For anyone who has ever been expelled from school or fired from a job they believed they were destined to do – take heart, you're in good company: so has Formula One's foremost designer, Adrian Newey OBE.
Aston Martin-Red Bull Racing's Chief Technical Officer has won 10 Formula One Constructors' titles and propelled some of the world's most famous racers to the Drivers’ Championship – but the path to glory was not always smooth.
Invited to leave his school for hijacking a concert soundcheck and blowing out a stained-glass window, Adrian later lost his first trackside engineering role when the driver mistakenly believed his car hadn't been given enough fuel. Adrian recalls: "In fact, the problem was a fuel leak, I'm glad to say. But anyway, in the immediate aftermath the driver asked if he could have a different engineer and I was fired, basically!"
Such revelations are characteristic of Newey's quiet modesty, but behind the self-effacement lies a fiercely competitive soul for whom second-best is never an option. It's a quality he has taken to every post he has held in a long and impressive career.
After studying aeronautics at Southampton University and early stints with the Fittipaldi and March F1 Teams (which included the above incident with Christian Danner in 1982), Newey first tasted success across the Atlantic. His March sports car design won IMSA's GTP class in 1983 and 1984, and his IndyCar project, the March 85C, took the Championship and the Indy 500. The follow-up model won the Championship in 1986 and the Indy 500 in both '86 and '87 but F1 was calling, and after a brief venture with March, Newey was, by 1990, at Williams.
There, in partnership with Patrick Head, he brought home five constructors' titles between 1991 and 1997, supplying the ammunition that also allowed Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve to win the Drivers' Championship.
When Newey departed Williams for fresh challenges at McLaren, he confirmed his prowess with three further championships, rounding off the decade with the 1998 Constructors' title and two Drivers' crowns for Mika Häkkinen.
After his successes at Williams and McLaren, Adrian was hired by the fledgling Red Bull Racing to elevate us to a similar level of competitiveness. The challenge was, if anything, his toughest: his previous teams had championship pedigree before his tenure; Red Bull Racing did not. Adrian's undertaking was as much to help design the team as it was to design the car.
He explains it like this: "In truth when I joined Williams and McLaren, maybe they had lost their way a little with design and engineering, but they were teams that had won races and championships and clearly had the infrastructure to be capable of doing so in the future. It meant they were able to get to the point of winning races and championships quite quickly. Red Bull was a very different case – which is what appealed to me. When I joined, it was a very young team that was still developing its infrastructure and personnel. It's a much longer process than going somewhere well-established."
Adrian's first two designs, the RB3 and RB4 made steady progress – but more was going on behind the scenes. Facilities were expanding, talented personnel were being recruited or promoted and an infrastructure was constructed that could challenge for victories. Just as importantly, Adrian was playing a crucial role in getting the team into a frame of mind where they believed this could happen.
2009 was a watershed year. A comprehensive aerodynamic rule change presented designers with a blank canvas. Adrian and the team seized the opportunity and the RB5 delivered six victories and second place in the Constructors' Championship. Perhaps more significantly the car was the class of the field in the second half of the year and proved to be an excellent platform on which to build. The next year Newey and his team went one better and, with nine wins, the RB6 took the team's first Constructors' title and, with Sebastian Vettel at the wheel, also brought home the Drivers' title.
Further double championships followed in 2011, 2012 and 2013, thanks in part to Adrian's unflinching desire to be the best and an uncanny ability to see the potential in the technology but also in the regulations, exploiting possibilities invisible to others.
At the end of 2014 Adrian took a step back from the day-to-day running of technical matters, taking a wider role with Red Bull Advanced Technologies that took his talents beyond F1, challenging himself to apply his distinctive engineering prowess to everything from the America’s Cup to the Red Bull-Aston Martin Valkyrie, our first road car project, and its track-specific sibling, the Valkyrie AMR Pro.
Adrian does, however, continue to have an enormous influence over our F1 car design, and is often seen prowling the grid with notebook in hand. While our designs are more of a collective effort in the modern era, every Red Bull Racing car still contains Adrian’s distinctive lines and, with F1 entering a period of aerodynamic upheaval, his influence is sure to be felt.