Features - News Feature

APRIL 1, 1997

Adrian Newey


On Friday November 8 1996 Williams chief designer Adrian Newey did not turn up for work at the team factory in Grove.

On Friday November 8 1996 href="../gpe/con-willi.html">Williams chief designer Adrian Newey did not turn up for work at the team factory in Grove. He had told Frank Williams that he did not want to work for Williams any longer but the team boss - who had a contract with Adrian until the end of 1999 - said that he did not care. If Newey did not want to work for him, he could not work for anyone else.

McLaren has been chasing Newey for four years. What was it that finally tipped the balance. Was the money offered impossible to turn down?

"I can honestly say that money was not the motive for the move," Adrian laughs. "If I had wanted more money there is another team which would possibly have offered even more money."

Before Ross Brawn took the job at Ferrari?

"I didn't say that," says Adrian. "Obviously I think money is nice, but it has never been my prime motivation. I have actually changed teams in the past and taken a drop in salary. When I first went from Indycars into F1 I accepted a cut in salary because I wanted to get into Grand Prix racing. I did not want to stay in Indycars for ever.

"Ultimately if you are sitting behind your desk and not enjoying your work it doesn't matter how much you are being paid. It is pretty miserable. Being happy in what you do has to be the first motivation as far as I am concerned. Obviously if you can do both that is great."

After years working against McLaren, Newey must have a good idea where the team has been going wrong in recent years. It looks like the team has slipped behind in terms of aerodynamics, would that be a fair comment?

"That seems to be the general perception," says Adrian, rather cautiously. "Obviously, they have not achieved the levels of performance that they would like to have done. Whether I can have an influence in changing that remains to be seen. I don't want to be seen as the new Messiah..."

But that is exactly how he IS being seen.

"Yes, I know," he admits, "and I am not entirely comfortable with it. I will go there and do the best job that I can and work with the people there. We will have to see what we can do."

The new McLaren factory - a $150m project - is still a few years away. That must surely be a handicap?

"It is a vast project but it will be probably three years before it is properly operational. It is a way down the road. From my point of view to be involved in the layout of a brand new facility is quite interesting. To an extent I was involved with the new factory at Williams but this one is a bigger project and to be involved will help to contribute to put one's own mark on it."

So the job at McLaren must be seen in a long-term perspective. What about the 1998 car. Is August 1 not rather too late for Newey to have any decisive input on next year's McLaren?

"It is going to be difficult," he admits. "Normally if there were no regulation changes the start of August would be leaving it late but it would be possible. You could do it by building on the data you have from previous cars. But next year's regulations are probably the biggest shake-up we have had for a very long time in F1 - probably bigger even than the stepped bottom rules which came in at the beginning of 1995. If you have a major rule change like that you need to start the research earlier than normal because you cannot use the previous car as the reference point. In that sense August 1 is a problem. It is much later than would be ideal but it is just a matter of getting on with it. I am sure the McLaren engineers will have done research work and I will have to work with them."

But one cannot just turn up these days, stick a model in the windtunnel and say: "Do this, do that" and make a car competitive. Can you?

"No, it is not that easy," Adrian explains. "F1 is not a one man job. Obviously the technical director or chief designer gets a lot of the credit for the performance of the car but in truth it is very much a team effort. Building up working relationships takes time, but that is the first thing I have to do."

As Technical Director at McLaren Newey will be in charge of all the existing engineers at Woking. It has often been said of Newey that while he is a very talented designer and engineer he is not a very good technical manager - and does not like management. Is that a fair criticism?

"I don't wish to become a manager," Newey says. "I enjoy engineering and I think that is my strength rather than management. Having said that if you are in a well-managed team I don't think that being technical director has to be a purely managerial role. Obviously it has a managerial element in it but I am hoping to operate in such a way that the individual engineers and heads of department at McLaren can manage themselves and leave me free as much as possible to be an engineer."

In letting Newey go - presumably in exchange for a considerable payment in damages - the Williams team has shown that it believes that even with Newey on board, McLaren will not be able to beat Williams.

It will be an interesting battle.