MILTON KEYNES, UK – When the COVID-19 pandemic led to a lockdown across the UK for Christmas 2020, Red Bull’s legendary Formula One designer Adrian Newey had plenty of time on his hands.
He usually spent the time between Christmas and New Year skiing or vacationing in South Africa with his wife, but with no concrete plans, he let his imagination run wild at the drawing board. What he came up with were the early sketches for a stunning £5million (plus tax) hypercar known as the RB17.
Die-hard F1 fans will recognize the meaning of the name, bridging the gap between last year’s championship-winning RB16B F1 car and this year’s RB18. For those who don’t know, RB stands for Red Bull and the following number has increased over the years according to the number of seasons Red Bull has raced in F1, starting with the RB1 in 2005.
When the 2020 pandemic hit, F1 introduced cost-saving measures for the 2021 season, mandating the carryover of chassis designs from one year to the next. As a result, Red Bull decided that its 2021 car should be called the RB16B in reference to its shared chassis with the 2020 RB16, leaving the RB17 name open.
Around the same time, Newey was spending his Christmas season dreaming up ways to make a two-seat hypercar go as fast around a racetrack as a single-seat F1 car. Bringing F1 performance to a very, very small percentage of the mass, if you will.
However, unlike the Aston Martin Valkyrie, which Newey and Red Bull Advanced Technologies (RBAT) designed in collaboration with Aston Martin between 2014 and 2016, this new RB17 hypercar would not be road legal.
While some potential owners might balk at the idea of spending more than £5million on a car that isn’t allowed to spin a wheel on public roads, the RB17’s focus on the racetrack brings some major advantages. Essentially, Newey was given free rein to design a car with the sole aim of speed, without having to compromise to comply with any type of regulatory framework.
Street cars have to pass all manner of emissions and legality tests, but a car meant for the track is subject to far fewer rules. And since it’s not designed to be raced in any particular category, all the smart ideas that have been banned from motorsport over the years can be applied to the RB17 as Newey sees fit.
“Of course, there’s still the rules of physics,” Newey points out when asked if designing the RB17 was a liberating experience, “and we need to package it so that it can hold two people, at least one of whom is quite tall .
“So we have these limitations and we also have to use existing tires because developing tires is a very long project from the start so we have a few limitations. And of course security.
“But beyond that, it’s practically a car with no rules.”
The aim is to offer F1 levels of performance while carrying two people, with part of the justification for the second seat being that an instructor must drive with the owner on board to offer driver training.
And when Newey talks about F1 level of performance, he really means it.
“What we’re talking about is lap time, which is ultimately all that matters, as we know,” said Newey when asked to quantify the kind of F1 performance the RB17 will be capable of. “Obviously this will be track specific and the big struggle is really the weight, so to build a car big enough to fit two people with a roof on it for practicality and safety reasons.
“That automatically becomes slower than a Formula 1 car and then does all the things you have to do to get the performance against that inherent extra weight.”
The car will feature ground effect aerodynamics, much like a modern F1 car, but with skirts to seal airflow between the underside of the car and the track (something banned in F1 in 1981). Newey keeps a low profile on precise design details, but expects plenty of F1-inspired tech from earlier decades to contribute to some truly remarkable lap times.
“Every car design starts with the concept of what you want to achieve – in this case F1 level of performance,” he adds. “Then when you try to achieve this rather difficult goal with a two-seater, you can imagine that we will use all the tricks that we have learned over the years in relation to the performance-enhancing technologies that were later banned in F1 .
“They can be reintroduced along with the research and design approach that characterizes the Red Bull Formula 1 team.
A twin-turbo V8 engine will power the car and produce an F1-rivalling 1,100 horsepower. It has not yet been decided whether Red Bull will turn to an external partner to build the engine or whether it will integrate its production into the new Red Bull Powertrains division at its factory, which is set to build the team’s F1 engines from 2026.
“Performance is almost the relatively easy part these days, so is the advancement in engine technology,” added Newey. “I think the biggest thing is keeping the weight down, so we’ve worked a lot on that.
“Then it really makes the aerodynamics, as the other big contribution, work well and there are some tricks from the past that we will use to make that happen.”
Only 50 cars (plus development prototypes) will be built, with production of the RB17 slated to begin in 2025. Red Bull strives to find customers who are genuinely interested in driving the cars, rather than those who want to make the investment to “flip” it for profit once it rolls out from the factory.
But even for a Newey-designed hypercar, £5million seems quite expensive, making the Valkyrie seem like a relative bargain at its £2.5million to £3million street price.
“I always get a bit embarrassed when we mention the £5m mark,” says Newey. “However, the reality is that I will spend money [on development] No matter how high the income is!
“The materials that go into these cars when you start bringing them to Formula 1 level are scary. And then when you add the research and the testing, it’s terrifying [£5 million] is the number you see if you only make 50 cars.”
But those willing and able to pay the price for the RB17 will know they’re getting something truly special: their very own Newey-designed race car, capable of setting lap times of Max Verstappen’s F1 -Reach car.
https://www.espn.com/f1/story/_/id/34161806/the-story-red-bull-new-5-million-hypercar-rb17 The story behind the RB17, Red Bull’s new £5 million hypercar from F1 design legend Adrian Newey