Taking stock on a drawing board

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 June, 2012, 12:00am


When someone tried to copy my work at school, I used to hook my spare arm protectively around my book to ward off over-inquisitive neighbours. No matter how hi-tech Formula One is, it would seem that something similar is going on in the sport.

The few minutes before the race on the grid can be pretty frantic, with mechanics, team bosses and the celebs all rushing around. But in Canada there was one serene man with a notebook, taking careful stock. It was Adrian Newey, the chief technical officer of Red Bull, intent on making mischief.

When a grid-walking television crew caught up with him, he admitted he was having a look at the other team's cars. It is about the only time teams are unable to protect their jewels - and their design upgrades - from prying eyes. The nearest the rival teams have to putting their arm around their work is to position mechanics around the car to block off prying eyes - and cameras.

With the championship race this year being so close, every little bit of knowledge helps; an upgrade can make all the difference. That is where Newey is so good. He prides himself on operating at the edge of the rulebook. That was evident before the Canadian Grand Prix, when the team were told to remove holes in the axles that helped the aerodynamics. The design had been on the car since the start of the season.

Team principal Christian Horner says Newey is always a month down the road in his thinking compared with the rest of the team, with everyone trying to keep up. Despite that, Horner describes him as 'a little bit of a dinosaur. He's the only person I know at Red Bull Racing that can't operate his own computer. He still works on a drawing board, which is the only drawing board we have in the factory'.

He must be the smartest dinosaur that ever lived, as Horner and his colleagues also call him a genius. Given that he has to draw his cars with the help of pencil and paper, rival teams should be wary when he wanders round the grid sketching.

Mind you, even a man of Newey's calibre must be struggling this season with the effect tyres and temperatures are having on the performance of cars. For all the big brains and even bigger computers employed, it has remained a bit of mystery, as Martin Whitmarsh of McLaren alluded to in Canada.

His man, Lewis Hamilton, won in Montreal. His third victory in Canada put him top of the championship, but as brilliant as the Brit was, it was also down to getting the strategy - and the tyres - right.

When Hamilton came in for his second stop, everyone expected Fernando Alonso to do the same and fight him for the lead. He stayed out on a one-stop strategy and went backwards, finishing fifth. Yet a one-stop strategy worked brilliantly for Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez, who joined Hamilton on the podium.

Seven drivers have won the first seven races of the season, prompting some to criticise the sport for being too random. That opinion has understandably been given short shrift by Perez's boss, Peter Sauber. 'As far as I can see,' he says, 'it's just a handful of people in the paddock who can't get used to not knowing by Friday who's going to win on Sunday.'

If Pirelli are to be believed, there may be an eighth grand prix winner this weekend. They fancy Michael Schumacher to win on the tight Valencia circuit given his heroics in qualifying in Monaco earlier in the season. If he has to have any chance, Mercedes will have to sort out their reliability problem that has meant the former champion has retired in five races.

Last weekend his DRS moveable wing jammed open and Ross Brawn says reliability is the team's 'highest priority'. With just two points on the board this season for Schumacher, 25 points for a win would come in very handy.

[Adrian Newey] must be the smartest dinosaur that ever lived, as Horner and his colleagues also call him a genius