Newey was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, United Kingdom on December 26th, 1958. His father was a veterinary surgeon and his mother a former ambulance driver. His older brother left home while Adrian was young and hew grew up more or less and only child. His father was a car enthusiast and their garden workshop saw a succession of Mini Coopers, Jaguars and what Newey found most interesting kits from Lotus. As early as he could remember Newey wanted to be a motor racing engineer. While still a young lad he would build model kits of racing cars and soon he was modifying these kits in his’s workshop.
He attended he attended Repton public school alongside famed Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson only to be asked to leave at the age of 16 though not before building a go-kart in the metalwork room. Clarkson would later remark that in the entire history of the school only two students were ever expelled, himself and Newey. After Repton Newey attended Mid-Warwickshire College of Further Education in Leamington and the story almost ended there. Luckily he was able to turn things around and gain admittance to the University of Southampton where he would gain degrees in Aeronautics and Astronautics., for Newey designing racing cars was indeed rocket science. His final project was concerned ground-effect aerodynamics on racing cars. After graduating and seeking employment with the top F1 teams he settled on working for Emerson Fittipaldi’s small team under the tutelage of Harvey Postlethwaite. The team would soon fold and Newey was forced to look for new employment.
Newey would land at March and in 1984 moved to the American Indy-Car project where he became the designer and race engineer for Bobby Rahal. Newey formed a close friendship with Rahal designing the March 86C with which he won the CART title and Indy 500 in 1986. After a few more years with various teams he returned to March as chief designer of their Formula 1 efforts.
The March that Newey joined had seen his best days and in 1990 March became Leyton House Racing and Newey its Technical Director. Despite the name change the team fortunes did not improve and at the end of the year Newey was out of a job. Williams then a top team wasted no time in signing the young designer and Newey rewarded Williams with two World Championships in 1992 and 93 with drivers Mansell and Prost respectively. Tragedy struck in 1994 with the death of Ayrton Senna. In the weeks that followed the accident Newey contemplated quiting the sport.
“The honest truth is that no one will ever know exactly what happened. There’s no doubt the steering column failed and the big question was whether it failed in the accident or did it cause the accident? It had fatigue cracks and would have failed at some point.” “There is no question that its design was very poor. However, all the evidence suggests the car did not go off the track as a result of steering column failure.” “If I was pushed into picking out a single most likely cause, that would be it,” he said.
“The boring matter of salaries came up and I expected at least what I was already on, but Ron [Dennis, the McLaren chairman] came up with 75 per cent of that.At the same time my old friend Bobby Rahal made me an offer to join Jaguar’s F1 team. I got close to leaving, when two things happened: I realized the politics inside Jaguar weren’t good – Bobby was already being marginalised – and Ron offered to treble my salary. So I stayed.”
The episode strained, but didn’t damage, Rahal and Newey’s friendship. “It caused us a bit of a glitch in truth,” Newey remarked. “But it’s like any long-standing friendship. You can have the odd row here and there, but if you’re genuinely good friends you get over it fairly quickly.” Adds Rahal: “Adrian is a great friend. It was an emotional thing for the two of us, but in the end friendships are friendships and I think it shows the kind of friendship we have to survive such a thing and go on with our lives. The episode was a huge disappointment for me and I suspect probably an embarrassment for Adrian. But in the end I think he did the right thing.”
Besides being an extremely talented designer Newey could be quite restless and at Williams he would always find himself subservient to Patrick Head, the Technical Director and also a founder. Newey also found himself at odds with some personal decisions regarding the Williams drivers who Head and Frank famously considered merely employees. Newey longed to be the person in charge of all technical matters. He thought he found it in 1997 Newey was poached by arch-rival McLaren and titles soon followed in 1998 and 1999 with Mika Häkkinen. In 2001 he was up for a new contract and was shocked when Ron Dennis tried to low-ball him.
In 2003 Newey created what he called his worse car ever. Newey called it to extreme and extreme it was. It was compact and tightly packaged, in fact so tightly packaged that it was hard to get to the gearbox and engine without having to remove significant parts of the suspension. The side pods proved to be too fragile and twice failed the mandatory FIA crash test. To add a final insult the gearbox would get so hot as to cause its heat-resistant coating to delaminate.
Relations with Dennis had not fully recovered from Newey’s earlier dalliance with Jaguar which he took as a sign of disloyalty. He swore that he would not be so beholden to any one person in his organization and slowly diluted Newey’s authority. Newey too looked for an escape and eventually he would end up at Red Bull and another string of titles followed. With Vettel moving on to Ferrari, 2015 sees Newey stepping back from the top step at Red Bull. Stories of him working on an America’s Cup contender continue to make the rounds. A joke sometimes heard in the paddock is that the other major teams on the grid would think it wise to pool their money to make him go away. In fact Ferrari was rumored to have told the designer that money would not be an object if he saw fit to join the team.