How Adrian Newey's Gradual Exit from Red Bull and Formula 1 Shakes Up the Grid

Matthew WalthertFeatured ColumnistJune 12, 2014

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 09:  Infiniti Red Bull Racing Chief Technical Officer Adrian Newey works in the garage during practice ahead of the Spanish F1 Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 9, 2014 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Adrian Newey's IQ score is not a publicly available statistic, but in Formula One terms, he is a certified genius.

The Red Bull chief technical officer has designed 10 Constructors' Championship-winning cars in his quarter-century in F1, including the last four with the Milton Keynes-based outfit.

Last weekend, Red Bull announced that the 55-year-old Newey is going to be stepping back from his role with the F1 team to focus on other projects. He will continue "advising and mentoring Infiniti Red Bull Racing as it develops its Formula One cars over the next few seasons," though, as noted in the team's press release.

But no matter how Red Bull try to spin it, Newey's decision to spend some of his time and energy elsewhere is a big blow. F1 is a 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year job.

Newey congratulates Daniel Ricciardo after the team's first win in 2014.
Newey congratulates Daniel Ricciardo after the team's first win in 2014.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The team has been struggling for much of the 2014 season (by their lofty standards), although the blame lies more with their Renault engine than with Newey, who has developed a typically strong aerodynamic package.

Without the Stratford-born engineer, Red Bull will lose their biggest advantage over the other teams on the grid. Underlining Newey's importance is the fact that Newey's previous teams have not had nearly the same success following his departure.

In 16 seasons as a designer for Williams and McLaren, his cars won seven Drivers' Championships and six Constructors'. Since he left, those teams have combined for one title: Lewis Hamilton's 2008 Drivers' Championship for McLaren.

And in that time, Newey has added four Drivers' and four Constructors' titles to his resume.

Adrian Newey's Influence at McLaren and Williams
TeamWin % With NeweyWin % Since NeweyTitles With NeweyTitles Since Newey

Of course, there is one positive for Red Bull from Newey's decision: He is remaining part of the Red Bull family. Until that was announced, there had been rumours that Ferrari was trying to lure him to Maranello (see The Guardian's Paul Weaver, for example).

With the new arrangement, even if Newey is not completely focused on designing Red Bull's cars, at least he is not focused on designing someone else's.

Going forward, team principal Christian Horner said, "...we have tremendous strength and depth in the team and there is no plan to replace Adrian with anybody else," per Autosport's Jonathan Noble.

Newey and Horner on the pit wall in Malaysia.
Newey and Horner on the pit wall in Malaysia.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Depth is good, and it is fine to say that the team is still strong, but no designer in F1 has Newey's track record. It is not realistic to expect his exodus to have no effect on Red Bull's performance. 

Two strong drivers, as well as virtually unlimited resources, should help cushion the blow somewhat, but right now Horner may be recalling the words of William Shakespeare, another Stratford-upon-Avon product, who wrote in Timon of Athens that, "We have seen better days."

Newey has been with Red Bull almost since the team's inception, and the last four years, in particular, have been relatively smooth sailing. Now, Red Bull are suddenly faced with not having the best car on the grid and with preparing to lose the top designer in the sport. How will the team deal with this adversity?

Ferrari's dream team broke up in the mid-2000s, and the Scuderia has not been the same since. Will Red Bull follow their path, or that of Williams and McLaren, who have struggled to find championship glory in their post-Newey years?

Or will Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz's billions allow the team to reclaim some of its recent success?

Either way, it should be more entertaining than watching Sebastian Vettel win nine straight races, practically unchallenged.


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