Privileged to attend a dinner at which the eminent F1 designer Adrian Newey was guest of honour. Newey isn’t exactly famous for talking about himself, but with the help of an adroit interviewer, Ben Cussons, he talked freely about his career and took curly questions from the audience.
I’d have imagined he wouldn’t want to say much about early season testing – Red Bull called it off a day early because their Renault engine wouldn’t work – but he dealt with it adroitly when someone asked the question: when are you going to retire and give someone else a chance? “Pretty soon,” he said, “if we can’t get this car working...”
Newey professed no special insight into how the 2014 season will go, but said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if it divided itself into two parts, the first being the first few races when people simply got their cars working, the second when they raced as normal.
He was pretty critical of the latest F1 changes, which he reckoned, like other recent rule-changes, tended to be more and more restrictive. “Regulations tend to design the car these days,” he said. “We’re moving more and more closely towards a one-make formula — and one-make formulae have a pretty poor reputation with the audience.
“In any case, we’re pretty good at designing racing cars in this country. Why come up with regulations that make cars the same and do us all out of a job?”
For such an eminent person – surely the Ayrton Senna of race-car designers – Newey came across as a modest and thoughtful man with an undimmed passion for racing, surprisingly generous in his praise for others.
He talked a lot about the productive nature of a great relationship between drivers and engineers — Bobby Rahal, Damon Hill, Mika Häkkinen and Mario Andretti were four drivers he especially enjoyed working with — and reckoned real insight arrived when you “understand what he [the driver] means, not what he says”.
Ben Cussons took us neatly through Newey’s career, pointing out that cars he designed have won the British GP no fewer than ten times. The answer I enjoyed most was the last: which people do you regard as your inspiration?
Newey cited Colin Chapman, but spoke most fondly of his father, a vet by profession, who invariably spent money on interesting cars, had a small but well-equipped workshop and allowed his teenage son to tinker in it. Greatness starts in ordinary ways.