“How to Build a Car”: Newey’s autobiography reviewed

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We all know Adrian Newey can wield a pencil. To be precise, a 0.7mm HB propelling pencil for rough sketching and a 0.3mm 4H for rendering intricate technical details.

It turns out he’s just as good with a pen.

Recent followers of Formula One will associate him with Red Bull and their all-conquering machines of 2010-13. But one striking aspect of his autobiography is how two of F1’s other great teams, had and blew their chances to hold onto F1’s star designer.

Newey gives his side of the rift which developed between him and the top brass at Williams, which prompted his departure to McLaren. He gives further insight into the goings-on at Woking (for more of which, see the recently-reviewed “The Mechanic”), and the difficult relationship he had with Ron Dennis before moving to join the ‘fizzy drink company’.

And if they failed to keep hold of him, imagine how different F1 history might have been had Ferrari ever succeeded in signing Newey? They tried more than once.

All this and much more on his early life and career in American racing are told in prose which is precise and uncluttered as his designs. Detailed sketches of key parts of his cars greatly aid understanding the many technical innovations he explains.

If that makes it sound heavy-going in places, it isn’t. Not least because he has a stack of amusing stories to tell and is frank in his view of others and himself.

A little-discussed aspect of racing car design is the ethical quandaries it can raise, a subject Newey returns to more than once. When he began designing racing cars the regulations were loose and the safety limitations of some designs were obvious.

In the book’s stand-out chapters, Newey gives a revealing and analytical assessment of the shortcomings in the design of the Williams FW16 in which Ayrton Senna crashed and was killed. It leaves the reader in no doubt the pain this, the only fatality in one of Newey’s cars, caused him.

It’s striking that virtually the only words of praise Newey has to offer the sport’s governing body is for their work on improving safety standards. The constant changes in the rule book and move towards what he calls the “red herring” of hybrid power units get short shrift.

Despite its title, the a book which offers a tremendous amount of insight into much more than just the creation of racing cars. “How to Build a Car” is an essential read for all fans of motor racing.

F1 Fanatic rating

Rating five out of five

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

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How to Build a Car

Author: Adrian Newey
Publisher: Harper Collins
Published: 2017
Pages: 390
Price: £20.00
ISBN: 9780008196806

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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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  • 19 comments on ““How to Build a Car”: Newey’s autobiography reviewed”

    1. tgu (@thegrapeunwashed)
      5th November 2017, 12:31

      Nice review Keith, this sounds like one of the few books on modern F1 which I might be interested in buying.

    2. Thank you for the reviews, Keith – both this one and Button’s.

      I’m naturally skipping the Button one, and have bought this one. However, I must apologize – the Amazon UK page didn’t offer an option to buy the Kindle edition, so I bought it via Amazon India which does offer a Kindle edition.

    3. I see the new rules for 2021 require that everyone who was ever in F1, must publish an autobiography. At least it seems that way, considering all the books coming out lately…

    4. This one must be in my library

    5. I normally wait for paperbacks but I noticed that the hardback is currently only £9.99 on Amazon.co.uk so with that (and the promise of nice technical drawings – nice to keep on the bookshelf) I couldn’t resist ordering this for myself.

      Folks, if you too are tempted, click through from the Amazon link above so that F1Fanatic gets a small benefit. You will get the latest Amazon price.

    6. Bought it. Thanks for the review Keith!

      1. @pyon You’re welcome, hope you enjoyed it.

    7. I’m really looking forward to this.

      I prefer reading books on my Kindle, but I hear there’s some drawings in it, does anyone how well do they display on the Kindle? … I’d hate to miss something from the legendary designer

      1. In my experience, anything other than text is utterly awful on the Kindle. Sure you can zoom and pan, but you never get the true impression of the image.

    8. Just finished reading this having received it from Father Christmas. A fantastic book and insight, showing that Newey is nothing like the shy person I once thought he was from his interviews. Interestingly it also shows the high cost of devoting yourself 100% to your work.

      Pretty much everything is there, apart from the camber/tyre issues at Spa, but otherwise a fantastic read – especially around the exhaust blowing development and Renault’s involvement (something they never got enough credit for imho).

    9. This book really needed someone to fact check Newey. He tends to remember events in a distorted way that favors whoever he was designing for / engineering.

      Chapter 50, talking about Imola 1996, when Schumacher out-qualified Hill.

      “During this period the rule was that you had to race with whatever fuel was left in your tank after qualifying. So you could, if you wanted to, go for a very light fuel load in qualifying and hope to get pole position.”

      That’s wrong, qualifying with race fuel was mandated in 2003.

      Chapter 57, talking about the 2000 season

      “… Mika retiring from a dominant lead in the penultimate race of the season, the US Grand Prix, with engine failure”

      Hakkinen didn’t lead a single lap that race. He was catching Schumacher when he blew up.

      That’s as far as I got, I’m sure there were some inconsistencies in his recount of his Indy Car years, but I didn’t take notes.

    10. Another alternative fact, chapter 60, talking about the 2005 season:
      “Now we were just two points behind Renault going into the last race in China, which was the first time a Grand Prix had been held in China”
      No, the first GP in China was 2004.

    11. “I hadn’t had a lot of time in the car and we had a few teething problems. I got to Monaco, and DC, who lives there, picked me up from the airport.
      Late at night you can drive the circuit, and that’s what he did, showing me what to look out for. Next day I saw Gerhard Berger, who walked the track with me offering further advice – all of which meant that I’d had pointers from not one but two Monaco winners. ”

      In chapter 64, Newey alludes to Gerhard Berger having won in Monaco. Never happened.

    12. Chapter 68, Newey falsely claims Vettel was 3rd in Brazil 2009.

      “We won more races but we were always a little behind in terms of the championship, to the point that by Brazil, the penultimate race, although Mark won and Sebastian was third, Button was crowned world champion.”

    13. Chapter 70:
      “Whatever the motive, we got it on the car for Malaysia, which, combined with the natural pace of the car, gave us a front-row lock-out and, at last, a trouble-free run to a 1–2 finish.”

      They didn’t lock out the front row, Rosberg got 2nd in qualifying for the 2010 Malaysian GP.

      Looks like Newey just relied on his failing memory and no one involved in publishing this book bothered to check the facts.

    14. Chapter 71, about Red Bull’s performance in Brazil 2010:
      “The cars were quick, qualified first and second on the grid, and had a clear advantage in the race. ”
      Except it was Hulkenberg that got pole, how did he get that one wrong?

    15. A possible explanation for these errors I’ve noticed can be found in the epilogue
      “The credit for taking my ramblings and putting them down into some sort of ordered and elegant structure goes to my ghost writer, Andrew Holmes. Andrew has been an absolute pleasure to work with; prior to meeting me he knew nothing of motor racing and that has worked well, forcing me to explain myself”
      Should have chosen a ghost writer with knowledge of motorsport history.

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