Adrian Newey spoke of how Red Bull stuck with “gut feeling” that their concept was the right path versus Mercedes, and how right they were.
Red Bull and Mercedes went in totally different directions with their take on the new regulations introduced for F1 2022, and when Mercedes first unveiled their unique ‘zero pod’ concept, alarm bells were ringing over what this could mean for their performance versus the pack.
As it turned out though, Red Bull are the team that got it right, refining their approach through 2022 and into F1 2023 to become the dominant force of the Formula 1 grid.
Adrian Newey details Red Bull development path
Asked during the Beyond the Grid podcast what Red Bull got so right about these regulations to create such an advantage, Newey joked: “I can’t tell you that, Can I?”
Newey though did delve into some details on their current dominating performance, explaining how nailing the regulations early has allowed F1 2023’s RB19 to be a “very close evolution” of that very strong base in the RB18.
“[RB]19 is clearly a very close evolution of 18,” he said.
“So 18, actually was conceived probably in a much shorter time than most, if not all our rivals.
“Because in ’21, we were in the big championship battle with Mercedes, and possibly wrongly, but because we were, for the first time in many years, in the shot for a championship, we decided to put quite a lot of effort into developing that car.
“Whereas Ferrari, for instance, took the opposite approach. They weren’t in the championship battle in ’21, so they stopped developing their ’21 car very early on and just concentrated on the design of the ’22 car. Mercedes were somewhere in between that. We kept developing far longer than either of those teams. And so theoretically, that puts us into a disadvantage.
“I think what we did manage to do is get the architecture right. And so when [RB]18 first came out in Bahrain last year, Ferrari was certainly as quick, if not quicker in the early season, we managed to get the kind of fundamentals right, and that gave us a good development platform.”
And it did not take Red Bull long to realise that they were on the right path.
Asked whether they knew the RB18 was “born well” after just 10 testing laps, Newey replied: “Yes, we did.
“We had an amount of bouncing, not as bad as the other teams, but we still had some bouncing which we needed to get on top of, and I think had a reasonable understanding of what we needed to do to do that.
“So come the first upgrade we had for the Bahrain race, then bouncing was much less of an issue than it was for other teams.
“And that meant that we didn’t have to put a lot of our development energy into fixing bouncing, such as Ferrari and Mercedes did.”
Red Bull and Adrian Newey trusted “gut feeling” against Mercedes
The launch of the ground effect era went against the expectations of many in the sense that Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes all initially put three very unique concepts on the grid, though with Red Bull having established dominance, the grid has now gravitated towards the Red Bull philosophy.
Newey admits that “gut feeling” always plays a part for a team like Red Bull, claiming they are under-staffed and under-resourced compared to a team like Mercedes, but sticking to their guns on a “polar opposite” approach to the Silver Arrows certainly has paid off.
Asked if he ever goes with his gut, or if it is purely academics for him, Newey replied: “No, I think there has to be a degree of gut. There has to be, even with all the tools we have now, there still has to be a degree of gut.
“But the reality is, even before the cost cap, we were still resource and people limited. We have never had the capacity to be able to research endless different paths in great detail.
“So if you take a recent example, obviously with last year’s car, we took an aerodynamic direction with the sidepod and design and the concept of the car, which was almost polar opposite to what Mercedes did.
“Mercedes showed flashes of competitiveness last year, they obviously won in Brazil, then you’re faced with a choice of ‘well, do we start to research Mercedes in case we’ve missed something, or do we stick with what we’re doing?’ And gut feels, let’s stick with what we’re doing.”
That gut feeling has led to Red Bull winning 15 of the 16 grands prix so far in F1 2023, with Max Verstappen’s latest triumph at the Japanese Grand Prix having secured the Constructors’ Championship for Red Bull, making it back-to-back successes.