Designer of some of F1’s most dominant title winners, which of his creations has given Adrian Newey the greatest pride to look back on?
Adrian Newey, F1’s most successful car designer, has overseen the designs of some intimidating dominant F1 cars – including this year’s 2023 Red Bull RB19.
But, in a history in the sport stretching back over 30 years, there’s one particular car that has the heart of the British engineer as being his finest work. Might it be the Williams FW14B? One of Sebastian Vettel’s title-winning Red Bulls, or a McLaren Mika Hakkinen powered to a title?
Adrian Newey selects the F1 car that he is most proud of
Appearing on the Beyond the Grid podcast, Newey reflected on the incredible C.V. of machinery he can boast about, and said the car he designed for 1998 is the one he’s most proud of.
Newey had been with Williams for a six-year stint, winning titles with Nigel Mansell in ’92, Alain Prost in ’94, Damon Hill in ’96, and Jacques Villeneuve in ’97.
But, for ’98, it was all change. The technical regulations were revised to make the cars narrower, as well as introducing grooved tyres, while Newey himself had to find his feet in rapid time as he jumped ship to McLaren – only to deliver a car that lapped the field at the season opener in Australia.
“The ’98 McLaren because that was the year where we were into the narrow track and the grooved tyres,” he confirmed when asked about the car that has pride of place.
“It was my first McLaren, I arrived and started on the 1st of August , so it was an incredibly compressed design cycle and there’s a moral in there because more of the successful cars I’ve been involved in, I’ve actually started quite late!”
Opening up on why he felt the McLaren MP4/13 had been so potent, he said he had looked at the commonly accepted theory coming into the season – and simply ignored it.
“I think we got the fundamentals right, one of the things we did was because the track had gone so much narrower – from two metres to 1.8 – there were a lot of theories of floating around that, because of that narrow track, there’s this theory about wheelbase to track ratio,” he mused.
“So, in other words, there’s a distance between the front wheel axle line to the rear wheel axle line, divided by the width of the car. And I just couldn’t see why that would be an important ratio.
“What we really needed was to try to maintain entry stability, which is when you first turn into the corner and you’re still on the brakes, that’s when the car is unloading the rear and can easily become unstable. That’s dominated by how much weight the outside front and inside rear carry in that condition.
“So, if you’ve narrowed the track, the only way to maintain a similar distribution is to go longer in the wheelbase. And that’s exactly what we did. That was a unique feature of that ’98 car.
“Unfortunately, Ross Brawn, at Ferrari spotted it and they started to move their front axle forwards. We were the first on that one. But it wasn’t the only feature we had, we managed to get the car very light, with very low centre gravity again to try and minimise the weight transfer onto these very fragile tyres.”
Adrian Newey: Mika Hakkinen a natural fit to the McLaren MP4/13
After being more or less on par with teammate David Coulthard through 1996 and ’97, Hakkinen took a big step forward in ’98 to assume the team leadership role and challenge for – and win – two in a row in ’98 and ’99.
Newey opened up on the Finn’s relationship with the MP4/13, and McLaren, in what has become one of F1’s most iconic partnerships.
“The great strength of Mika was, first of all, his self-confidence and self-belief, he just didn’t seem to be affected by pressure,” Newey said.
“I digress to a small example, a very key example of that. 1998 was a very high-pressure year, and the same with ’99 where, both years, the Drivers’ Championship went down to the last race.
“At Suzuka ’98 or ’99, I can’t remember which, but I do remember that, in Suzuka, it had these little offices above the pits. On Saturday evening, before the race, Ron Dennis, myself, Mika, and the other key race engineers sat in that office upstairs, coming up with a strategy and it became very complicated. ‘If Irvine pits here, then we do that’. And ‘If Schumacher does that, we do this’, and blah, blah, blah.
“After about half an hour, if not more, Mika just sat quietly in the corner saying nothing – he just got up and left! The following morning, he got in the car, disappeared off into the distance, and won the race. That was his way of doing things. He kept things simple and didn’t appear to feel the pressure, he just got on with it.”
Newey also revealed that part of Hakkinen’s step forward in performance may have been partly linked to his own arrival at the team, given that the Finn wasn’t being taken as seriously as possible in the years prior to ’98.
“When I first arrived at McLaren, funnily enough, and particularly within the engineering team, there was actually quite a low regard for Mika,” he said.
“It’s because he had his own way of communicating and describing what the car was doing. People weren’t really taking the trouble to listen to that and try to understand what he was saying.
“I think, from my race engineering background – particularly from the IndyCar days – I seemed to be able to break through that and get it out of him. What was brilliant is that, once you understood his language, he used very few words, he would just describe, very succinctly, what he needed to make the car go faster. And then go away and go back to the hotel room? There weren’t these long, painful debriefs.”