Adrian Newey, Ferrari, Jeddah, 2024

Fourth time lucky? Why Ferrari’s first three attempts to hire Newey failed

Formula 1

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Ferrari are widely considered by many as the favourites to hire Formula 1’s most respected designer, Adrian Newey, when he leaves Red Bull early next year.

The team first tried to hire Newey when its founder, Enzo Ferrari, was still alive. Had he joined them then the sport’s history might look very different.

Instead Newey produced a succession of championship-winning cars for British-based teams: Williams, McLaren and Red Bull.

Will F1’s most famous, historic and successful team finally lure the sport’s most respected designer to Maranello? Their three previous efforts to sign him show how early they recognised his potential and how keen they became to hire him.

1985

Adrian Newey, March, IndyCar, 1986
Ferrari wanted Newey for its planned IndyCar entry
Ferrari first tried to hire Newey when he was forging a reputation in the American racing scene, and the F1 team was considering a move into IndyCar racing. Ferrari eventually shelved that project, but not before Newey was invited to their headquarters to discuss it.

The 26-year-old had already been introduced to F1 car design at Fittipaldi, then joined March where he enjoyed a successful stint in F2 before shifting his focus to their American racing activities. His sports car designs delivered championship success in the IMSA category, then in 1984 he engineered Bobby Rahal’s Truesports-run March.

The followed year, March gave Newey the chance to produce his first clean-sheet design: the 85C. The car proved a success, continuing March’s run of Indianapolis 500 victories courtesy of Danny Sullivan, and winning the championship in Al Unser’s hands.

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As Ferrari balked against the FISA’s plans for future F1 engine rules, it unveiled plans to build its own car to tackle the CART IndyCar series. The championship was enjoying an upswing in interest at the time, thanks in part to the arrival of F1 champions such as Mario Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi.

Ferrari brought Newey to Maranello to evaluate his interest in serving as chief designer on its IndyCar project. However serious it might have been, the plan never came to fruition, and Newey remained at March, eventually returning to F1 with the team in 1988.

1995

Adrian Newey, Williams Interlagos, 1995
Newey left Williams for McLaren
By 1995 Newey’s reputation as one of F1’s foremost designers had been established. His March designs proved highly influential, though he only began to enjoy success after he moved to Williams in 1990. His FW14B and FW15C designs harnessed active suspension to achieve a level of aerodynamic performance their rivals could not match, and Williams scored dominant championship victories.

Tragedy struck in 1994, however, when Ayrton Senna crashed and died in a Newey-designed FW16 at Imola. The ramifications of that crash partly explain why Newey turned down Ferrari’s next attempt to hire him the following year.

Ferrari team principal Jean Todt invited Newey to Italy and explained his plans to put the team back on top. Part of his plan included hiring Michael Schumacher from Benetton, who duly Joined Ferrari in 1996 and began a run of title wins five years later.

Newey, however, had reservations about working with Schumacher. Senna had gone to his grave convinced his rival was using an illegal traction control system on his car. In his autobiography Newey admitted “I would have found it almost disrespectful to work with Michael so soon afterwards.”

Practical and personal considerations also kept Newey away. He felt his move to America in the eighties had compromised his first marriage and was concerned about a possible repeat with his second if he moved to Italy, and the difficulties it would present to seeing the children from his first marriage.

Although Newey was increasingly dissatisfied with the situation at Williams, and did soon leave the team, McLaren won this race to secure his services.

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2014

McLaren didn’t prove a long-term home for Newey, however, due in part to the clash of personalities between him and team principal Ron Dennis. By the time he left, Ferrari were dominating F1, and Newey chose to join Red Bull.

Adrian Newey, Ferrari, Monaco, 2012
Ferrari were Newey’s main rivals in the noughties
He admitted part of the appeal lay in taking a relatively new team to championship success, which they achieved in remarkably little time: Red Bull’s first title win came in 2010, six years after the brand entered the sport.

