…chance doesn't exist; there's always a cause and a reason for everything – Elahi

Archive for the tag “Silverstone”

Pirelli responds…

I like Pirelli’s response not only to the FIA statement of yesterday but also to the specific tyre problems we saw at Silverstone.

Milan, July 2, 2013 – After exhaustive analysis of the tyres used at Silverstone, Pirelli has concluded that the causes of the failures were principally down to a combination of the following factors:

1) Rear tyres that were mounted the wrong way round: in other words, the right hand tyre being placed where the left hand one should be and vice versa, on the cars that suffered failures. The tyres supplied this year have an asymmetric structure, which means that they are not designed to be interchangeable. The sidewalls are designed in such a way to deal with specific loads on the internal and external sides of the tyre. So swapping the tyres round has an effect on how they work in certain conditions. In particular, the external part is designed to cope with the very high loads that are generated while cornering at a circuit as demanding as Silverstone, with its rapid left-hand bends and some kerbs that are particularly aggressive.

2) The use of tyre pressures that were excessively low or in any case lower than those indicated by Pirelli. Under-inflating the tyres means that the tyre is subjected to more stressful working conditions.

3) The use of extreme camber angles.

4) Kerbing that was particularly aggressive on fast corners, such as that on turn four at Silverstone, which was the scene of most of the failures. Consequently it was the left-rear tyres that were affected.

The only problems that had come to light before Silverstone were to do with delamination, which was a completely different phenomenon. To stop these delaminations Pirelli found a solution by suggesting that the teams use the tyres that were tried out in Canada from Silverstone onwards. When this proposal was not accepted, Pirelli found another solution through laboratory testing, with a different bonding process to attach the tread to the carcass. So the problem of delamination has nothing at all to do with what was seen in Great Britain.

Following the conclusions of this analysis, Pirelli would like to underline that:

1) Mounting the tyres the wrong way round is a practice that was nonetheless underestimated by everybody: above all Pirelli, which did not forbid this.

2) In the same way, under-inflation of the tyres and extreme camber settings, over which Pirelli has no control, are choices that can be dangerous under certain circumstances. Because of this, Pirelli has asked the FIA for these parameters will be a topic of accurate and future examinations. Pirelli has also asked for compliance with these rules to be checked by a dedicated delegate.

3) Pirelli would also like to underline that the 2013 tyre range does not compromise driver safety in any way if used in the correct manner, and that it meets all the safety standards requested by the FIA.

The logical conclusion is that it is essential for tyres with the performance and technical sophistication of the 2013 range to be regulated and carefully controlled by Pirelli itself. In order to ensure the optimal functioning of the tyres, the Italian firm would need real-time data from the teams regarding fundamental parameters such as pressure, temperature and camber angles. While waiting for new regulations that would permit Pirelli access to this data, vital for the development and management of these state-of-the-art tyres, the following measures are proposed for the forthcoming grands prix, in agreement with the FIA, FOM, the teams and the drivers:

1) The use of the evolution of the current tyre that was tested in Canada (and proved to be completely reliable) for the German Grand Prix this weekend. This represents the best match for the technical characteristics of the Nurburgring circuit. In particular, the rear tyres that will be used at the German Grand Prix, which takes place on July 7, have a Kevlar construction that replaces the current steel structure and the re-introduction of the 2012 belt, to ensure maximum stability and roadholding. Given that these tyres are asymmetric as well, it will be strictly forbidden to swap them round. The front tyres, by contrast, will remain unaltered.

2) From the Hungarian Grand Prix onwards, the introduction of a new range of tyres. The new tyres will have a symmetrical structure, designed to guarantee maximum safety even without access to tyre data – which however is essential for the optimal function of the more sophisticated 2013 tyres. The tyres that will be used for the Hungarian Grand Prix onwards will combine the characteristics of the 2012 tyres with the performance of the 2013 compounds. Essentially, the new tyres will have a structure, construction and belt identical to that of 2012, which ensured maximum performance and safety. The compounds will be the same as those used throughout 2013, which guaranteed faster lap times and a wider working range. This new specification, as agreed with the FIA, will be tested on-track together with the teams and their 2013 cars at Silverstone from 17-19 July in a session with the race drivers during the young driver test. These tests will contribute to the definitive development of the new range of tyres, giving teams the opportunity to carry out the appropriate set-up work on their cars.

