Ranked: The top 10 most successful Adrian Newey Formula 1 car designs

Henry Valantine
Adrian Newey wearing sunglasses and a cap. Bahrain, March 2022.

Adrian Newey has earned a roll of honour in Formula 1 like no other individual across the decades, designing cars to win titles throughout eras.

Aston Martin team owner Lawrence Stroll in fact dubbed Red Bull’s chief technical officer a “unicorn” last year for his unique achievements in Formula 1, which have seen him behind car designs which have now taken 23 – yes, twenty-three – Drivers’ and Constructors’ titles.

His reputation in the sport is like few others, with long-time Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton having taken his hat off to Newey earlier this year, for the “amazing job” he has done in Formula 1’s new ground effect era.

With Boxing Day being the aero GOAT’s birthday, we thought now would be a good time to look back at the cars that have given him the most success in his time in Formula 1.

There were a couple of different metrics to measure this, be it through outright race victories, or as a percentage of wins in the season. We’ve opted for the latter here, given how the number of races have fluctuated year on year.

We’re sure you won’t grumble about that. But in any case, when you look at this list, Newey really has been at the forefront of producing some cracking cars – not least from the season just gone.

10: Red Bull RB6 (2010)

Wins: 9/19 (47.4%)
Sebastian Vettel: 5
Mark Webber: 4
Drivers’ and Constructors’ champions

The first double-title-winning Red Bull propelled Sebastian Vettel to glory at the final race in Abu Dhabi, but it was team-mate Mark Webber who had been in the box seat heading into the season finale.

The RB6’s one-lap pace all year was sensational, taking 15 pole positions in the 19-race season – with Newey having said years later that the combination of use of Formula 1’s regulations and its build made it “probably the car with the most downforce in the history of F1, more even than the legendary spoiler cars of the 1980s.”

While its race pace was not quite as dominant, it was still plenty enough to keep both drivers in title contention until the last minute, and when Vettel crossed the line, the now-famous ‘Du bist Weltmeister!’ [‘You are World Champion!’] radio message rung into his ears when others did not have enough to topple the young German.

In-team harmony was not always at Red Bull between Vettel and Webber during that season, but they were driving a truly top-tier car.

9: Red Bull RB16B (2021)

Wins: 11/22 (50%)
Max Verstappen: 10
Sergio Perez: 1
Drivers’ champions

The 2021 season was one of the all-time greats in Formula 1 history, with Max Verstappen in the Red Bull RB16B dicing with Lewis Hamilton all season long in the Mercedes W12.

The final year of the previous regulation cycle saw the field largely converge for most of the year, which left the two title challengers standing above the rest on an even higher plane than the rest of the chasing pack.

Verstappen and Hamilton traded first and second places throughout the year, had minor and major moments of contact, fought hard on track, and the Dutchman’s only non-contact retirement came when his tyre blew out in Baku – making the RB16B both fast and reliable.

A season like no other finished with a final-lap showdown in Abu Dhabi that saw Verstappen take his first title in the most dramatic and controversial circumstances, bringing Red Bull’s first title back to Milton Keynes for eight years in the process.

8: McLaren MP4-20 (2005)

Wins: 10/19 (52.6%)
Kimi Raikkonen: 7
Juan Pablo Montoya: 3

The only car on this illustrious list to end up winning neither title, through a certain young Renault hotshot named Fernando Alonso taking top honours instead as Ferrari’s dominance was finally toppled in the mid-2000s.

The MP4-20 was a big part of the reason behind that, combined with two extremely quick drivers in Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya behind the wheel.

And it was the Iceman who was the only driver able to hold a candle to the Spaniard that year, the pair becoming the only drivers to cross the 100-point mark as third-placed Michael Schumacher finished the year way down on 62.

The ultimate difference between the two came as when Alonso was not winning races, having also matched Raikkonen’s tally of seven victories, he was always right in behind – only finishing off the podium three times all year, with one retirement, one P11 finish and one time finishing fourth.

Raikkonen, meanwhile, was playing catch-up from the off. His finishes of P8 and P9 in Australia and Malaysia had him on the back foot and, despite a stunning second half of the year – including a famous win at Suzuka having started 14th on the grid – Alonso took the title with races to spare.

Nonetheless, still a superb piece of machinery which was the only one to continually compete with Renault all year long.

Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren, Fernando Alonso, Renault, 2005 Belgian Grand Prix

7: McLaren MP4/13 (1998)

Wins: 9/16 (56.3%)
Mika Hakkinen: 8
David Coulthard: 1
Drivers’ and Constructors’ champions

Newey’s incredibly successful time with Williams came to an end at the end of 1996 and after he moved to McLaren, his first real task was to bring his new team forward by taking charge of their 1998 challenger, while making improvements to what they put out in 1997.

Having finished fourth in the Constructors’ Championship the year beforehand, McLaren made a significant step forward with the Newey-penned MP4/13, with Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard dominating the first part of the season to build up a healthy buffer for the Flying Finn at the top of the standings, taking three one-two finishes in the first five races.

Despite the challenge of Michael Schumacher from Ferrari, Hakkinen overcame his rival by winning eight of the 16 rounds of 1998, winning his first World Championship in the process and bagging another pair of titles for Newey with the first design he was able to lead with his new team.

To date, after McLaren’s disqualification from the 2007 Constructors’ standings, the MP4/13 is also the team’s last Constructors’-winning car.

=5: Williams FW14B (1992)

Wins: 10/16 (62.5%)
Nigel Mansell: 9
Riccardo Patrese: 1
Drivers’ and Constructors’ champions

Put simply, this was one of Formula 1’s most successful and iconic cars.

