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The next great Williams?

Williams chief technical officer Pat Symonds reckons the car he is most proud of is always “the next one”. And here, at the launch of the 2015 FW37, he has revealed exclusively to F1 Racing the design secrets behind his new favourite Formula 1 machine

The English winter of 2013-2014 may have been mild in meteorological terms but within the rarefied atmosphere of Formula 1 the maelstroms were not confined to the teams’ windtunnels. After five years of relative stability in the technical regulations, the rule book was ripped up and F1 entered a new era in which engines became known as power units and aerodynamic acumen was no longer the king of the performance jungle.

For everyone at Williams it presented a chance to restore the team to a position many felt was its rightful place at the sharp end of the competitive F1 hierarchy. The record shows it was an opportunity seized with both hands by the new management team led so ably by deputy team principal Claire Williams and group CEO Mike O’Driscoll. They precipitated change in an organisation rich in talent but confused in direction. The elevation from the lower echelon of the constructors’ championship to a hard-fought third place is testament to the skill of the workforce and the vision of the management.

The improvement could, though, only ever be thought of as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. And, while the difficulty of moving the team up the rankings should never be underestimated, it is probably somewhat easier than the task that lies ahead. That mission is one of consolidation and incremental improvement. It is an undertaking where every one of the seven ingredients that form the recipe for accomplishment in F1 needs to be simultaneously edged forward towards the apex of excellence that ultimately brings success.

The elements of design

So what are these seven factors? In no particular order: tyres, power unit, drivers, teamwork, budget, chassis and aerodynamics. Now you could argue that the Pirelli tyres are the same for everyone and that Williams already have the best hybrid power unit from Mercedes… but that belittles the intense effort that goes into exploiting these common factors to eke out the final fractions of performance that are indicative of the difference between success and failure. The ability to get each tyre compound into its narrow working range of temperature, the ability to make most efficient use of the 43 megajoules of chemical energy locked into each kilogram of fuel, and the capability to enhance the power units by means of tactical harvesting and subsequent deployment of energy in both qualifying and race situations; these are the factors that differentiate what may otherwise be regarded as commonality.

As we consider the other factors, Williams are now reaping the benefits of strategic decisions made some time ago concerning drivers. Valtteri Bottas is one of the most exciting prospects on the grid today and he is perfectly complemented by the affable yet extremely fast Felipe Massa, a driver who has flourished in the family atmosphere of Williams. They are part of a race team that is undergoing a rejuvenation probably best exemplified by their transformation from a squad who last year trembled at the thought of a pitstop, to a coherent and disciplined team who regularly achieve pitstops in the highest percentile of performance.

Budgets are a means to an end, and in this area Claire Williams and Mike O’Driscoll, together with their commercial team, have provided the means that have allowed the engineers to move forward in their relentless pursuit of excellence.

With these elements accounted for we must now consider the final two: the chassis (in its broadest sense), and aerodynamics – still, even in this fuel-efficient world, the foundation of track performance. It is these elements that fall under the umbrella term ‘design’.

The 2014 rules brought revolution to the design of Formula 1 cars. The highly hybridised power units were a step beyond anything seen before and the challenge of racing for 187 miles on just 100 kilograms of fuel was not just a trial for the engine suppliers: it caused chassis designers to re-evaluate many of the design rules they had held dear for years. The cooling requirements of the turbocharged engines and high-powered electrical machines meant going back to square one in the evaluation of design compromises. This was something the Williams design team, led by Ed Wood on the design side and Jason Somerville in the aerodynamics department, were able to exploit in an extremely efficient manner. With input from the many talented engineers employed at Williams, the FW36 was, in its entirety, arguably the second most effective car of the 2014 season.