Adrian Newey had a contract with Williams through to 1999, but his ambition was to become a technical director in his own right. This wasn’t going to happen with Patrick Head in situ at Williams, so in late 1996 Newey negotiated a new job at Mclaren. An ugly legal dispute between the two teams followed, and he spent late 1996 and the first half of ’97 on gardening leave.
Once-dominant Mclaren slumped in the mid1990s after the withdrawal of engine partner Honda. Following interim seasons as customers of Ford and Peugeot, Mclaren forged a new partnership with Mercedes in 1995, but the team had lost their way; engines with more bite improved the situation, but not enough to satisfy super-competitive Mclaren boss Ron Dennis.
That changed with the arrival of Newey, whom Dennis would go on to describe as: “The most competitive man I’ve ever met.”
Mclaren were already on an upswing, having bookended 1997 with one-two finishes for Mika Häkkinen and David Coulthard, and there could have been more, but for a number of engine blow-ups. Newey’s combination of big-picture thinking and forensic attention to detail added much-needed rigour to a design office that was often throwing innovations (such as the clever but quickly banned ‘brake-steer’ system) at the car in the hope of finding an edge.
Getting his feet under the desk mid-season, Newey focused on development of the 1998 chassis with a view to exploiting the latest rule changes. Again, the FIA planned to shake up the format to control speeds and (theoretically) encourage overtaking by imposing strict limits on brake performance, making the wheels and the cars themselves narrower, and by bringing in the soon-to-be-hated grooved tyres.
“I joined on 1 August,” said Newey. “You look to start on the following season’s car in June. The team had already analysed several solutions, including the long sidepods, and I worked on the remaining elements. One of the distinguishing features of this car was its low nosecone.”
The car was a clean-sheet design, as was its lighter, narrower Mercedes FO 110G engine, with the vee-angle squeezed from 75° to 72°. With better power and reliability, Häkkinen won eight GPS, and Coulthard added another in San Marino, to secure both championships by season’s end. Amazingly, Mclaren have yet to win another constructors’ title. Carbon-fibre composite monocoque Double wishbones, pushrod-actuated torsion bar (front) and coil (rear) springs and dampers Mercedes-benz FO 110G V10 2,998cc 760bhp Mclaren 6-speed semi-automatic 600kg 2,895mm Bridgestone Mika Häkkinen, David Coulthard Neil Oatley, Adrian Newey