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Features - Interview

FEBRUARY 1, 1994

Patrick Head


Patrick Head, Frank Williams's partner at Williams Grand Prix Engineering and the team's technical director, is not a man who likes the politics in F1. Patrick is a racer, a man who gets his satisfaction from beating his opposition on the race track, by designing a better car, finding a technological advantage and doing a better job.

He has always been a man who is happy to speak his mind and say what he thinks and this has not always endeared him to the sporting authorities. But throughout Formula 1 there is enormous respect for Head's ability to design front-running F1 cars. Patrick is one of F1's most successful designers, his designs having now won six World Constructors' titles and five Drivers' Championships.

The Williams team won its first Grand Prix back in 1979 with a design which is now regarded as one of the great F1 designs of all time - the classic FW07 - design and this year the team will unveil its FW16.

There have been many changes in the F1 technical regulations, so what effect is that going to have on the 1994 cars?

"The Williams-Renault FW16 follows the same sort of lines of thought as the FW15," says Head, "but there have been one or two areas where we have been a bit more adventurous than normal. Otherwise it follows the design philosophy as before, but bear in mind that this new car does not have active-ride suspension and therefore various changes have had to be made to accommodate that.

"These are not major changes, but small things like the suspension pick-up points on the chassis and the gearbox. These have had to be a bit different because the anti-squat and anti-dive characteristics - the mechanical and geometric compensations within the active suspension - had been taken out and put into the hydraulic control system. They have had to be put back in again."

The FIA ban on active suspension and the introduction of refuelling would seem to favour the most powerful engines - like the Ferrari V12s, but does Head think that the design of the chassis is less important now than it has been in recent years?

"Generally the cars which win in any given year usually do not have a good engine and a bad chassis, nor do they have a good chassis and a bad engine. It is usually the car which has the best of everything that wins and I am sure that will be true again in 1994.

"However, if you look at specific racing circuits you see that the more you slow the cars in the corners the more important it becomes to accelerate up to speed again on the next straight. An extreme case of this was back in the early 1980s when ground-effect cars were banned and flat-bottoms were introduced. This was deliberately done to favour the turbo engines - which had more power but did not corner as well.

"This will happen again this year on circuits where cars are slowed in the corners because of a lack of active ride and give the advantage to the best engines."

The changing regulations and the politics in recent months must have made it very difficult for F1 engineers to design cars?

"That is true," says Head. "It has been difficult and we have had to make some fairly major estimates as to how the rules will be applied and interpreted. We have had at least two occasions so far in the last three months where the interpretation of the rules have been changed."

So where does Hed see the major developments coming this year? Will electonics still be as important as before?

"Well," he says, "there is nothing in the regulations which directly limits electronics. It is just a question of what you are doing with those electronics. The regulations don't actually mention driver aids. The problem is that the regulations are very vague and therefore quite difficult to interpret. I am sure there will still be a number of electronic systems on the cars, but they will not necessarily perform functions which would normally be performed by the driver.

"We will have a few hydraulically-powered systems on our FW16."

What about other areas of new research and development?

"The environment which currently exists, in which many years of work and considerable expenditure can be wiped out at one meeting is not an environment in which companies are prepared to be too adventurous. That is what happened to our CVT (continuously variable transmission). We haven't given up on CVT, but we are not working on it for Formula 1. It is now outlawed because the regulations name the maximum number of gears you are allowed to have."

So where does Head see his strongest opposition this year. Will it be McLaren-Peugeot, Benetton-Ford or Ferrari?

"I think all the top four teams are capable of winning races. That would include McLaren - obviously - which won the last two races last year, Benetton which won the third-from-last race last year. And one has to say that Ferrari looks as though it will have a resurgence this year. I think that resurgence is quite strongly politically-inspired but, whatever the case, they look likely to be good. I think Sauber-Mercedes is also progressing, but I don't think it will win a championship in 1994."

Sauber-Mercedes already has its new car running and Ferrari and Benetton will soon have their new cars. The McLaren-Peugeot is going to be delayed because Peugeot is still building the first of its new V10s. So when can we expect to see the new Williams-Renault FW16?

"The new car is not due until later in February," says Head. "That way we can have time for some good solid testing before the season begins."