JANUARY 28, 1998
BY JOE SAWARD
The most dramatic thing about the latest Grand Prix car from Williams Grand Prix Engineering is its bright red livery. Every since Williams shot to prominence in Formula 1 in 1979 the team has adopted a conservative attitude to its colors schemes, with white and green followed by white and blue. The new FW20 in its red Winfield colours and white and yellow flashes presents a much more aggressive approach from the team.
But not everything at Williams is new. The design philosophy - dictated as usual by Technical Director Patrick Head - is much as it always has been. You build on what you have and adapt the proven product to the demands for change. The basic layout of the FW20 and the design concept of the car is the same as that of the Williams-Renault FW19 - which won 8 of last year's 17 Grands Prix and should have won more but for mistakes by the team drivers and the team.
But for the 1998 season there have been quite dramatic regulation changes which include the narrowing of the cars, the introduction of grooved tyres and the increase in lateral safety to protect the drivers in a side-on impact. These factors have all had to be applied to the new car.
The withdrawal of Renault from Formula 1 might seem to be a dramatic change for the team after nine seasons but the Mecachrome engine is not greatly different from the V10 with which the team finished the 1997 season.
"I think there may be a difference but it will be barely noticeable," says Williams team boss Frank Williams. "We finished last year with a world class engine and I believe we are starting this year with a world class engine."
The Renault RS9 engine has been rebadged and renamed the Mecachrome GC37-01. This, it should be remembered, was a completely new engine at the start of the 1997 season and the Renault Sport engineers are confident that there will be plenty of development possible in the months ahead. The only problem with that is that all development work needs to be funded and so an element of uncertainty does exist which was not there in 1997.
In terms of the chassis, the Williams drawing office at Didcot under Chief Designer Gavin Fisher has worked to incorporate the best aspects of FW19 with the changes forced upon the team by the regulations. The car is an evolution.
"Technically it will be an interesting year," says Fisher, " because there will be a much greater diversity of designs than in previous years. We are, however, confident that the ingredients which have made us the most successful team of the 1990s will be equally well-suited to the coming season".
As usual aerodynamics is the most important performance-related aspect of design and the Williams windtunnel team at Grove, under Chief Aerodynamicist Geoff Willis has been busy in the half-scale tunnel at the Williams factory.
"This car is major development from the FW19," explains Willis, "and we are pleased with the improvements we have been able to make on the performance characteristics of the car."
The prototype car was completed early on the morning of the launch - January 28 - and was then rushed to Silverstone where it was unveiled before testing began.
"We are eager to see how the competition has adopted the changes," admits Patrick Head. "I would not say that we have nay massive secrets in the FW20. We have a very sound and good base on which to build throughout the year ahead. There is nothing radical about the suspension. We have new suspension geometries but there are no new composite bits and pieces. The uprights are new, so is the cooling system, the diffuser and the wing profiles. The gearbox is still a transverse unit but it is also new, although it has the same basic layout as the one we used last year. There are lots of new details and I must say it looks to be a very promising unit. Lots of people seem to want to change to longitudinal gearboxes but I doubt that having a longitudinal gearbox rather than a transverse one is going to be a race-winning factor. And you must remember that 16 of the 17 races last year were won by transverse gearboxes."
"Obviously," says Head, "when you lose someone like Adrian you are losing something of value. There is no direct replacement for him because of the vast fund of experience that he had built up in F1, Indycars, sportscars and so on. He had much more experience than the group of people who have replaced him. But I am still very happy with the people we have. They are working well."
The team has conducted a great deal of testing so far this winter, using narrow-track versions of the FW19. Does this mean that many FW20 parts have already been tested?
"In fact we have not done much testing like that," admits Head. "We have done mainly tyre development work and a bit of work on weight distribution."
What about the Mecachrome engine?
"It seems to be pretty good," says Head. "We will have to wait and see. We have almost all the major people from Renault still involved, at least the ones we are dealing with and so we are already familiar with them all. Obviously other engines, like the Ferrari, may have all kinds of white-hot development bits, but these are not always an advantage. Some engine developments make progress, but they are not always reliable.
"I think that tyres will be the biggest variable in 1998 and at the moment it seems to use that the Bridgestones have a better driveability. That is to say that they produce good laps for longer than the Goodyears. I am quite confident that we will be able to produce the quick lap times with the current tyres, it is just a question of whether we can maintain those lap times for a long enough period.
"Goodyear has some new development tyres coming in February and they are very confident that this will be a big step forward."
"Not seriously," says Head.
The Williams race engineering team will have a slightly different look to it this year, following the departure to Sauber of Heinz-Harald Frentzen's race engineer Tim Preston. He will be replaced by a young Tyrrell engineer called Craig Wilson. Otherwise the crew is unchanged with Jock Clear working with Jacques Villeneuve and James Robinson continuing as Senior Operations Engineer.
Head feels that Villeneuve is even more motivated than in 1997.
"He has come into the new season, or at least the preparations for it, in a positive and confident frame of mind. He very much wants to win the World Championship again because he is aware that a lot of people think Michael Schumacher is the best driver in the field. I think Jacques wants to prove that idea is wrong."
Villeneuve himself says that he expects his chief rival for the World Championship to be his own team-mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen - which shows that he is confident that the FW20 will be the class of the F1 field in 1998...