Adrian Newey is the best Formula 1 designer of his generation – and arguably has been for the past two decades. Starting with last year's World Championship winner, we pick his five biggest hits.
Red Bull RB6 – 2010
Newey describes the double titles taken by this car last year as finishing off the work he started with the March 881 – beating the sport's giants with an independent team by sheer creative force.
There was innovation everywhere in the RB6 – from its pullrod rear suspension that created such a fantastic rear over-body airflow, to its pared-down sculpted nose and the anteater-like rake that the car could run while still meeting the stationary ground clearance requirements. Able to run its nose and front wing almost to the ground, despite having to be 25mm (0.984 inches) above it when measured, was in itself reckoned to provide downforce worth around 0.25sec per lap. The longer and faster the corners, the bigger the RB6's advantage.
The final flourish of the car's design was its exhaust gas-energized diffuser. This was widely copied by rivals, but still the RB6 held a convincing aero advantage throughout last season.
It was as if the upper-body airflow permitted by the pullrod suspension – because the suspension rockers are set down low, at the bottom of the wheel rather than the top – kept the diffuser from stalling even when the car ran with the rake necessary to get the nose so low. To achieve this nose-down stance required more than just rake, however. For it to be physically possible required the “tea tray” leading edge of the floor be flexible enough to bend upward as aero loads forced the nose down. Why? Because otherwise the floor would have dug a channel into the track! Yet that “tea tray” passed even the increased load test placed upon it from round 14 onward.
A vital key to the car's aero performance would therefore appear to have been some non-linear flexibility in the floor once past the test load limit. Red Bull Racing has invested a lot in computing power for calculating complex carbon lay-up patterns that give the precise combination of non-linear flexibility required. In the RB6, Newey harnessed such cutting-edge knowledge and technology to enable a vision that was (is?) simply beyond the scope of his rivals.
Around the long-duration turns of the Hungaroring, the car qualified 1.2sec faster than anything else. “Do you know how much more downforce you need to do that?” asked a stunned rival technical director. “About 20 percent….”
Williams FW14B – 1992
Keeping the car's basic platform level immune from the usual pitch, dive and roll of a conventionally suspended car enables a truly massive aerodynamic gain to be achieved. If you can computer control the movements so constant adjustments are made in reaction to huge input speeds of data, that aero leap will be reachable. That was the basis of the Williams FW14B's superiority in 1992 when it took 15 poles from 16 races, catapulting Nigel Mansell to a dominant World Championship.
Back in 1988, Williams' technical director Patrick Head recognized Newey's March/Leyton House designs were aerodynamically well in advance of what Williams' design office was creating at the time. Head handed over the role of chief designer to Newey and 1991's FW14 was essentially a marriage of the March aero package with Renault's superb V10. It was the season's fastest car, only early season unreliability causing Mansell and Williams to lose the drivers' and constructors' titles to Ayrton Senna and McLaren-Honda.
During that season, Head and Newey were in intense discussion about what Newey saw as the next logical step: active-ride suspension. The concept had been around F1 since 1983 when Lotus tried it. Subsequently both Lotus and Williams had won races with actively suspended cars in 1987 but abandoned the programs, unable to translate the theoretical benefits into reality due to computing power limitations. However, by the early 1990s Newey reckoned the real potential of active ride could now be accessed. Head was dubious, yet Newey was persuasive and was eventually given the green light.
The Formula 1 world reeled as the FW14B was given its head by the fearless Mansell, ignoring all the usual feedback traits to his body as irrelevant, knowing that all he had to do was have faith, that the car would grip despite the messages he was getting. It began the year in Kyalami qualifying 0.7sec quicker than the opposition, at the next race 1sec and in Brazil left Senna's McLaren 1.4sec adrift. By the time of Silverstone, midseason, Mansell was qualifying an outrageous 2.7sec faster than the fastest non-Williams.
That the car was superior was borne of Newey's extreme depth of aerodynamic understanding. That it was such a quantum leap was a combination of that with the white-hot intensity of his competitive will.