Paul Hembery, Pirelli’s motorsport director, said: “What happened at Silverstone was completely unexpected and it was the first time that anything like this has ever occurred in more than a century of Pirelli in motorsport. These incidents, which have upset us greatly, have stressed the urgency of the changes that we already suggested – which will be introduced during for free practice in Germany on Friday. We would like to acknowledge the willingness of the FIA, FOM teams, and drivers to act quickly to find an immediate solution to the problem. In particular, the adoption of winter tests, arranged with the FIA, that are more suitable for tyre development and the possibility of carrying out in-season testing will contribute to the realisation of tyres with increasingly improved standards of safety and performance. I’d like to re-emphasise the fact that the 2013 range of tyres, used in the correct way, is completely safe. What happened at Silverstone though has led us to ask for full access to real time tyre data to ensure the correct usage and development of tyres that have the sophistication we were asked to provide and extremely high performance that has lowered lap times by more than two seconds on average. While we wait for a change in the rules, we will introduce tyres that are easier to manage.”

Low pressures and high camber angles have been standard practice up and down the pit lane – and it’s interesting that Pirelli condoned the swapping of tyres, left to right. The kerbs are the kerbs, though, as the BRDC’s Derek Warwick said recently. The  early-race on-boards of Lewis Hamilton, which I have seen, show that he uses only a tiny amount of apex kerb at T4. Fernando Alonso uses more – maybe a foot more – but conversely had no problems. It could be, of course, that the “safe” line at T4 was Fernando’s but it’s also interesting to note that Daniel Ricciardo, for instance, never touched the T4 apex on any of the on-boards I viewed. 

On Pirelli and glass houses…

The FIA today announced that the  Young Drivers’ Test at Silverstone on July 17-19 would be opened up to regular F1 drivers “to allow teams to use drivers they deem fit to carry out tyre development work in a bid to solve the problems we saw at the British GP”.  Even more significantly, the FIA says it will seek approval to “change the Technical Regulations to allow modifications to the specification of the tyres during the season without the unanimous agreement of all competing teams”.  This, I think, is to be applauded, bearing in mind that Pirelli wanted to revert to Kevlar constructions after the first Bahrain incident and were forbidden for doing so by the teams, who could not come to a unanimous agreement.  (Lotus and Ferrari were going well at the time and understandably did not want to see any major construction changes at that point.)  It also seems likely that the ridiculous (current) requirement for Pirelli to define its 2014 tyre specification by September 1, 2013, will be re-written.  Less comforting is the closing threat in the FIA statement today: “the FIA has asked Pirelli for an assurance that there will be no repetition of the tyre problems at this weekend’s German GP or at subsequent grand prix (sic).”  I may be reading too much into it, but that to me sounds like a governing body potentially wanting to discipline a tyre supplier – the only tyre supplier that would step into the void left by Bridgestone – for making future mistakes.  What would happen, for example, if Sebastian Vettel in Germany this weekend suffered exactly the same sort of tyre failure that took him out at the first corner at Abu Dhabi in 2011? Does anyone outside Red Bull Racing and Pirelli know exactly what happened on that occasion?  Judging by the number of different opinions in the pit lane to this day, I think not.  Surely the role of the FIA at this time – when Pirelli have been subjected to massive criticism from all quarters – is to re-assure the F1 tyre supplier that it has the support of the people who matter.  Pirelli have made mistakes – and will continue to make mistakes – because that is the nature of the F1 business.  Indeed, it is the nature of life.  I make mistakes – plenty of them.  The F1 teams make mistakes. The drivers make mistakes. And so, come to think of it, does the FIA.  I seem to recall some FIA fuel rigs under-performing a few seasons back – and who ratified the regulations that are now being changed mid-season?  Of course Pirelli have had a bunch of problems – but then so did Michelin back in 2005, at Indianapolis.  I think it’s interesting that a number of F1 people who now dream of a Michelin return were the same people who refused to race at Indianapolis that year (when some sort of race could have been put together to save Michelin’s face in its biggest market) and who in 2006, at Monza, openly accused Michelin of cheating.  Pirelli spend several hundred millions of Euros per year supplying tyres for F1;  they don’t have to do it – and I’m sure that at present they wish they weren’t doing it.  In the absence of Goodyear, Bridgestone and Michelin, though, the alternative three years ago was for the F1 industry to produce its own tyres, with the vague hope of a sponsor branding the sidewalls.  Instead, Pirelli stepped up to the plate and everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief. In my view, it now behoves the F1 industry to stand squarely behind Pirelli, to give them the scope they need to do the job and not to threaten them with some sort of discipline if/when something again goes wrong.

