Thought of the Day | 09.09.2015 | The Secret Behind the Charging Bull

Similar to McLaren they’re aren’t quite the force they used to be, which seems incredible to say considering they were only formed 10 years ago. Of course, I am talking about the highly successful and highly charged (see what I did there) Red Bull Racing Formula 1 team. Whilst they haven’t spiralled into as big a decline as the Woking team, they have constantly threatened to walk away from the sport unless ‘major changes’ happen. Basically, they want to win and thus no-one else can. It’s Mateschitz throwing his toys out the pram.

But between 2010 and 2013 they looked unstoppable. We’re talking Schumacheresque dominance here. Was it the brilliance of Sebastian Vettel (above in 2010), the man management skills of Christian Horner, or the powerful and reliable Renault V8 engine? Well of course, they all played their part, but the main answer spent most of his time behind the drawing board in Milton Keynes.

It seems fitting that I talk about Adrian Newey tonight, a day after talking about McLaren and Ron Dennis. Dennis was of course the man who refused to raise Newey’s salary in 2006 and so he fell into the grateful clutches of the Red Bull team. But before talking about his time at Red Bull, I’d like to mention some of his previous works of art, which started at March in 1988, who evolved into Leyton House in 1990. Newey expressed that the Leyton House CG901 was the car he was most proud of aesthetically, even though it lacked reliability particularly at the start of the season, yet at the hands of Ivan Capelli, the team took 2nd at the French Grand Prix that year.

Newey left for Williams in the summer of 1990, where he had the budget to design a proper racing car for the world’s best drivers. Along with Sir Patrick Head, Williams dominated the early 90’s, snatching titles from McLaren and Senna, the 1992 FW14B was the most technologically advanced car of its time, and saw Red 5 (Nigel Mansell) take the World Championship with an incredible 5 races still to go. The perks of active suspension, traction control and a sophisticated semi-automatic gearbox also dominated in 1993, this time with Alain Prost.

Newey spent 3 more years with Williams, but the partnership of Michael Schumacher and Benetton took the 1994 and 1995 Championships out of Williams’ grasp, leaving the Newey/Williams relationship on very thin ice. Even though Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve took the 1996 and 1997 titles for Williams, Newey was on garden leave, ready to join McLaren Mercedes for the next year.

He couldn’t influence the design of the 1997 car due to the fact he wasn’t at the team, but for 1998 he was determined to produce another championship winning car. And he did, the MP4/13 taking 9 victories and 5 1-2 finishes on it’s way to the ’98 title. The car featured a revolutionary ‘second brake pedal’ which enabled Hakkinen and Coulthard to operate the rear brakes as well and the front brakes, aiding traction. The design left McLaren with 32 points out of a possible 32 from the first two rounds of the season and was subsequently banned from the third race onwards. Newey always had a penchant for adapting to major rule changes, clearly displayed in that season. For 1999, the MP4/14 won Hakkinen the Drivers’ Championship, but the team lost out to Ferrari in the Constructors battle, even though Schumacher was consigned to the sofa for 3 months with a broken leg sustained at Silverstone.

Schumacher and Ferrari went onto dominate the next 5 seasons, leaving Newey frustrated, and looking for a new challenge. With McLaren not willing to raise his salary to £6.5 million per year, the affluent new Red Bull team came calling.

After 2 shaky years at Red Bull, the pressure was on. Toro Rosso, the team’s sister constructor had outscored them in 2008, Vettel even took a win for them at a wet Italian Grand Prix, the team’s only win to date. But for 2009, another major set of rule changes were introduced. Slick tyres, skinny, tall rear wings and wide front wings were the order and everyone started afresh. Even though newly-formed Brawn and Jenson Button ran away with both titles early on, the RB5 kept them on their toes, and Red Bull claimed second in the constructors title, a major improvement on 7th the previous year. They also scored their first 6 wins in the sport.

As Brawn were bought out by Mercedes in 2010, Red Bull continued to thrive and easily won the Constructors title, with Vettel taking his first Drivers title. For the next 3 seasons, Vettel and Red Bull continued to dominate, Newey the man behind it all. Instead of tearing up the designs for the previous year and starting on a blank canvas (as McLaren are guilty of doing now, guess why?) Newey subtly improved in the design, a case of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and nobody could beat them. Alonso and Ferrari tried, but to no avail.

And but for Mercedes’ awesome WO5 Hybrid, Red Bull could have taken another title, but the Renault V6 was slow and unreliable, causing the team to go into meltdown leaving Newey considering packing up and going to design yachts for Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup team. It’s been much the same for 2015, only for Red Bull to now see Ferrari and Williams overtake them in a dismal year with no more Vettel, several grid penalties and half-hearted threats to quit the sport. With Renault engines out for next year and the potential of a more powerful Ferrari unit, what can Newey achieve for 2016, and 2017 when another massive set of rule changes are implemented.

Time will tell, but one gets the feeling the Bull doesn’t want to be caged much longer.


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