The biggest ‘what if’ moment of Adrian Newey’s incredible F1 career revealed

Sam Cooper
Adrian Newey inside the Red Bull garage.

Adrian Newey had the chance to join a former colleague and friend.

Adrian Newey said one of the biggest what ifs of his career is what if he had moved to Jaguar and joined up with friend and former colleague Bobby Rahal.

For a man whose motorsport career began over 40 years ago, Newey will no doubt have many what ifs he may have asked himself.

What if he moved to Ferrari? What he if stayed at McLaren? What if he went back to Williams? No doubt all may have crossed his mind at some point but the F1 design guru has revealed one of the things that bugs him the most.

Adrian Newey details near move to Jaguar

Just as he is today, Newey was a wanted man at the start of the 21st century and after McLaren had prised him away from Williams in 1997, Ron Dennis now had a job on his hands to keep hold of the designer.

The main opponent to that was Jaguar which was a team headed by Niki Lauda and Bobby Rahal and it was the latter that would be the most persuasive in attempting to get Newey on board.

Newey had started his motorsports career in the US in CART where he linked up with Rahal at March and together they won the 1986 title and that year’s Indy 500.

Whilst working together, the pair struck up a friendship which still exists to this day and it was that which almost tempted Newey away.

“I would have loved to work with Bobby,” Newey said during a panel with Rahal at the 4th Annual Race Industry Week. “We always had a good friendship which continued long after I stopped race engineering in IndyCar and went to Formula 1.

“So the opportunity to work together would have been fantastic and that’s the bit that attracted me to Jaguar but it became apparent that there’s also quite a lot of politics at board level and so on and so forth and that made me a bit nervous.

“It’s one of those kinds of what ifs. It would have been fabulous to work together. In the end, I kind of became nervous of it and so it didn’t happen. But in a parallel universe, it would have been fascinating to know how that would have worked out.”

The political issues Newey refers to were also felt by Rahal who recalled a meeting with owner Ford’s chief financial officer.

“Jaguar was a team that was trying hard but needed better direction,” Rahal said. “Obviously I was going to pop the question, naturally because it definitely made sense. Who are you going to get? You’re going to get the best guy in the paddock and that was Adrian and still is.

“Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. It is kind of ironic that Red Bull ended up taking over the Jaguar headquarters so I guess it’s there in spirit, maybe if nothing else.

“As I found at the time, my first year with Jaguar in Formula 1, Ford’s commitment to IndyCar, to Formula 1 was probably not where it should have been.

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“I remember meeting with the CFO of the premier auto group which was Ford’s little division that included Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo, and I remember trying to explain to this fellow, the CFO, why it was important for us to to get Adrian and yes, it was a lot of money but just think how much money it would save us because all those years of R&D would be erased and we would close that gap dramatically.

“It took him a day to fully understand that and that kind of upset me because I don’t think Frank Williams had to ask anybody to build the wind tunnel, they just went and did it, or Ron Dennis, whoever the fella might have been.

“So in any event, obviously there were a lot of factors out there that were for and against the two of us coming in and in the end, Adrian did the right thing. But it was fun for a while.”

Newey would ultimately decide against joining Jaguar and stayed with McLaren until he joined Red Bull in 2006.

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