Adorned with the famous ‘Red 5’ used by Nigel Mansell in his title-winning season, the FW14B followed on from the original FW14 chassis of the 1991 season – with a few important additions to help the drivers along in their quest for success.

First was traction control to help in acceleration, but the advanced aerodynamics, semi-automatic gearbox and active suspension system would prove to be a real game-changer in Formula 1.

Williams, and Mansell in particular, would regularly hold gaps upwards of a second per lap on the next-fastest car behind in qualifying and race trim, sometimes higher.

Only retirements and McLaren drivers Ayrton Senna and Gerhard Berger stopped Williams from winning more races that season, with Senna being the only driver all year to finish ahead Mansell on track when he finished a race – pipping ‘Our Nige’ to wins in Monaco and Hungary.

Sebastian Vettel now owns the FW14B chassis which confirmed Mansell as World Champion in 1992, and he’ll think Patrick Head and Newey’s design was worth every penny.

=5: Williams FW15C (1993)

Wins: 10/16 (62.5%)
Alain Prost: 7
Damon Hill: 3
Drivers’ and Constructors’ champions

Head and Newey designed the much-anticipated follow-up to the FW14B in collaboration for the 1993 season after a dominant year, but with two different drivers at the team in Alain Prost and Damon Hill – with Mansell moving to IndyCar after not being guaranteed number one status at the team following the Frenchman’s arrival.

Without the reigning World Champion on the grid, this left Prost running the number ‘2’ on his car and Hill the number ‘0’, but the FW15C was still very much the number one force in Formula 1 to continue the success of its predecessor.

Prost and Hill took 15 pole positions out of 16 between them, with only Senna lining up first at the season finale in Adelaide.

Prost’s seven wins from the first 10 races were enough to put him well on the path to his fourth and final title in commanding style, with young pretender Hill taking three victories of his own towards the end of the season as the Frenchman announced his retirement from Formula 1.

The FW15C had all the so-called ‘driver aids’ exhibited on its predecessor, as well as a yellow ‘push-to-pass’ button, which would lower the car through the active suspension and enable it to increase its top speed through having less drag.

These ‘driver aids’ would be banned from 1994, but Williams made the most of the technological advances they made while they were available to them.

4: Red Bull RB7 (2011)

Wins: 12/19 (63.2%)
Sebastian Vettel: 11
Mark Webber: 1
Drivers’ and Constructors’ champions

While Red Bull were in a titanic battle for supremacy throughout 2010, the following season proved to be an altogether more dominant affair – for Vettel especially.

The move to Pirelli tyres, the ban on double diffusers and the confidence bestowed upon him by winning his first title appeared to elevate the German to another level in 2011, and the RB7 proved to be a more than worthy successor to what came before.

The quality and consistency of its performances showed throughout the year, with only one retirement apiece for Webber and Vettel and never once finishing outside the top five when the drivers did cross the line.

In fact, P4 in Germany was the only time Vettel finished off the podium all season when he did end a race. Now that’s what you call dominance.

3: Red Bull RB9 (2013)

Wins: 13/19 (68.4%)
Sebastian Vettel: 13
Mark Webber: 0
Drivers’ and Constructors’ champions

Well, if the RB7 was dominant enough, the 2013 season and the RB9 is where Vettel’s Red Bull, and arguably Formula 1 career as a whole, reached its nadir.

Vettel, who had a penchant for naming his chassis, called his RB9 base ‘Hungry Heidi’ for the year ahead as he searched for a fourth consecutive title – and it certainly played host to moments of Formula 1 history.

The ‘Multi 21′ drama in Malaysia where Vettel passed Webber when instructed not to under team orders was a race win but something of a lowlight for driver and team, but what came after the summer break was nothing short of incredible.

Vettel’s control of the RB9 was sublime and he combined with the car to take a whopping nine race victories in a row to close out the season, winning his fourth World title and bringing down the curtain on the naturally aspirated V8 era in style.

With four Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships in a row, that’s not a bad way to finish that set of regulations.

2: Williams FW18 (1996)

Wins: 12/16 (75%)
Damon Hill: 8
Jacques Villeneuve: 4
Drivers’ and Constructors’ champions

Not just one of Newey’s most successful cars, but one of Formula 1’s most successful cars, which powered Damon Hill to title success come the end of the season.

Such was the speed within the FW18 under the control of Hill and Jacques Villeneuve, Williams won the Constructors’ Championship with four races to spare.

With 12 poles, 12 wins and 11 fastest laps from 16 races, the season was often a private battle between the two Williams drivers at the front of the field – with Hill coming out on top come season’s end at Suzuka.

The FW18 would also be Newey’s final car with Williams, bowing out with 59 race victories and 78 pole positions overall from his time with the team before heading to McLaren the following year. Not too shabby.

1: Red Bull RB18 (2022)

Wins: 17/22 (77.3%)
Max Verstappen: 15
Sergio Perez: 2
Drivers’ and Constructors’ champions

The most successful car on this list is also the most recent. With Newey’s university thesis having been written on ground effect aerodynamics, it could be said he has quite literally written the book on how to design one of Formula 1’s new cars properly – and with the RB18, the brief was well and truly nailed.

Ferrari’s F1-75 was more than a stern competitor for most of the season, though – taking more pole positions than any other team throughout the year.

But combination of the RB18 and Verstappen’s driving on Sundays is what set it apart throughout the 2022 season, with the Dutchman taking his second World Championship in record-breaking style.

His 15 race victories is the most by any individual driver in the course of a single season in Formula 1 history, with Perez having added two of his own around the streets of Monaco and Singapore.

When the car, strategy, race pace and driver were on song – as was the case through most of the year – Red Bull’s most recent title winner took a heck of a lot of stopping. Just ask the rest of the field.

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