Features - Interview

JULY 1, 1996

Adrian Newey


Adrian Newey designs the Williams F1 cars. He has been with the team since July 1990. His Williams-Renault FW14 design in 1991 set the team on a technical path which has so far netted 47 victories in the last six seasons - and brought three Constructors' and two Drivers' titles to Williams.

Adrian Newey designs the Williams F1 cars. He has been with the team since July 1990. His Williams-Renault FW14 design in 1991 set the team on a technical path which has so far netted 47 victories in the last six seasons - and brought three Constructors' and two Drivers' titles to Williams.

Now there are rumours that Newey is on the move - with offers from Ferrari and McLaren. The Williams team says Adrian is under contract until the end of 1999. Newey won't say anything. The Williams-Renault FW18 - which has won eight of the 10 races this year - is speaking for him.

Williams makes winning look easy - but is it really? The FW18 follows the same design theme as the FW14. How much of this year's car dates back to Newey's original Williams design?

AN: "Obviously when we are at the concept design stage we think: "If we have a good car why change it?" If you can think of something different - I hate the word "revolutionary" - and there is a good reason for doing it, then it is fine to go ahead. I have never been one for going for change for change's sake. There are lot of bits that you can make look different for no performance change and it seems to me that some people go for these cosmetic changes to make a car look different. I am of the view that if you cannot find something better there is no point in changing it.

Would it be true to say that some ideas on the Williams date back to the March you designed at the start of 1988, before you even joined Williams?

AN: "Some bits of it, yes. The plan view of the sidepods is still pretty similar to the March 881 - that was eight years ago. But a lot of the Williams now is evolution. Basically I think that racing car design is 1% revolution and 99% evolution. Occasionally you get a great idea - like a light bulb coming on in the cartoons - and it works. You get lots of ideas which do not work."

Given that the Williams is an evolution over the last five years, it is a little surprising that other teams have not copied the ideas. Are you surprised that the opposition is not doing better than it is?

"If I said yes, it would be extremely arrogant. We have obviously enjoyed an advantage so far this season. It doesn't take that much for it to change. You have to keep on your toes. That is for sure.

"Benetton are about where I thought they would be.

"I think Ferrari are coming back extremely well from a car that had some basic design flaws. I have to say that I was surprised to see some of the parts on the Ferrari when the car came out but I think Ferrari do a tremendous job developing a car through a season. The car is undoubtedly much better now than it was in Melbourne in March. That is one of the things which I think shows how different F1 is now compared to how it was four or five years ago. In those days the car you started the season with was pretty much the car you ended the season with. Now you have to maintain a reasonable level of development throughout the season, otherwise you will be overtaken - even if you start with a very good car."

The amount of testing which takes place in Formula 1 these days is astounding. Is it true to say that only those who have the money to keep working move forward?

AN: "Yes, I think that is fair to say, but I don't think it is just the testing. People go testing for two reasons - leaving aside driver training: one is to improve reliability; the other to improve performance. From a straight performance point of view, obviously we do gets things out of the testing - in terms of refining set-ups, springs, dampers and all that sort of stuff - but also we are continually trying new development parts on the car. If you haven't got new development parts you cannot test them. So first of all you have to come up with the parts. if you are a team like, say, Tyrrell, with a limited budget you really haven't got the budget to come up with development parts. Therefore there is less of a need to test."

What about the performance of McLaren?

AN: "The thing you cannot help but be impressed by with McLaren - if you look at what happened last year - was their tenacity. They came out with a car which obviously had some problems and the sheer commitment they appeared to have to making that better was, I thought, very impressive. They came out with endless new parts. This year they are obviously trying very hard to sort it out. You can argue that some of what they do may be a bit misguided but you certainly cannot help but admire the effort they are putting into it. If they can find their path again they will undoubtedly be a force again - because with those sort of resources all they need is for it all to "click" again."

Some teams clearly have very strong engines this year - Jordan and McLaren being obvious candidates - but they cannot win races. Do you think the performance of the chassis is more important than the engine?

AN: "They are both important. I think that since the engines have been normally-aspirated then the difference between them has been far less. In the days of the turbos in F1 you could have huge differences in horsepower levels. Once the normally-aspirated engines settled down - after a year or two of the new rules - the top engines all ended up within 30 horsepower of each other. I would say, probably, that the chassis is now slightly more important than the engine. It is a bit of silly example, but if you put a Hart engine in the back of a Williams you might not be a race winner but you would look reasonably good, but if you put a Renault in the back of a Forti then I don't think you would look very threatening."

Does the fact that the Williams team has a 50% rolling road windtunnel give it a huge advantage over the opposition?

"I don't think it is essential. It is a bit on an advantage, because otherwise we would not have done it, but I think if you have a good quality 40% tunnel then it is more than possible to do an excellent job. Maybe you have to improve your modelling technique slightly. It is not a fundamental thing. I think people get carried away with the windtunnel itself. It has to be a good quality tunnel because at the end of the day it is just like a dyno. A dyno does not make an engine - it is just a test facility."

When you look at other cars on the grid, are there things you can see that others are doing wrong?

"There are a few things around that certainly do not work for us but you have to accept that all the top teams are pretty well sorted out. They have good facilities and clever people. if they have something on their car it is there for a reason. If we take a nose off a Benetton or a sidepod from a Ferrari and put it on our wind tunnel model - I cannot say we do that much - but I think we would almost certainly find that it is worse for us. Equally if they copy our nose the might find it was worse for them. The aerodynamics of a car does tend to be a package and you arrive at it by going down a route for the whole car to be optimized. The danger is that you go off down your chosen path and you do not actually know if it will be better than someone else's until you get to the end."

Does that mean that you are still exploring a design theme you started. Is it still a big enough challenge. or are you looking for a change?

AN: "I think as long as one enjoys it, one is happy to keep going. Aerodynamics is only one part of my job. It is the part that people always talk about, but really the design of the car as a whole is my responsibility. Aerodynamics are a very important part of the overall performance of the car and it therefore follows that I should spend a percentage of my time looking at that bit it is not everything. Yes, I do still enjoy it. Occasionally you get frustrated in some way or other not least because F1 is fairly demanding. You have to be careful that home life does not suffer too much. Really, if I sit back and take an overview I am extremely lucky to be doing the job I am doing - and I have no complaints."

Is Williams the only place where you can do that job?

"I don't know if that is true. Obviously the top teams all have good facilities. Williams is a good place to work. Overall I do not have any complaints. I have colleagues working in a similar manner at other teams and they are quite happy in their place of work."

So what do you say when rival teams ring you up - as they must be doing - and say: "Adrian, come and join us"?

"It does happen. Of course it does. The time to worry is when they do not ring up! People talk about loyalty. Realistically, I think that if people are happy where they are working then they will stay there. If they are not happy they will probably think of moving on if somebody presents them with a better opportunity. That is human nature. I think loyalty as a word is overused."

Are you happy and have job satisfaction at Williams?

AN: "Yes."

So when rival teams ring you up, do you say: "No, I am going to stay at Williams"?

AN: "No comment..."