Book Review: How To Build A Car by Adrian Newey

Usually a quiet figure who glides up and down the grid pre-race with a notepad taking notes on other cars, Adrian Newey has been at the forefront of Formula One for 18 years.

Now, since he took a step back from the day-to-day research and development and took on a wider role at Red Bull, the Old Reptionian has written a book, How To Build A Car, excellently encapsulating his time so far in motorsport.

Split into ‘turns’ rather than chapters, each one asks how you would go about designing each of Newey’s most iconic cars, starting with his time at March building IndyCars and then at Williams, McLaren and Red Bull.

The book perfectly highlights the process of Newey’s mind when it comes to sitting at his drawing board.

When the rule changes come through for an upcoming season, the art of the designer is to read between the lines, and not simply abide by what is in front of you. Looking for the slightest aerodynamic gain is what has given the 59-year old both 10 constructor’s titles and an OBE.


Despite going into great detail about the development of his greatest machines, it doesn’t mean the reader also needs a first class hours degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics. The drawings done just for the book help to visualise exactly what Newey is talking about.

As a child, the labels on Tamiya model car kits helped him to understand what parts of the car were. His sketches are our childhood Japanese toys.

‘During the promotion of the book, Newey revealed that he was offered the top job at Ferrari multiple times’

However, for those not so interested in the finer details, each ‘turn’ goes into the stories of the seasons gone by, and his younger life as a troublemaking student at Repton, culminating in him being one of only two students being expelled from the school in the 1970s, the other being Jeremy Clarkson.

Whilst many of the stories that are told are ones of unrivalled success, whether it be at his early years at Williams or his ongoing time at Red Bull, the stories where things aren’t going to plan stand out as the most gripping, with the 1994 season being the hardest-hitting of them all.

As the lead designer of the FW16, and as one of the leading men in the garage in Imola, Newey is better placed than anyone to help to answer the many unanswered questions surrounding the death of Ayrton Senna at Imola in 1994.

Beyond the technicalities of the engineering surrounding the failure of the car on May 1st, the glorious writing from Andrew Holmes, who Newey credits in his acknowledgements, perfectly encapsulates the emotions of what the whole Williams team must have felt at the time.

Ferrari offers

The waste of life, the age-old questions about whether it’s all worth it, are all thoroughly dissected through both the memories of Newey and the writing of Holmes.

Obviously, the aerodynamicist’s time at the pinnacle of motorsport has run alongside the rise and fall of F1’s most successful team.

Throughout the book, he seems to channel the frustrations of many of the engineers across the paddock who have to contend with Ferrari and the FIA (Ferrari International Aid as they are known across the garages).

According to Newey, Ferrari’s financial might and huge support have given them both increased funding from motorsport’s governing body and also far more leverage when it comes to decision-making and rule-breaking, which he has had to contend with for much of his career.

During the promotion of the book, Newey revealed that he was offered the top job at Ferrari multiple times during his career and promised wages that no other team could ever match. Despite the offers, the man born in Stratford-upon-Avon could not be drawn to Maranello and has stayed in Milton Keynes for 11 years.

How To Build A Car allows us to enter the mind and the life of a man who has been at the forefront of motorsport technology for near two decades.

The book opens up both his genius with a pencil in his hand and lets us see the tearaway side to him that you’d never know he had based on his interviews in the paddock.

How To Build A Car is published by HarperCollins.