High Fives for Clark at Silverstone

moremsportshistoryFirst, though, the build-up to that May 11, 1963, 15th International Trophy Race:

Indianapolis became a steep learning-curve as the month of May gathered pace.  As well as embracing the ways of the idiosyncratic Speedway, and all that comes with it, Team Lotus faced the additional problems of being newcomers amongst the old guard, of initiating the winds of profound technical change and of trying many all-new components thus related.  Like big, aluminium, 4.2 litre Ford Fairlane V8 engines.  And Firestone tyres.  And Halibrand wheels.  And asymmetric suspension.  And seat belts.  And, yes, Bell Magnum helmets.

For most of the month of May, Jim, Colin Chapman and David Phipps, the talented photo-journalist, stayed in the house of Rodger Ward, the 1959 and 1962 Indy winner.   The days were relaxed by European racing standards, beginning with early morning tests, lunch work, more afternoon laps and then late-ish nights with the mechanics after early evening meals.   The issues were many:  the Dunlop D12s were quicker (Dan Gurney had lapped his Lotus 29 at 150mph while Jim was racing in Europe) but the Firestones were more durable.  With one pit stop to the roadsters’ two or three, Lotus could enjoy a big advantage even before the race was underway.  To achieve that, however, they needed to run the less grippy Firestones.

This, in turn, caused a furore.  Firestone built special tyres for Lotus around 15in wheels but then quickly found themselves under pressure from the Americans, who also expected the same, larger, footprint tyres for their roadsters (which normally ran 18in wheels).  AJ Foyt in particular took umbrage.  Expecting Firestone to be swamped, he approached Goodyear about using their stock car (NASCAR) tyres.  They agreed.  And, with that, the great Akron company began its single-seater racing history.

The switch to Firestones had additional implications for Jim.  Until now, he had worn at Indy his regular, light blue, two-piece Dunlop overalls, complete with Esso and BRDC badges.  With Ford’s engine supply now requiring the Lotus 29s to use Pure fuel and lubricants, those overalls were obviously redundant.  What to do?  Dan introduced Jim to Lew Hinchman, the local owner of a large garment and uniform factory.  Lew, whose father, JB,  built fire-retardant overalls for many of the American drivers, was in the process of making a dark blue, Ford-logo’d one-piece suit for Dan.  Why not make one for Jim, too?  Jim was measured up in the sweaty Team Lotus garage one lunch break (air-conditioning units were forbidden by the Speedway Safety Police due to the WWII-spec wiring in the garages!) and Jim was told that the overalls would be ready for the first week of qualifying.  Dan also pointed Jim in the direction of the Bell Helmets race rep.  Dan had been using a leather-edged McHal for a couple of years, and loved it.  Even so, he was impressed with the new Magnum. And so here was a chance for Jim to put his trusty Everoak out to pasture.  Jim examined the new silver helmet and decided to try it in the build-up to qualifying.  For Silverstone, next weekend, he would nonetheless race with the Everoak – for the last time, as it turned out.

