Michael Schumacher vs Adrian Newey, 1991-2008 (F1 in numbers)

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Michael Schumacher vs Adrian Newey (click to enlarge)

Michael Schumacher’s biggest rival was not a driver but a designer: Adrian Newey.

So said K last week in the comments on an article about which driver won the most races. Journeyer suggested a graph showing how the seven-times world champion compared with the man who designed title-winners for McLaren and Williams.

Newey’s early cars

Working for the Leyton House team in 1990, Adrian Newey’s early design efforts transformed their prospects. Ivan Capelli almost won the 1990 French Grand Prix at the wheel of Newey’s CG901, only losing the lead late in the race when his Judd engine faltered.

Newey was already on his way to Williams and his first car for the team, the FW14, made huge strides in performance throughout the 1991 season, almost allowing Nigel Mansell to nick the title from Ayrton Senna’s McLaren.

In 1992 the ‘B’ version of Newey’s design, now with computer-controlled active suspension, was so much quicker than the opposition the team didn’t need to press its successor into service. Mansell won the title with a then-record nine wins (Riccardo Patrese took one) and the following year Alain Prost and Damon Hill took another ten between them.

The Schuey vs Newey era begins

Schumacher had made his debut in 1991 and the following year thwarted Mansell’s FW14B at Spa-Francorchamps to score his first F1 victory. But the Schumacher vs Newey era really got going in 1994.

The year began with an appalling blow for the Williams team. Not only did the FW16 struggle for pace, but at Imola lead driver Ayrton Senna was killed. Suspicion fell on the car and alterations made to it to improve its performance, and the team were embroiled in legal disputes over the accident for many years.

Schumacher won eight races to Hill’s six, and Mansell added another one for Williams. The following year Hill was routed by Hill and Williams.

Ferrari vs McLaren

Alexander Wurz in Adrian Newey's unraced Mclaren MP4-18

Newey was also on the move, however, switching to McLaren for 1998. His final Williams design, the FW19, proved more than adequate for Jacques Villeneuve to beat Schumacher to the title despite an often lacklustre campaign.

The 1998 season brought a radical change in the regulations as grooved tyres replaced slicks and the cars were made 20cm narrower. Newey’s Mercedes-powered MP4-13 was vastly quicker than the opposition at the first race, and although Ferrari clawed back much of that advantage throughout the season, Mika Hakkinen took Newey’s car to the title.

Schumacher’s broken leg halfway through the 1999 season spoiled another promising round in the Schuey-vs-Newey war. But now Ferrari hit their stride, and Newey car’s struggled to get a look in from 2001-2004.

Tyres had become a decisive factor in the battle and McLaren failed to reproduce the kind of performance with their Michelins that Ferrari could get from their Bridgestones. In a desperate attempt to make up for lost ground Newey conceived the ultra-radical MP4-18 for 2003, which failed several crash tests and was never raced. It eventually spawned the disastrous MP4-19, which took Newey most of 2004 to transform into a race-winning car.

An illustration of how crucial tyres had become came in 2005, when a late change in the regulations swung the balance of power towards Michelin, and Ferrari only won the farce of a race at Indianapolis. Despite ten wins for Newey’s MP4-20, more reliability problems played a decisive role in holding Kimi Raikkonen back from the championship.

Retirement and Red Bull

Newey was soon on the move once again, switching to Red Bull in 2006. It was a watershed year for Schumacher too, who at the end of the season finally hung up his helmet after 91 wins.

Newey is yet to design a winning Red Bull but the offshoot car used by sister team Toro Rosso won the Italian Grand Prix last year in Sebastian Vettel’s hands.

With another radical change in the rules arriving this year, all eyes are on Newey’s Red Bull RB5 (below) to see if he’s sussed the intricacies of the new rules better than anyone else and built another-out-of-the-box race winner. But the man himself claims his days in F1 are numbered as cost-cutting regulations intrude ever further on the creativity of the designer.

Since 1991 Newey’s F1 cars have scored 102 wins. Though it would be foolish to try and compare the two and say which was better, we can say with certainty we’d have had a dull season’s racing if Schumacher had ever found himself in a Newey-designed car.

