Adrian Newey’s best race cars, ranked
Three races into the 2023 Formula 1 season and Red Bull has already showed blistering pace. The team’s newest car, the RB19, has a 100 percent win rate so far, with Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez both claiming victories in the series’ opening rounds.
In a recent interview, seven-time F1 champ Lewis Hamilton confessed that he had never seen a car demonstrate such speed. “When we were fast, we weren’t that fast,” Hamilton said. “That is the fastest car I have seen compared to the rest.”
As with many of Red Bull’s winning cars, the man behind the firm’s newest rocket is Adrian Newey. The British engineer currently serves as the Bull’s chief technical officer, and has experience well beyond F1 when it comes to designing world-beating machines.
From sports cars to Indy, Newey has a knack for blueprinting success. Let’s take a look at the race cars that have defined his 40-year career.
10. March 82G GTP
Win rate: 0 percent
Designed for IMSA’s then-new GTP class, the March 82G was the first racer to come from Newey’s now-prolific pen. The car was based on an existing BMW design, and since Newey worked alongside March boss Robin Herd, it’s difficult to estimate Newey’s impact in the program.
Even so, the 82G enjoyed success. Powered by a 5.7-liter V-8 Chevy between the rear axles, it started in pole position for its first-ever race, the 1982 Daytona 24 Hours. Then, the wedge-shaped racer followed up its success on the high banks with a runner-up finish at the 12 Hours of Sebring.
9. March 881
Win rate: 0 percent
The March 881 was Newey’s first Formula 1 car, and it hinted to the paddock that Newey might be a design superstar in the making.
During the 1988 season, the 881 was typically the fastest non-turbo car in a field dominated by turbocharged McLarens and Ferraris. In the Japanese Grand Prix, it briefly led—the only non-turbo to do so that year and the first since 1983. The 881 did land on the podium twice, recording second- and third-place finishes.
8. Red Bull RB5
Win rate: 35 percent
After threatening to leave McLaren numerous times, Newey finally did so in 2005.
In 2006, he landed at the new team in town, Red Bull Racing. Newey’s first creation to win a grand prix under the new banner was the RB5, in 2009. The achievement meant so much to the soft company that it gave the designer an RB5 as a “thank you.” He occasionally runs it at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Fun fact: The first Newey car to win a title was the RB6, in 2010. This kicked-off a four-year stretch of dominance for the Bull.
7. McLaren MP4/13
Win rate: 56 percent
Irritated at Williams’ unwillingness to give him shares in the team or more input in driver selection, Newey took his drawing board to mighty McLaren.
His arrival coincided with a rule change mandating narrower cars and tires and, surprise, surprise, Newey’s car suited the new regs better than anyone else’s racer. The MP4/13 won nine of 16 races in 1998, with Mika Häkkinen ultimately taking the title. Remarkably, the feat still stands as McLaren’s last constructors’ championship.
6. March 85C
Win rate: 66 percent
Newey’s first Indy car was also his first race winner. The 85C was designed to utilize either a Ford or a Buick engine. During the 1985 IndyCar season, the 85C won 10 of 15 races and earned 12 pole positions. It’s the first, and only, Adrian Newey design to win the Indianapolis 500—though the victory didn’t come without drama. Danny Sullivan, aboard a Miller-liveried 85C, famously completed his “spin and win” in 1985.
5. Red Bull RB9
Win rate: 68 percent
By 2013, Newey was chief technical officer at Red Bull and put in charge of the design team. His inspiration clearly remained undimmed. After a slow start (well, slow by Newey’s standards), Sebastian Vettel found his stride and ended the season by winning nine consecutive races in the Renault-powered RB9. The successive wins record set by Vettel still stands today.
4. Williams FW14B
Win rate: 62 percent
After the 881, Newey’s next two March designs weren’t nearly as successful and the British team eventually fired him. According to legend, he left his designs for a new March behind. Supposedly, his successor threw them in the trash.
The blueprints were of the FW14, an incredible design that Newey ended up building for his new employer, Williams.
Featuring active suspension, the Renault-engined car stormed to the 1992 F1 world championship in Nigel Mansell’s hands. While other Newey cars are more statistically successful, the FW14B’s margin of victory over rivals was dramatic. The new car also spawned a line of winners.
In 1993, the FW15C won 15 of 16 pole positions and helped deliver Alain Prost his fourth championship. Appropriately, Prost calls Newey “the best.”
3. Aston Martin Valkyrie
Win rate: N/A
Okay, so it’s not a racing car, but one tester described it as “the most extreme factory-built car ever to wear number plates.”
The Valkyrie, otherwise known as the AM-RB 001, was the result of Aston Martin’s sponsorship of Red Bull. Newey took time from his day job to design the car, which is aimed at use on road and track.
Old habits die hard, and even road cars deserve epic downforce. Using underbody aerodynamics, the 1140-horsepower monster creates 4189 pounds of tire-squashing downforce at high speed.
Only 150 Valkyries will be built. If you want this piece of Newey’s historic handiwork in your garage, tough luck; they’re already sold out.
2. Williams FW18
Win rate: 75 percent
The mid-1990s were golden years for Williams, culminating in the Newey-designed, Renault-powered FW18 of 1996. Adrian’s aero lifted the bar to a level that main rivals Ferrari and Benetton couldn’t stand. The FW18 won 12 of the season’s 16 races with Damon Hill taking the title ahead of teammate Jacques Villeneuve.
1. Red Bull RB18
Win rate: 77 percent
Following years of Mercedes dominance, Newey got his title-winning mojo back in 2021.
Then, in 2022, the group won with the RB18, a novel car built for F1’s newest generation of grand prix racer. One of F1’s rule changes led to the return of ground effects—where air rushing under the car creates negative pressure and sucks the car to the track. Unfortunately for his F1 opposition, Newey is an ace at ground effects; one of his final projects in college was “ground-effect aerodynamics on racing cars.”
The resulting RB18 was masters’ degree work, making Newey’s rivals look like they were still in high school, smoking behind the bike sheds. The 2022 Honda-powered racer won 17 of the year’s 22 grands prix, handing Max Verstappen his second drivers’ championship.
Where will the RB19 land after the 2023 season? Do you agree with our rankings? Chime in below.
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