Between runs in this leisurely week at Indy, Jim also had time to shape-up his travel schedule for the following weeks.  It would go something like this:

Tue, May 7: return to England (via Chicago). Pick up Lotus-Cortina at Heathrow. Drive to Silverstone. Check in to Green Man hotel. Thur-Fri-Sat: International Trophy F1 race, Silverstone. Sat, May 11: immediately after the race, fly with Colin and Dan Gurney to Heathrow in Colin’s Miles Messenger. Take flight to Chicago via New York. Change at Chicago for Indy. Check in to Speedway Motel. Begin testing Monday morning. Sat, May 18: Indy qualifying.  Leave Sunday, May 19, for London. Stay with Sir John Whitmore in Belgravia. Two days at the factory at Cheshunt. Wed, May 22 : fly to Nice from Heathrow. Check in to La Bananerie at Eze sur Mer. Thur, May 23-Sun May 26:  Monaco GP. Mon, May 27:  leave at 4:00am for London. Take flight to Chicago and then on to Indy. Thur, May 30: Indy 500. Fri, May 31: fly to Toronto and then drive on to Mosport. Sat, June 1: Players’ 200 sports car race (with Al Pease’s Lotus 23). Drive afterwards to Toronto. Take evening flight to London. Mon, June 3: Whitmonday Crystal Palace sports car race (Normand Lotus 23B). Wed, June 5: Leave London with Colin for Spa (Belgian GP).

In other words:  phew!  There was of course no internet back then; transatlantic phone calls were both a novelty and expensive.  Communications with the UK were via telexes and telegrams. Flight bookings were handled by Andrew Ferguson’s office in Cheshunt but re-arranged in the US by David Phipps.  And the tickets, of course, were big, carbon-copied wads of coupons. Jim’s black leather briefcase was literally jammed to the hilt.

There was little time, though, as one Indy issue followed another, to wonder if it would all be feasible.  If Jim didn’t qualify on the first weekend, for example – what would happen?  Would he miss Monaco or would he foresake Indy?  Given the powers behind the Indy effort – Ford, Firestone, etc – probably it would be Monaco.  For now, though, it was heads-down:  there was not a moment to spare – or even to think about the bigger problem.

In the midst of all this, Silverstone turned out to be a golden Saturday to be forever savoured. Thursday and Friday, by contrast, were best forgotten.  Dunlop were pushing R6 development to new frontiers;  Jim, as at Snetterton, found the Lotus 25 to be all over the place on the new tyres.  On a cold and windy Thursday, jet lag or no, he couldn’t find anything approaching a sweet spot with the car – and this was with exactly the chassis (R5) in which he’d been so quick at Aintree (on R5s).  He was only fifth that Thursday, focusing as he was on trying to make the car work just through Stowe and Club.   If he could find a balance there, he reasoned, then he could probably make up for deficiencies over the rest of the lap.

The mechanics – Jim Endruweit, Cedric Selzer Dick Scammell, Derek Wilde and the boys – worked through to six o’clock on Friday morning, rebuilding Jim’s car with yet another set-up change.   Perhaps, in addition, the rebuild might uncover a more fundamental chassis fault…

To no avail.  Saturday was cold and wet;  as all-weather as the new Dunlops undoubtedly were, little could be learned about a dry-weather balance.  The grid therefore being defined by Thursday’s times, Jim tried team-mate Trevor Taylor’s car for a few laps.  A spin at Copse capped an unremarkable day.  Innes Ireland, what’s more, would start from the pole in the BRP Lotus 24-BRM – a chassis that Jim had always liked.  Graham Hill was second in his trusty 1961/62 BRM, Bruce McLaren third in the new works Cooper and Jack Brabham fourth in his BT3, his engine down on power after a rushed rebuild.  Poor Dan Gurney had flown over with Jim from Indy but for him there would be no F1 debut with Brabham:  there was a dire shortage of Climax engines in this build up to the season proper, highlighted by Jack’s frequent runs up and down to Coventry.  Jack was more than ready to let Dan race the one and only BT3 at Silverstone but a short test at Goodwood confirmed that Dan was much too tall for Jack’s cockpit.  He would have to wait until Monaco to drive his tailor-made car.

