Legendary McLaren F1 car designer hails Adrian Newey as ‘the greatest ever’

Oliver Harden
Max Verstappen (Red Bull) round a corner in the wet in final practice at the British Grand Prix. Silverstone, July 2023.

Max Verstappen (Red Bull) round a corner in the wet in final practice at the British Grand Prix. Silverstone, July 2023.

Steve Nichols, the man behind the legendary McLaren MP4/4 car of 1998, has hailed Red Bull’s Adrian Newey as “the greatest ever” designer in F1 history.

The winners of all 14 races held in 2023 so far, Red Bull remain on course to become the first team to go through an entire season unbeaten with eight rounds separating them from the historic achievement.

McLaren-Honda came closest to becoming F1’s first ‘invincible’ team by winning 15 of 16 races with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost at the wheel of the MP4/4.

Adrian Newey praised by McLaren F1 design guru

The only round McLaren failed to win was the Italian Grand Prix, where Ferrari secured an emotional one-two finish in the first race following the death of founder Enzo Ferrari.

Red Bull did what McLaren could not by winning at Monza earlier this month, with Max Verstappen securing a record 10th successive victory as he marches towards a third straight title triumph.

Nichols has backed Red Bull to go one better than McLaren did in 1988 and revealed his admiration for Newey, who won World Championships with Williams and McLaren before joining Red Bull almost two decades ago.

And the 76-year-old insisted it is impossible to draw comparisons between what McLaren did in 1988 and what Red Bull are doing in 2023.

He told the Top Gear website: “I suppose I would have preferred to win [in Italy in 1988] but from a sporting point of view it’s quite nice that we missed the one race.

“It gives somebody a good shot at having a perfect season. The way things are going this year, it looks like that may come to pass. Inevitably, it would be a great achievement.

“It’s a large credit to their designer Adrian Newey. He’s been a hero of mine and in my opinion he’s the greatest ever. He’s incredible, isn’t he? Such a long-lived career and so many successes. It’s really quite remarkable.

“What we created that year in ‘88 was the most successful Formula 1 car that there’s ever been. I think it’s important to say ‘the most successful’ because it’s not necessarily the greatest Formula 1 car ever. You can’t compare the [1992 Williams] FW14B with the MP4/4, like we can’t compare the MP4/4 with the Lotus 25.

“We were in a situation where our resources were much less, the budget wasn’t nearly as big as it is now: the car was designed by a team of 17 people and the whole team was probably a couple of hundred people.

“And now Red Bull’s probably got 1,000 employees, and supercomputers, and a more sophisticated wind tunnel and all the circuit simulation.”

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Despite Red Bull’s excellence this season, Nichols argued that the team have been assisted by the inconsistencies of Ferrari, Mercedes and Aston Martin with none emerging as a consistent threat.

However, he admitted that Newey and Verstappen make for a lethal combination – with Newey head and shoulders above every other designer even while working under the constraints of Red Bull’s punishment for breaching the cost cap in 2021.

He explained: “Most of the other teams are in relative disarray right now.

“You’ve got Ferrari imploding like they usually do, Mercedes have leaked a lot of their human resources to other teams and haven’t done a brilliant job with the new regulations. Larry [Lawrence Stroll] at Aston Martin can’t spend his billions [as a result of the cost cap].

“It’s not good enough to do as good a job as the best team in the world, you have to do twice as good a job as that if you’re going to catch up. And then you want to surpass them. So you see the enormity of the task. In some ways, it perpetuates the Red Bull dynasty.

“You’re up against Adrian, who had experience with ground effect cars way back when. And before this season ever started, they had a 10 per cent penalty on the aero side.

“If it was my choice, I’d choose Adrian and a 10 per cent penalty over any other designer in the pit lane. Max Verstappen’s a brilliant driver as well: that’s the sort of combination it takes to win World Championships.”

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