Adrian Newey: "Biggest rule change since 1983"

Adrian Newey is still considered the guru among designers. We spoke to him about the 2022 cars, his alternative to cost capping, and where he put the development token in the 2021 Red Bull.

You spent a very long time developing the 2020 car last season. Mercedes got out much earlier. Was your strategy better?

Newey: The question will only be answered at the end of the season. We've started the season well, but there's still a long way to go. Our philosophy has always been to develop a car for as long as possible because it teaches you things that you don't if you don't.

Does that also apply to next year?

Newey: The rule changes are huge. And yet you can take experiences from this season with you.

How important was it that Red Bull tested a prototype of the 2021 underbody on the race track in 2020?

Newey: We did this because we wanted to avoid the nasty surprises that can happen when you only rely on the wind tunnel. The test might not have been absolutely necessary, but since it was relatively easy to do, we did it. To get an early warning if there are any problems that you don't fully understand.

Do you now have the nasty surprises with the correlation between wind tunnel and track under control?

Newey: You can never say that. At the end of the day, a wind tunnel is a simulation. By definition, this can include errors and is limited in some aspects. It would be no surprise that with the 2022 cars, which are completely different, there are again wind tunnel correlation problems. At the moment we understand, more or less within the limitations mentioned, what happens in the wind tunnel and in comparison in reality. But that applies to relatively stable regulations in recent years. The physics of the flow around the car hasn't changed that much. That won't be the case next year. We're entering uncharted territory.

Last winter, for the first time, you had to design a car that could only be further developed to a limited extent due to the homologation rule. Was that more of a challenge than frustration?

Newey: Not really. We invested our tokens in a new gearbox, which allowed us to redesign the rear suspension. This gives us a reasonable amount of freedom in this area. In addition, the many small aerodynamic restrictions have created a new field for optimization at Pirelli's request. At the same time, like all the other teams, we have already invested some background work in the 2022 car.

Was it difficult to choose the token?

Newey: We all had quite a short time between the announcement that there will be a token system and when we had to report this token to the FIA. That was correct, because the point was to use the token to correct an inherent weakness of the car instead of thinking forever about which change to the car would now save the most time. I wasn't happy with some aspects of our gearbox and rear suspension. So it was a pretty easy decision.

There is and has been much talk about the fact that the 2021 aerodynamics rules will penalize cars with low employment. Is that correct?

Newey: Every rule change brings disadvantages for one and advantages for the other. The simplistic front wings that were introduced a few years ago hurt us more than some of the competition. Do we now have an advantage over our main competitor? This is difficult to answer or to prove in hindsight. It certainly wasn't the intention of these rules. In any case, during the voting process within the Technical Working Group, nobody voted against it or stood up and said that it would put them at a disadvantage.

Without exception, the current cars have extreme suspension geometries, all for the sake of aerodynamics. Some teams even accept a higher center of gravity for the car. Do the classic design principles no longer count?

Newey: It started much earlier. The age of aerodynamics began with the Venturi cars at the end of the 1970s. Since then, it has gradually moved in this direction. Aerodynamics became more and more important. The better the simulations got, the more precisely the advantages and disadvantages could be weighed against each other. Then the principles or preferences of a designer no longer count. When the aerodynamic advantage beats the disadvantage of the higher center of gravity, it's done.

There were some technical directives during the season. How much did the Red Bull affect?

Newey: Let's take the rear wing. The rules state that everything on the car should be rigid. We all know that's not possible. There are various bending tests for this, and the FIA ​​reserves the right to change these tests if necessary. That's fine so far. The test criteria have existed for a number of years now. Alfa Romeo asked the FIA ​​earlier this year if this would change anything and the answer was no. But then it was changed. The problem with this is not the effect on the lap time. It's minimal. Worse is the impact on the cost and time it takes to adjust the wing.We were given a run-up to the French GP, but in fact we had to react within two weeks to Azerbaijan because we couldn't risk a protest. That didn't feel quite right.

What has changed for you since you have to work under a budget cap?

Newey: If the budget cap can be monitored safely and equally for everyone, I have no problem with that. But I still see some gray areas, and that worries me. As an engineer I like to be creative with the tools at my disposal. If it's less, no problem. There would also have been an alternative to the budget cap. I think it would be better if the possibilities for development work were restricted. Today, this is mainly determined by aerodynamics. If you were even more restrictive with tools like the wind tunnel or CFD, that would severely limit the development capacities and you wouldn't have to employ legions of aerodynamicists. This would then result in less output and thus a lower burden on the design office and the production department. You could then introduce a token system to limit the number of changes. Such a system would probably be more effective. But, as I said, I can live with the budget cap as long as it's the same for everyone.

How big are the rule changes for 2022 compared to 1998, 2009 or 2014?

Newey: For me it's the biggest rule change since the Venturi cars were banned and the flat bottom was introduced in 1983. The impact is huge. Every aspect of the car changes except for the power unit. That's not to say that everything we've learned over the last few years or this season is irrelevant, but it's a whole new world. After the field has moved closer and closer together in recent years, I see a high probability that we will see larger gaps again next year. Some people will interpret the rules better than others. We'll have to give this formula a bit of time to really judge it. But while no rule change has been so well prepared, I'm not sure it will achieve the goals that have been set.

Rule changes have often played into your hands. But this time you have to think in fairly narrow legality boxes. Is it still possible to get the decisive advantage?

Newey: At first, frustration dominated. Once you read the rules, it got more interesting. Nevertheless, I find it a wrong way to divide the car into more and more legality boxes and also to prescribe the contours within these boxes. I'm for the opposite way: more freedom, but fewer opportunities for development.

Are high angle cars history?

Newey: By nature, the angle of attack will be lower. We're talking about a kind of Venturi car here. And they have to drive as close to the street as possible to take advantage of the ground effect. You certainly won't see cars that stand up at the back like they do today.

In principle, how will these Venturi cars differ from those from the early 80s?

Newey: For one thing, the aprons are missing. Because of the many restrictions, we won't see as many different solutions as we did back then. I would rather compare them to the IndyCars from a few years ago.

In theory, shouldn't the 2022 cars generate more downforce than today?

Newey: That won't be the case. The rules are written to minimize turbulence behind the car to make overtaking easier. This limits the possibilities to use the current as you want.

The perfect solution would be to replace the mechanical aprons of the 80's with artificial ones. Do you see a chance for a loophole there?

Newey: Not really. However, every effort will be made to drive the cars in a configuration that achieves this effect or parts of it.

They've been in business for 40 years. How long do you want to keep doing the job?

Newey: I keep asking myself that. If you had asked me 10 or 15 years ago if I would still be there today, I would have said no. I'm still here now. I don't spend as many hours in the office as I used to and I make sure that my life outside of Formula 1 is not neglected. I also keep myself awake with other projects like the Aston Martin Valkyrie. There are a few other things in the pipeline that I can't talk about just yet. I love designing things and working on a car with my colleagues and the drivers. And I've been fortunate in my career that I've been able to design a wide variety of cars over many eras. I have always remained true to this passion. I was never interested in becoming a team leader or a manager. Yes, I've been around a long time, but I also know that I'd get bored sitting at home all day tending my garden. I need something to stimulate me.


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