This race was also notable for the appearance of the new 1963 Ferraris driven by John Surtees and Willy Mairesse.  Powered by regular V6 engines (with V8s rumoured to be on the way), the new cars showed glimpses of promise amidst predictable teething troubles.  This would be Surtees’ first F1 race for the Scuderia (and his first F1 race of the season;  the beautiful Lola GT, a forerunner of the 1964 Ford GT and a car with which Surtees had been closely involved form the outset, also had its maiden appearance this Silverstone weekend.  In a portent of the drama that was to explode three years later, Big John practiced the Lola on Thursday but was then forbidden by Ferrari from racing it on Saturday, even though the Sports Car Race was the last event of the day.  John appointed Tony Maggs in his place;  the South African started from the back of the grid and finished an excellent ninth.)

After Thursday’s all-nighter, and given the slight repairs that needed to be made to Trevor’s car after Jim’s spin, Colin decreed late on Friday afternoon that the boys should not overdo it.  “Just put everything back to standard on both cars.  Try to finish by nine. Get an early night.”

This they attempted.  After packing the 25s back into the transporter and driving it to their regular garage on the outskirts of Towcester, they race-prepared the cars to standard spec before repairing to their hotel, the Brave Old Oak, in time for a half-past-nine drink at the bar.   A “quick drink” then evolved into an all-nighter of a different kind – the liquid kind.  Come Saturday morning, as the bleary-eyed Team Lotus crew hustled their transporter through the early-race traffic, all the talk was of the blonde girl who worked behind the bar…Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden attended the 1963 International Trophy;  and the weather doffed its cap. A warm spring sun quickly replaced early cloud.  One hundred thousand spectators poured through Silverstone’s gates, filling the grandstands and the grass banks right around the circuit.  The British Grand Prix may have been but a couple of months in the future – here, at Silverstone – but the fans could not get enough.  A clear example of how less is definitely not more – providing the product is right. In the Team Lotus transporter, between laughs, Jim Clark reflected on the good news:  today they would forget the R6s.  They’d race R5s.  Dunlop wouldn’t like it but there you go.  A race is a race.A masterpiece of a race.  Jim started on the second row but was quickly up to second place, trailing his friend Bruce McLaren for a couple of laps before slicing past and pulling away.   Suddenly he had a Lotus 25 around him.  Suddenly he had balance and feel when on Thursday he been obliged to drive mainly on reflex, dumbing the understeer with induced flick oversteer.  Now he was four-wheel-drifting the 25 through Copse, Becketts, Stowe and Club.  Now he was using every inch of road through Woodcote and again past the pits, making the art of ten-tenths driving look sublimely simple.

18609.tifHe won it – and he won it with ease.  It was a Clark Classic on the old R5s in Lotus 25/R5.  Bruce finished second and Trevor drove well to make it a Team Lotus one-three.  Innes, quick all weekend, finished fourth – but not before recovering from a big spin at Woodcote, the thick tyre smoke of which effectively ushered-in a new era – the era of the soft-compound Dunlop R6.  Never before had rubber been so burnable – or so sticky.   Innes revolved the 24 at high speed – probably on oil dropped by the Surtees Ferrari, which eventually retired – but kept the car on the Ireland.  A few years before, the odds of that happening would have been too small even to contemplate.   Now, if we can combine those new grip levels with more compliant sidewalls, thought Jim and Colin, then we’ll definitely have a race tyre

