MILTON KEYNES, UK – When the COVID-19 pandemic caused a lockdown across the UK over Christmas 2020, legendary Red Bull Formula 1 designer Adrian Newey found himself with plenty of time free.
He usually spent the period between Christmas and New Year skiing or taking a vacation to South Africa with his wife, but with no plans in place he let his imagination run wild on his drawing board. What he has come up with are early sketches of a stunning £5million (plus tax) hypercar known as the RB17.
Die-hard F1 fans will recognize the significance of the name, which bridges the gap between last year’s championship-winning RB16B F1 car and this year’s RB18. For those not in the know, the RB stands for Red Bull and the following number has increased over the years based on the number of seasons Red Bull has raced in F1, starting with the RB1 in 2005.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, F1 introduced cost-cutting measures for the 2021 season which required the carryover of chassis designs from one year to the next. As a result, Red Bull has decided that its 2021 car should be called the RB16B in reference to its shared chassis with the 2020 RB16, leaving the RB17 name up for grabs.
Around the same time, Newey was spending his Christmas dreaming up ways to run a two-seater hypercar as fast as a single-seater F1 around a circuit. Bringing F1 performance to a very, very small percentage of the masses, 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 legal on the road.
While some potential owners might balk at the thought of spending upwards of £5million on a car that is not permitted to spin a wheel on public roads, the RB17’s track orientation presents big advantages. Essentially, Newey was given free rein to design a car for the sole purpose of speed, without having to compromise to comply with any regulatory framework.
Road cars have to pass all sorts of emissions and legality tests, but a car meant for the track has far fewer rules. And because it’s not designed to race in any specific category, all of the clever ideas that have been banned in motorsport over the years can be applied to the RB17 as Newey sees fit.
“Of course there are always the rules of physics,” Newey points out when asked if designing the RB17 has been a liberating experience, “and we have to pack it to take two people, at least one of whom is pretty big.
“So we have those constraints and we also have to use existing tyres, because developing tires from the start tends to be a very long project, so we have some constraints. And safety, of course.
“But other than that, it’s effectively a car with no rules.”
The aim is to deliver F1 levels of performance while carrying two people, with part of the rationale for the second seat being the need for an instructor to come on board with the owner to offer driver coaching.
And when Newey talks about performance levels in F1, he really means it.
“What we’re talking about is lap time, which is ultimately all that matters, as we know,” Newey said when asked to quantify what kind of F1 performance the RB17 will be capable of. . “Of course it will be circuit specific and the big battle really is weight, so making a car big enough to take two people with a roof over it for practicality and safety.
“It automatically gets slower than a Formula 1 car, and then it does whatever you need to do to achieve the performance against that inherent extra weight.”
The car will feature ground effect aerodynamics, much like a modern F1 car, but with skirts to help seal the airflow between the underside of the car and the track (which was banned in F1 in nineteen eighty one). Newey is tight-lipped on exact design details, but expect plenty of F1-inspired technology from decades past to contribute to some truly remarkable lap times.
“Any car design starts with the concept of what you want to achieve – in this case, F1 performance levels,” he adds. “In trying to achieve this rather difficult goal with a two-seater car, you can imagine that we will use all the tricks we have learned over the years in terms of performance-enhancing technologies that were later banned in F1. .
“They can be reintroduced with the research and design approach that characterizes the Red Bull Formula 1 team, so this is very much a Formula 1 approach applied to a slightly different problem.”
A twin-turbo V8 engine will power the car, producing an F1-rivaling 1,100bhp. It has not yet been decided whether Red Bull will turn to an external partner to build the engine or integrate its production into its factory’s new Red Bull Powertrains division, which is expected to build the team’s own F1 engines from 2026.
“Horsepower is almost the relatively easy part these days, such is the advancement in engine technology,” Newey added. “I think the most important thing is to try to keep the weight down, so we’ve been working a lot on that.
“Then it’s really about making sure the aerodynamics, as another big contributor, are working well, and there are quite a few tricks from the past that we will use to achieve that.”
Only 50 cars (plus development prototypes) will be built, with production of the RB17 due to start in 2025. Red Bull is eager to find customers who are genuinely interested in driving the cars rather than those willing to invest in order to “turn it around”. ” to make a profit once it leaves the factory.
But even for a Newey-designed hypercar, £5m seems rather expensive and makes the Valkyrie a relative bargain with its £2.5-3m price tag on the road.
“I always feel a bit embarrassed when we mention the £5m mark,” says Newey. “The reality, however, is that I will spend [on development] regardless of income!
“The materials that go into these cars, when you start making them at the Formula 1 level, are scary. And then when you add the research and the testing, that [£5 million] is the number you look at when you only make 50 cars.”
But those willing and able to pay the price of the RB17 will know they’re getting something truly special: their own Newey-designed track car capable of matching the lap times of Max Verstappen’s F1 car.