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motor sport

How to Build a Car: The Autobiography of the World’s Greatest Formula 1 Designer

Despite his fame as one of the most successful F1 designers of all time, Adrian Newey is quite a private man. Not for him the star status of the many drivers or teams he has engineered to multiple world championships.

In the paddock, with current team Red Bull, he is a brooding hovering presence overseeing all aspects of the team’s race engineering with maximum concentration evident in his demeanour.

But this is not a humourless, soulless human as he is sometimes depicted, just a very intense one whose good humour becomes more evident in those rare interviews he agrees to.

I’ve been lucky enough to catch up with him several times and he’s engaging and fascinating.


Adrian Newey talking with Graham Benge at Goodwood Revival 2012

Until recently, I seemed to have missed his intriguing book, “How to Build a Car“. It may not have the most interesting title, but it is a revealing picture of a genius at work, from his earliest motor sport interests and slightly wayward academic record, to his choice to study aeronautical engineering as an unusual route into F1.

With the apparent intelligence and technological superiority of a Leonardo da Vinci, he combines the Renaissance artist’s restless curiosity with that of same artist’s eye for design. Indeed he reveals one car designed almost literally by eye when, in his earliest days, access to a wind tunnel was unavailable.

For it is possibly as an aerodynamicist that he has had his greatest successes, combined with a clear understanding of ‘packaging’ and a willingness to read the rule book very carefully to find the loopholes to exploit therein.

How to Build a Car” charts his design ethos from one car to the next. From March Can-Am and Indy cars, via his leading roles in designing notable championship winning cars for Williams and McLaren, to Red Bull where his success continues to today.

Not only Championship winning cars of course, but many of them ground breaking designs that set out to challenge contemporary thinking and that increasingly detailed FIA rule book. Little surprise he admires the equally maverick Colin Chapman of Lotus.

He is explicit about his reliance on driver feedback to refine his cars as they race through the season, and his constant attention to the race engineers’ feedback to hone the detail. Indeed, he has worked as a race engineer to gain that experience, and talks in awe of his first experience of actually driving one of his own creations, the additional knowledge he derived from the experience … and his continued respect for their pilots.

I’m sure he is familiar with the sketchbooks of Leonardo, their intense calculations and detailed descriptions often in coded form. It is therefore entertaining to note he doesn’t like computer design but works feverishly at times on a traditional drawing board with the results bring passed onto a team who can computerise his thinking. Yet, this is no luddite. He is adept with the wind tunnel and other design tools, he just prefers to initiate his designs on the board in sketches as his thinking develops. Given he is one of if not THE most successful F1 designer of all time, what team boss is going to gainsay his methods?

This constantly questing mind is now also engaging in designing supercars and superyachts, but it is clear that Formula One will always be the ultimate quest, as it has been since he was very young.

How to Build a Car” is a fascinating book, and if you really want to understand F1 on the inside, not the glam lives of the drivers, or the machinations of the piranha club, but how it’s really done behind the scenes, then it’s an absolute must. A veritable codex of how to build race winning cars, year after year.

Graham Benge

How to Build a Car: The Autobiography of the World’s Greatest Formula 1 Designer by Adrian Newey

ISBN-10 : 000819680X
ISBN-13 : 978-0008196806

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