Red Bull RB5 - 2009 F1 car

Read more: F1’s greatest winners (F1 in numbers)

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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21 comments on “Michael Schumacher vs Adrian Newey, 1991-2008 (F1 in numbers)”

  1. It’ll be a shame to see the likes of Newey leave F1. If only the regulations could be opened up without increasing the costs.

    1. If the regulations were opened up the costs would come down.

      At the moment the teams are so restricted in the design of the cars & engines that they’re spending £millions to make fractional advantages on things like friction reduction & aerodynamic tuning. Almost none of which has any practical use on production cars.

      Every time the FIA have banned a new technology or tightened the regulations they’ve increased the costs.

  2. Interesting, but I wonder how much of this article was taken from a certain book by Mark Hughes?

    1. I assure you absolutely none of it was. Which of his books are you thinking of? I’ve got three of his and none of them are about Schumacher or Newey.

      The only book I referred to in writing this was “McLaren: The Cars 1964-2008” by William Taylor.

  3. Newey and M. Schumacher should join Brawn GP. The old guns will be back on top again :)

    Wishful thinking; I know.

    1. You got half right! We should have some sort of “top ten bizarre comments that turned out to be true” list.

  4. “Though it would be foolish to try and compare the two and say which was better, we can say with certainty we’d have had a dull season’s racing if Schumacher had ever found himself in a Newey-designed car.”

    Amen to that. It would have been 1988 all over again, minus the team mate battles. Kinda like 2004, come to think of it… :P

  5. I wish the cars this season were as beautiful as the MP4-18 :(((

    Anyway, there should be no Drivers’ World Championship, as it makes no sense. The best car is what wins. Unless it hasn’t got the best tyres – then the second best car wins.

    1. I’d say that the MP4-18 actually looked quite similar to this years McLaren

  6. Heinz-Harald Frentzen once suggested the best way of improving the racing in F1 would be to ban Michael Schumacher and Adrian Newey. Sensible chap.

  7. Nice comparison but Newey had two drivers with his cars in every race…

    1. “Nice comparison but Newey had two drivers with his cars in every race…”

      So did Shumacher! He often got his win at the expense of/thanks to his team mate ……

  8. With the improved Renault engine, RB are going to be strong. I disagree with the usual prediction of Ferrari- Mclaren and then the rest.
    This 2009 season will be different ……..

    1. I completely agree Arthur, although Mclaren have the resources to sort themselves out they don’t seem too hot in testing.

      I hope that Williams can make an impression on the podium this year and would love to Lewis *have* to fight for good results more than he did last year, – that will make or break him in the “is he really a good driver” debate.

      Bring on Melbourne!

  9. I’d really like to sit down and chat to Adrian about his thought processes behind his different designs, what he feels worked and different worked, and indeed which one he is most proud of…

  10. I agree Chaz, an in-depth interview with Newey would be very interesting.
    Congrats to Keith for an interesting article, but huge congrats to K for spotting the corealation.

  11. What would have been great would be seeing Colin Chapman, Gordon Murray and Adrian Newey competing, whilst given free reign on the regulations.

    The amount of progress would probably beggar belief.

  12. With the rule changes this year I think we will defiantly see a major shake up in the order of the grid compared to previous years. The problem with some of Newey’s cars has been that they were often fast but fragile, if there are no reliability issues with the new car I can easily see it regularly challenging for wins.

  13. Cool.

    Titles: Newey 6 Schumacher 7

  14. To be honest, I think it is more of a comparison between Newey and Brawn/Byrne, who have been with Schumacher all though 1991 until 2006, with the exception of 1996 when John Barnard designed the Ferrari.

    Sure Michael did a lot to win with the car, but in a less competetive car he couldn’t win except the occasional (lucky) victory like in 1992 and 1996.

    Formula 1 is about both the driver and the car. Not just the car or just the driver.

  15. Um… it was never schuey vs newey. That just rhymes. It was actually Newey vs Byrne. Between Byrne and Newey, they have steamrolled the opposition over 20 years

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