By 2013 they had achieved four consecutive championship doubles. But the arrival of the V6 hybrid turbo engine regulations the following year put a stop to that. Their Renault power unit could not compete with Mercedes, and a meeting with the company’s CEO Carlos Ghosn convinced Newey that would not change.

“Ghosn’s reply was ‘well, I have no interest in Formula 1, I’m only in it because my marketing people say I should be’,” Newey recalled last year.

“That was such a depressing place to be that we now had this yawn into the future where we knew Mercedes wouldn’t give us an engine, Ferrari had a great engine but we’d used Ferraris initially and I’d taken us away from Ferrari in the first year to Renault because I believed, rightly or wrongly, that if you’re in a championship battle, Ferrari would never give us equal equipment.

“So we were stuck with Renault ready for some huge amount of time looking forward into the future. And so being in the position where it looked like we couldn’t be properly competitive in any visible points in the future, it was just a very dark tunnel to be in.”

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Ferrari chief executive Luca di Montezemolo craved the success Ghosn was indifferent to, and made Newey what the designed called an “amazing” offer to join the company.

Newey / Macari / Aucott Ferrari, Le Mans, 2007
Newey raced a Ferrari at Le Mans in 2007
“Luca wanted to give me the whole Ferrari operation, road and race car,” said Newey. “The promise was of an almost film-star life-style and the most ridiculously large financial offer, well over double the already generous salary I was receiving at Red Bull.”

However, Newey admitted, “I just didn’t want to leave Red Bull.” He remained with them and the team returned to championship-winning ways in 2021. Following two more title doubles they are leading both championships once more.

However that success, plus the chance to lead their RB17 road car project, is clearly no longer enough to keep Newey at the team.

2024?

While Red Bull were keen to play up Newey’s desire to “take a break” after almost 20 years with them, the timing of his departure is striking. He will become a free agent at the beginning of next season, giving him the opportunity to devise a car for F1’s new 2026 regulations.

Naturally, Ferrari is not saying anything about whether it is trying to procure his services. But many of the factors which have kept these two huge F1 names apart in the past no longer appear to apply.

Team principal Frederic Vasseur has secured the services of Lewis Hamilton, the most successful driver in F1 history, plus the backing of a major new title sponsor. No wonder many think the stars may have finally aligned for Ferrari and Newey.

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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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5 comments on “Fourth time lucky? Why Ferrari’s first three attempts to hire Newey failed”

  1. He admitted part of the appeal lay in taking a relatively new team to championship success, which they achieved in remarkably little time: Red Bull’s first title win came in 2010, six years after the brand entered the sport.

    If this is still the case 15 years later, that’s a heavy argument towards AM or… Audi.
    Imagine if Hulkenberg is going from longest stretch without podium to fighting for championship.

    One of these days I miss the fantasy that was also reflected in the fanatic in the url…

  2. Sorry, guys, I just hired Newey for the next three seasons to design my son’s popsicle regatta boats. Also, you’re welcome. We’ll finally have wide scale parody in F1.

  3. He felt his move to America in the eighties had compromised his first marriage and was concerned about a possible repeat with his second if he moved to Italy, and the difficulties it would present to seeing the children from his first marriage.

    From what I remember from an old interview with Luca Di Montezemolo, it seems that the reason the second meeting didn’t go well was because Newey’s second wife regarded Italy as almost a third-world country, which infuriated him. Ferrari’s offer was already insane back in 2014 that Helmut Marko stated RBR couldn’t match it at the time.

    For a successful marriage to occur, both parties must be fully committed. Newey’s move to Ferrari hinges solely on Newey himself. Ferrari has done its part, appointing Vasseur, securing Hamilton, and bringing in many new senior figures, all backed by full support from Vigna and Elkann.

  4. Newey being refuelled mid-race.

  5. Ferrari does not make sense in my opinion. They are a Team with success and History. Bad strategy has cost them so often, even with a dominant car.
    If Newey decides to continue, he needs a new challenge. He brought Williams back to Championship form, then McLaren and then Red Bull.
    AM, Audi, Williams (again) are the destinations that make the most sense.

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