It was a fun day, too.  Sir John Whitmore was again magnificent in the Cooper S;  Mike Beckwith won his class with the Normand Lotus 23B;  Jack Sears scored the first of his many wins with the big Ford Galaxie – a car that Jim had driven over at Indy, when he was filling in some time one quiet day at the Speedway; Jim in Galaxy '62Graham Hill won the GT race in John Coombs’ lightweight E-Type; and Denny Hulme again won the Formula Junior race in the factory Brabham, just beating David Hobbs and Paul Hawkins.  Earlier that week, Jack himself had driven the FJ car, helping Denny with set-up and with a few circuit pointers.  Then there was the business with the Miles Messenger.  Racing over, Jim and Dan piled into the cramped four-seat cockpit; bags were stuffed into the small luggage compartment (no room for the trophy!); Colin fired up the DeHaviland Gipsy engine, opened the throttle…and nothing happened.  The old four-seater remained bogged in the Stowe mud, its wheels intransigent.   Out jumped an amused Silverstone winner and his buddy, Dan  – and off, in a lighter Miles, set Colin.  Even as the little aeroplane was gathering speed, Jim and Dan were scambling aboard.

Four connections and 4,000 miles later, the two Team Lotus friends were at Indy, ready to test on a warm Monday morning.

Captions from top:  Dan Gurney, in new Hinchmans, Colin Chapman and Jim Clark, still in Dunlop blues, talk wheels and tyres early in the Indy month of May;  Jim fingertips 25/R5 out of Becketts en route to victory; late in ’62 Jim had fun at the Speedway with a road-going Mercury Monterey.  Images: LAT Photographic, Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For more on Hinchman overalls:

Chatting with the Champ

Adrian Newey, OBE,  Director of Engineering at Red Bull Racing, isn’t just the best of his time;  he sits right up there with immortals – with Rudi Uhlenhaut,  John Cooper, Colin Chapman, Patrick Head and perhaps a couple of others I’ll leave to your judgement.  A shy and retiring man who loves driving nice cars as much as he loves drawing them, Adrian was in reflective mood when we chatted on the eve of the recent Italian GP:

So prodigious is the success of Adrian Newey, so synonymous is he with F1 technical excellence – and therefore with prodigious F1 race and Championship wins – that it is a surprise suddenly to be sitting down with him in that zone they call “the Red Bull Energy Centre” and to listen to him talking…as if he is a mere enthusiast:

“Whenever I think of Silverstone,” he says, back to the journalists crowding around Sebastian Vettel – and to a bevy of exotic “Red Bull girls” beyond that group – “my immediate reaction is to remember the first race I attended there.  I went with my parents;  we sat in the grandstand on the outside of Woodcote;  and it was 1973.  I remember Jackie Stewart coming round with a huge lead, followed by the rest of the pack, including a young South African who lost it in a McLaren in a fairly spectacular way.  Amidst all the dust and the rubber I remember thinking, ‘So this is what F1 is like, is it?  Pretty spectacular…’”

Adrian speaks in what Americans would probably describe as a “typically British, under-stated way” but which to you and I is the voice of well-balanced reason.  One only has to chat to Adrian for five minutes to appreciate that he’s about as interested in celebrity, and in accentuating the first-person singular, as he is in market gardening.   Money?  Perhaps – but only if orientated towards an ex-Skip Scott GT40, or some other such delectable.

“I also remember,” he continues, “that in the excitement of watching the accident, I dropped my hamburger.  I think it was the first time my parents had ever bought me a burger – they were pretty health-conscious and liked to keep me off junk food – and so, when the dust had settled after the accident, I ran round the back of the grandstand to look for it on the ground underneath our seats.  Good for antibodies, I’m sure!”

A nice, scientific end to a little cameo that in many ways tells much of the story.  Peerless Adrian would become – an aerodynamicst par excellence in all forms of the sport (from IndyCar, where he won dozens of races with March, to F1 with March, Williams, McLaren and Red Bull) – but at the core remains the genius, the child prodigy, the detailed enthusiast with his eye on the day as a whole rather than on an event in isolation.

Thus Adrian is as much a racer as he is an engineer who sets standards in a competitive world.  He loves to drive, but recognized early that he loved even more the business of designing fast racing cars.  He also loves to engineer on the pit wall.

