Why have Red Bull allowed Adrian Newey to walk straight into a rival team?

Adrian Newey
Red Bull's decision to allow chief technical officer Adrian Newey to leave next year may come back to bite them - Red Bull

You can just about make a case for Red Bull allowing Adrian Newey to walk away.

It’s not a strong case. After all, the track record of teams Newey has left has not been great. Williams never won another title after Jacques Villeneuve drove the Newey-designed FW19 to victory in 1997. McLaren won just one: Lewis Hamilton’s drivers’ title in 2008.

But Red Bull can legitimately claim to have been preparing for this day for a while, and to have the building blocks in place to keep progressing.

Newey had vastly scaled back his Formula One involvement in recent seasons anyway as he focused on other projects: the RB17 hypercar being the primary one. The 65-year-old admitted last autumn to working on F1 “only about 50 per cent of the time”.

He had been forced to slow down after a serious cycling accident in Croatia in mid-2021, during which time technical director Pierre Wache assumed a bigger role. The Frenchman now runs the design and technical team day to day, with Newey acting more as a consultant and troubleshooter and sounding board, working a set number of days per month.

Wache is signed to a long-term deal, at least three more seasons after this one, so Red Bull will argue that he can lead them into the future. Perhaps he can.

Adrian Newey and Pierre Wache
Red Bull believe Pierre Wache, right, having already taken on some of Newey's responsibilities, is ready to step up - David Rose for the Telegraph

There is a seriously strong technical team at Red Bull and they will be motivated to show they are more than a one-man-band. Newey cast a big shadow and there has definitely been some jealousy there. His departure will remove that. On top of which, Red Bull will save an estimated £15 million a year in wages.

Yes, they will no longer get the benefit of his unparalleled experience in preparing for the brand new regulations in 2026. But you can just about make a case that Red Bull can afford to let Newey walk away.

What makes absolutely no sense at all is why Red Bull have freed him up to join a rival team nine months before the new 2026 regulations come into effect. Not least because they themselves suggested last week that they would not allow this to happen.

As Red Bull said quite clearly when rumours first surfaced last Thursday that Newey had become disillusioned and wanted to walk away from a team he has been with since 2005, a team in the midst of a period of utter domination, and with whom he renewed just 12 months ago, their star designer was contracted until “at least 2025”. The implication was they intended to hold him to his contract. And possibly beyond, tacking on some gardening leave.

Privately, at that stage, the mood in the team was that his contract was watertight and there was no chance of him walking straight into the arms of a rival.

What has changed between then and now? How have Newey’s lawyers been able to negotiate an early release? It is a complete mystery.

It remains to be seen, of course, whether Newey does pack up his pencils and famous draughtsman’s board and take them off to Maranello, or Mercedes. With Lewis Hamilton joining the Ferrari ranks next season alongside Charles Leclerc, it is conceivable to think that the Italian outfit could enter 2026 with the strongest line-up on the grid in a Newey-influenced car designed to meet fresh regulations that could completely change the running order, regardless of who Red Bull pair up with world champion Max Verstappen. With Ferrari understood to be circling around Newey already, the prospect of him rocking up at Maranello feels a very real one.

But he may not rock up anywhere, when it comes to F1. He may yet retire, as he first considered some 19 years ago before making the decision to join the young fledgling Red Bull team. Six months ago, Newey ordered a custom yacht. He will be 67 by the time 2026 comes around.

Allowing him to walk away to sail around the world, or spend time on other passions such as the America’s Cup, would be understandable. As Horner said when talking about Max Verstappen a few weeks ago, you cannot force someone to stay against their will.

But why allow him to leave early and join a rival? It makes no sense.

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