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Adrian Newey’s Red Bull exit could have domino effect that upturns F1 grid | Giles Richards
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Adrian Newey’s Red Bull exit could have domino effect that upturns F1 grid | Giles Richards

“I always try to draw with passion. In other words, I have to believe what I’m drawing will be the next step forward,” Adrian Newey wrote in his 2017 book, How to Build a Car. With the announcement that he is to leave Red Bull next year it appears he is now looking for that new challenge, a development which could have potentially far-reaching consequences across Formula One.

As the most successful designer of the modern era with 12 constructors’ championship-winning cars across three different teams, Newey is possibly the single most sought-after asset in the F1 paddock outside the very top drivers. Many consider him to be a far more crucial component to success than the man behind the wheel.

With Red Bull alone he has returned seven drivers’ titles and six constructors’ championships. The scale of this achievement cannot be overestimated. He joined the team in 2006, lured from McLaren by the team principal Christian Horner in what was considered a major coup.

Having been formed from a flailing Jaguar squad in 2005, to have returned their first title with Sebastian Vettel in 2010 and then go on to even greater success, not least with Max Verstappen’s three titles in the last three years, was an extraordinary feat.

Newey has been at the heart of it. Modern cars are no longer designed by a single person, but the British designer remains an outlier in that he is hands on in the car’s development and still does actually hand-draw elements and ideas. He eschews the limelight, preferring instead to let his work do the talking and it has spoken volumes.

Quietly spoken, considered and thoughtful, he has demonstrated a genius touch for interpreting and exploiting the labyrinthine arcana of F1 regulations and creating what have often proved to be untouchably quick cars. His talents are even more attractive now than they were in 2006 and if, as is considered likely, he opts to join Lewis Hamilton in an attempt to turn around Ferrari’s fortunes in 2025, the Scuderia will have something like the F1 dream team.

However, his departure represents a seismic blow for Red Bull and Horner. Newey wrote in his memoir that Horner and he shared an ideology for the team and it is believed that the pair’s relationship was key to Newey remaining at Red Bull, despite repeated efforts by other teams to lure him away. His decision to leave suggests that relationship may have broken down.

Verstappen at the wheel of the RB20, Newey’s latest triumphView image in fullscreen

Alongside Newey’s reported disquiet at the furore surrounding the allegations against Horner for inappropriate behaviour, grievances since dismissed after an investigation, it is believed Newey has also been disenchanted with the team principal downplaying his contribution when giving the technical director Pierre Waché credit for his design role. Last year Horner suggested Newey was replaceable, which by all accounts was not well received and led to the designer’s wife branding the comments “hogwash”.

Previously such issues have been smoothed over but time, too, may have played a part. Newey is 65 and has said he wanted to work with Hamilton and Ferrari, so choosing to go now still gives him the prospect of a good run at Maranello in what might be the last major challenge of his F1 career.

For Horner the question now is whether this proves to be a breaking point. Already embroiled in a power struggle with Red Bull’s parent company Red Bull GmbH, he currently enjoys the backing of the company’s majority shareholder, Chalerm Yoovidhya, but losing Newey further weakens his position, especially with major regulation changes set for 2026.

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Newey may only be the first domino to topple. Verstappen, whose future with the team is already in question, has said that core pillars in the team must stay in place. Newey is one of them and the Dutchman is already being courted by other teams, not least Mercedes as a replacement for Hamilton.

Christian Horner, Max Verstappen and Adrian Newey (from left to right) at the Dutch Grand Prix last year.View image in fullscreen

Waché is more than qualified to step up and replace Newey but is also believed to have been pursued by Ferrari, as has the head of aerodynamics Enrico Balbo, and there is a danger that Red Bull might find itself losing more major assets, leaving Horner dangerously exposed.

For the moment, at least, Red Bull’s dominance is not under threat. Newey’s RB20 is set to return him his 13th title this season, but his eye – and that of the rest of the field – is now surely on 2026.

Ferrari have not won a drivers’ title since 2007 and a constructors’ championship since 2008, a painful drought for the Scuderia. Under Fred Vasseur they are assembling perhaps their strongest lineup of recent years. Bringing Newey into the fold, looking to draw their next step forward, could be the thing that puts them back on the top step at Red Bull’s expense.

Source: theguardian.com