending race. In 1998, Newey engineered a superb MP4/13 which Mika Hakkinen took to the world title in 1998 and McLaren secured the constructor championship that year. In 1999, McLaren continues to be the car to beat, thanks also to Michael Schumacher leg-breaking accident in Silverstone 1999. With MP4/14, Newey and McLaren remains the force to be reckoned with, particularly in driver's title. The constructor title was however lost to Ferrari.

McLaren MP4/15
For year 2000 onwards, for half a decade, Adrian Newey creations were not that spectacular. His creation lost most of the time to the dominance of Michael Schumacher whose Rory Byrne creation blew the entire field. Newey fielded MP4/15 in 2000, noted for its side ducted winglet and both drivers (Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard) were able to put up a big fight to Michael Schumacher F1-2000. Schumacher narrowly won the championship that year in the final race.

MP4/16 of the year 2001 was most remembered for its unreliability, and also the lack of speed. Mika Hakkinen did won twice, like-wise David Coulthard. But the car was not up to the job, beaten again by Rory Byrne machine F2001, and also the rejuvenated Williams with their FW23 sporting a hugely powerful BMW V10, which is regarded as the class of the field. Mika Hakkinen too retired at the end of the season.

Similar stories were more or less repeated from 2002 until 2006, from MP4/17 to MP4/21. Newey's creations were too radical, and thus too fragile or hard to optimise for greater punch although the MP4/20 was quite handy in Kimi Raikonen's hand in 2005 and was able to mount a challenge to Fernando Alonso, only to be bogged down by reliability problem. For example, McLaren MP4/18 was the first of the McLaren Formula car to adopt a radically different shape, with its lowly nose, heavily sculpted sidepods and cramped rear end. The year 2005 and 2006 too were the years of the new champion named Fernando Alonso who was really the stars for that period.
The radical, but failed McLaren MP4/18

Adrian Newey left Mclaren in 2006 to join Red Bull Racing. That year, Red Bull fielded RB2, a car which was far from competitive and the team ended up 7th in the constructor championship. Newey's golden touch came in 2007 with Red Bull Racing RB3 where the team was able to sew up 5th place. Year 2008 however was not that great with RB4, when the car was beaten even by its sibling (Torro Rosso which is based on RB3) driven by Sebastian Vettel who even went to a win in a rain-laden Monza Grand Prix.

In 2009, everyone was beaten by Brawn GP, essentially a new team raised from the ashes of the defunct Honda team. They came up with the double-deck diffuser (DDD) to combat the new regulation for the diffuser dimension and height. Adrian Newey's RB5 was the sole car able to mount the challenge to the all-conquering Brawn GP, even without the DDD initially. It was good year, Red Bull Racing secured second place in the constructor championship and Sebastian Vettel was second in driver's championship.
Red Bull exhaust outlet, designed to blow the diffuser

From 2010 until 2011, Adrian Newey's RB6 and RB7 were a class act. Supremely fast and they both featured several innovative touch that can only be Newey's. Exhaust blown diffuser is one, while the different interpretation of wing reference plane is another, leading up to an unusually fast car. Despite many accusation from rivals, Red Bull Racing continued to dominate. The team won the constructor championship in both year, and Sebastian Vettel like-wise became double world champion.

The year 2012 was quite harder to them. One of Newey's critical creation, the blown diffuser has been banned. As a results, McLaren and Ferrari have managed to jump ahead, particularly Fernando Alonso with his Ferrari. Red Bull resurgence came about after the Singapore GP where from there Vettel strike a four-consecutive race victories to enable him to remain in contention, and finally won the championship in Brazil. 

Those are the stories of Adrian Newey, whose design intelligence has been applied from March, Williams, McLaren and Red Bull Racing spawning 80s era until the new era 2012. For the author, Newey's key is the improvisation to innovation. He might not create something entirely new, but the way he fine-tuned them towards perfection is mind-blowing. Who would have implemented those little innovation of the F1 cars, yet so prominently visible from year to year.

Roll on 2013....

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