“My first weekend as a race engineer was also at Silverstone,” he recalls.  In the background, a heavy base is beginning to pound from the Energy Centre’s “social corner”.  Adrian is oblivious.  He is back in a grey day in Northamptonshire.  “It was 1982, and I had just moved to the March F2 team from Fittipaldis.  I’d literally never had a set of headphones on in my life before and they said, ‘Right, here you go.  You’re engineering Christian Danner’.  It was a cold, wet weekend – as miserable as it can be at a British circuit.  To be perfectly honest I really didn’t know what I was doing.  Christian was running second, I think, when the car broke down about one lap from the end, apparently out of fuel.  I was hung, drawn and quartered, and promptly fired on the spot by Christian – but then it turned out that there had actually been a metering unit leak.  Johnny Cecotto was also running in the works March team and he very kindly said that he would take me on instead, with Ralph Bellamy running Christian.  Johnny was a great bloke; we had a really good year together.”

Interesting on a number of levels.  Self-deprecating – “I didn’t know what I was doing” (yeah, right!).   Sensitive:  “Christian fired me on the spot”;  and appreciative:  “Johnny kindly took me on instead.”  I knew Johnny back then;  he was/is a great guy – a decent human being who had/has time for everyone.  Not what you would call a “Red Bull”-type of guy – but then who is?  The beat in the background throbs on, blasting out its message: “we are cool;  we are cool”.  Next to me sits Adrian.  Conservative.  Quiet.  Sensitive.   And also very “Red Bull”.   Such is the spread of his influence.

I ask Adrian if he has been following the excellent progress of Johnny’s son, Johnny Jnr, in GP2.

“Yes, of course.  It was nice to meet him after he won at Monaco this year.  There seems to be a family resemblance – and it’s good see another father and son going through.”

Cecottos Jnr and Snr: Adrian has fond memories of his F2 year with Snr and this year watched Jnr win GP2 at Monaco

Adrian’s talent as a driver is under-rated, I think.  Rob Wilson trains him and reckons he’s definitely up there with serious players who have won their class at Le Mans or Daytona.  So how does Adrian perceive his own talent?  What does the engineer think of the driver?

“I guess I was a frustrated young racing driver,” he admits.  “When I was around 14 or so I desperately wanted to go karting.  My father took me along to the local track – Shenington, near Banbury – and, to be fair to him, he made the very accurate observation that, so far as he could see, a lot of the kids were there karting not because they really wanted to be there but because their Dads wanted them to race.  So he said to me, ‘I’ll do you a deal.  You can race if you want to but you’re going to have to show your determination.  For every pound you earn, I’ll double your money…’

“Of course, doing the newspaper round, washing cars and mowing the lawn didn’t produce a lot of income, even if it was doubled, so I bought a very tired old 210 Barlotti-Villiers.   I’m not exactly sure why I went for a gearbox kart instead of a 100, but nonetheless I turned up at Shenington and the combination of me and it was hopelessly uncompetitive.  I qualified on the back row and finished pretty close to the back.

“My interest then focused on taking this tired old kart and making it go quicker.  And so I rebuilt the engine, fitted an electronic ignition, learnt to weld and made a new frame for it and so on.  I’m not sure I made it go any quicker but it did give me an extra flavour for the engineering side of things.”

We talk about cars – about racing automobiles that Adrian specifically likes:  “In terms of all-time favourite classic cars I would have to divide it into categories of both sports racing car and formula cars,” he says in that precise way of his.  “My all-time favourite sports racing cars are the Ford GT40 and the Ferrari 330 P4 – two of the prettiest cars ever built and from an era of motor racing which coincided with my childhood interest in raring cars.  From Formula 1, my favourites would probably be the Lotus 49 and 72 for similar reasons.”

“How quick am I?,” he asks rhetorically, staring into the middle distance that is the RBR race truck(s).  “I think in the historics, when I’ve driven alongside drivers like Bobby Rahal and Martin Brundle at Goodwood, I’ve generally been about a second off them, or just under a second.  Then, when I’ve got to places like Le Mans and competed against the pro drivers there, and at circuits like Misano or Vallelunga, I’m probably about 1.5 seconds off.  I’m sure it depends on the car.  If I was to jump into a single-seater it would be much more.”

