Coming Full Circle: This Is Avant-Garde F1 Aerodynamicist Adrian Newey’s Lotus 49B
Photography by Will Broadhead
“Simplify, then add lightness.” If the late, great Colin Chapman had ever penned a book about building racing cars, this quote would surely be a frontrunner for the title. Another engineering genius, who did write a book, is Adrian Newey, a man who has arguably left as indelible a stamp on Grand Prix racing as Chapman and his Lotus designs. And the stories of these two immense talents are more closely linked than you might think.
Newey’s story begins, as one might expect, with a car. A Lotus 49B, but not the real deal like the one pictured here. Newey’s first 49B was a model kit from Tamiya, a 1/12th scale replication of the red-and-yellow-liveried machine driven by Graham Hill and the like around the world’s F1 circuits.
A 10-year-old Newey remembers buying that kit, and he cites the clearly labeled parts as contributing to his learning about the modular nature of F1 car construction. It’s not at all as stretch to say that putting together his miniature 49B inspiring him to draw and later realize his own designs by pillaging and combining parts from other model kits to create variations beyond what could be bought off the shelf. In hindsight, this tinkering was the catalyst for one of the greatest design careers that motorsport has seen in then modern era. From gluing bits of plastic together to elevating the art of downforce in Formula 1, Newey’s influence is still growing. To date, a total of ten world constructor championships have been earned by three different teams in Newey-designed cars.
The Lotus connection would come full circle when, in 2014, Newey purchased Lotus 49B chassis R8 at auction. Five years on, and the ex-Graham Hill machine is fully restored and competing in classic events at the hands of Newey himself, in addition to making appearances on the show circuit (if you’re in the area, this 49B will be among the cars celebrated at this year’s London Classic Car Show this coming weekend). There will be a number of Newey machines accompanying the 49B, as Newey’s career is being honored more generally at the show, but this Lotus holds a special place even among the championship-winning cars he’s designed—not least for its provenance, but also for the key role it played in Newey’s story.
When the car was purchased in 2014, it required a full restoration to ensure it was safe to race (or, as safe as you can reasonably make a 1960s Grand Prix car). It was a process that Newey was as hands-on with as possible in the Lotus restoration, as one might expect, but it was also completed with the help of Paul Lanzante, the famed McLaren collaborator and an expert when it comes to the restoration and preparation of high-end racing machinery in general.
While the Lotus 49B had the more experimental aero pieces fitted to it over the span of its F1 career, the first iteration, the Lotus 49, is the more recognizable variant thanks to its success at the hands of Jim Clark, the iconic green and yellow-striped livery, the impact of its stressed member construction, and of course its role as the inaugural bearer of the great Cosworth DFV V8). And yet, the 49B is arguably as intriguing. Its spoilers and wings were altered often (ranging from near-wingless examples for courses like Monaco all the way to huge risers supporting wings for each axle), and it’s also significant in the wider motorsport canon as the first F1 car to wear the colors of its sponsor (in this case, Gold Leaf tobacco). Newey’s restored 49B displays this battle dress proudly, and up-close it looks fantastic without the over-restored sheen that can taint similar projects.
Chassis R8 was built in 1968, and initially contested the Tasman Series in New Zealand before competing in the 1969 Grand Prix season, where it was piloted by Richard Attwood in Monaco, Jo Bonnier in Germany, and Graham Hill at his home track, Silverstone (albeit only to a twelfth-place finish).
The innovation of Chapman and Maurice Philipe’s Lotus 49 and its variants duly inspired the design of championship- and race-winning cars to come, all the way up to the modern era and Adrian Newey. The sport would look very different without the “disruptive technology,” a phrase that succinctly describe the impact of looking beyond the rules to find the “loopholes” that give his cars the competitive edge (look no further than the Williams FW15C for a prime example), and it’s thanks in part to a miniature of a 49B.
Indeed, it wouldn’t just be Formula 1 that had missed out if that first Tamiya kit hadn’t found its way into Newey’s hands, as his influence has stretched across disciplines. One might argue that he would have found his path one way or another, or that the inspiration could have just as easily come from some other exotic shape, but ifs and buts are irrelevant to reality. You could certainly do worse than to get up close with his prized machine when it goes on display this weekend in London, and, having enjoyed watching him race, I urge you to seek out a date to catch this remarkable car doing what it was built (and restored) to do.