Adrian Newey is the genius behind Red Bull’s domination – they cannot afford to let him go

Adrian Newey, the Chief Technical Officer of Oracle Red Bull Racing looks on in the garage during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on April 05, 2024 in Suzuka, Japan
Adrian Newey has done more to shape modern F1 than nearly anything else - Getty Images/Mark Thompson

The whispers around Adrian Newey being unsettled are nothing new. As soon as the Christian Horner controversy first erupted back in early February, there was speculation regarding Formula One’s pre-eminent designer and specifically on which side of the fence he stood.

Newey said nothing then. And the fact that the 65 year-old has remained silent since, refusing to back Horner or reconfirm his commitment to the team, has naturally only served to fan the flames (and there have been many willing to fan them, given Horner’s enemies both inside and outside the team).

In one sense, that silence was entirely predictable. Newey is not a man who enjoys confrontation or team politics by nature. And his decision to travel with Horner to races, and talk with him publicly at those races, suggested at least that the two had not had a major falling out.

But if reports are true that he has now told the team of his desire to leave, it represents a huge development for Formula One – as well a sizeable punch in the solar plexus for Horner personally.

The truth is, as far as engineering nous is concerned, Newey is rightly regarded as a genius.

He has shaped the entire modern era of grand prix racing. Newey-designed cars have now won more than 200 grands prix and 13 constructors’ titles dating back to his first, the uber-dominant 1992 Williams-Renault FW14B which carried Nigel Mansell to glory.

It is true that he is no longer as involved in F1 day-to-day as he once was. Telegraph Sport had a fascinating chat only last autumn with Newey and Red Bull technical director Pierre Wache about their respective roles and how it worked these days.

Newey admitted that he probably spent “roughly 50 per cent” of his time on F1. “I suppose I’m a bit of a maverick in as much as… I’ve managed to get to a situation now where it [the F1 engineering team] can operate procedurally without me, which allows me to be spoilt enough to be able to get involved in any area I feel like.”

Those areas include the America’s Cup with Alinghi. And MotoGP. Newey has even had a hand in designing a submarine, a project commissioned by Red Bull’s late co-owner Dietrich Mateschitz, who died last year. Most of all, though, it is the RB17 super car which has dominated Newey’s time of late. It is a big passion project of his, and one of the major reasons it has been hard to imagine him leaving right now. The first prototype is due out later this year.

But you can never rule anything out in F1. Newey may be fabulously well paid at around £15 million a year, he may get to set his own hours, live part-time in South Africa and spend less time in F1. But if it is true he is unsettled, there are some very wealthy teams out there who would be only too willing to throw money at him to tempt him to defect – to see whether he still has it. The 2026 regulations are coming up and Newey is the best in the business with a blank canvas.

Whether he could actually take his pencils to Ferrari, Aston Martin or Mercedes is another matter. Red Bull’s statement made it very clear they would look to hold him to his contract. If he did try to force a move, it would surely be the gardening leave to end all gardening leaves. By the time he did go anywhere, he could be approaching 70.

Even if he tries it will be huge. Horner would be losing a key ally as well as a genius brain.

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