Which, to my mind, puts Adrian up there with Colin Chapman in the scale of designers-who-also-know-how-to-drive.  The combined talents have to be an advantage.  Have to be.  And the comparative success of Chapman and Newey is of course no coincidence: it is predictable that both of them were/are prepared to push design tolerance to the absolute limit because they knew/know that a tenth of a second is everything, and that every racing driver worth his salt will take it on a plate, thankyou very much.  Jim Clark may have been nervous about Chapman’s margins for error – but he still took every ounce of speed that Chapman would give him.

It’s one thing to be a brilliant aerodynamicist and Technical Director;  it’s another to be a practical leader of men with the common sense of the truest of racers.  Adrian has yet to start his own team from scratch, and to rise to the centre of the podium as a Team Principal, but he could do so if he so tried;  of that I have no doubt. Like Chapman, Newey also has that burning desire to get things done.

In the meantime, his rapid rise is proof of the devastating talent:  a fast March for the fragile Leyton House-sponsored team.  A move to the more financially-secure Williams Grand Prix Engineering.  With Patrick Head and Paddy Lowe, brilliant success with the Renault-powered FW14 and its derivatives.  In 1996, a switch to McLaren.  More wins.  An even more corporate structure.  A departure, then, for Red Bull – for a team that had yet to win and still lacked an infrastucture.  That was the challenge.

“Motivation is an important part of delivering,” says Adrian, “and the hunger has to be there.  Certainly when I joined Red Bull one of my prime motivators was the unfinished business from the Leyton House days, inasmuch that I’d been at Leyton House more or less from the start.  I thought we were developing quite well as a very small team going forwards – two steps forwards and one backwards from time to time! – but if we had continued to have had decent funding then maybe as a team we could have gone on to win races.  But the funding was pulled and it was time to get out.

“So I kind of always regarded it as unfinished business.  Williams and McLaren were very established teams that had won races and championships long before my arrival.  Perhaps in both cases they had lost a bit of direction in terms of design and specifically aerodynamics but as an infrastructure they had proved they could win championships.  So my job on arrival at both of those teams was very much a design-based job.  In joining Red Bull it was different, because it was also developing the infrastructure in all senses of the word – with Christian (Horner) on the race team and then, specifically within the engineering group, things like building up our tools, getting the guys to work together, establishing the flow between departments and so on.  Indeed, in hindsight I think one of the mistakes I made in my first two months there was to treat it too much as a design-based job and not to spend enough time developing the rest of it.  If I had concentrated more on the infrastructure and the strategies, if you like, we’d have made better progress.”  Adrian is as motivated today as he was back in the 1980s: “ F1 remains a fascinating business in which to work – in my particular case for its many facets of design and innovation, both personally at the drawing board and also working with my fellow engineers at Red Bull around the factory.  Then, of course, it’s very enjoyable to be able to work with the drivers at the race weekends.”

Adrian’s and Red Bull’s progress was by most standards meteoric, of course.  Such, though, are the expectations of a racer.   None of this “it’ll be a three-year programme” stuff from Mr Adrian Newey, OBE.

We finish with some talk about the BRDC.  Adrian loves it:  “I think the BRDC is very important to British motor sport in as much as it gives a solidification to all the members;  I think all the members feel proud to be a part of the club, as demonstrated by the way that drivers like Stirling Moss, Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart always used to wear the BRDC badge on their overalls.  Obviously it’s hugely bigger today than it was then but, when you visit it, there are always people there that you know.  There’s camaraderie about it.  I think the only thing that’s a little bit of a shame,” he says, rising to leave, “is that the end-of-year function is now a lunch rather than a gala dinner.”

No more bun-fights, in other words; no more Chapman-like hijinks.

A racer, as I say, to the core.

This article was originally published in the Autumn, 2012 edition of the BRDC Bulletin

Photographs: SuttonImages


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