Features - Interview
SEPTEMBER 1, 1992
BY JOE SAWARD
One thing he will admit, however, is that he has been surprised by the success of the Williams-Renault FW14B this year, but is happy to point out that the success may only be in relative to other teams having bad years: McLaren and Ferrari have not been as competitive as one might have expected.
"Last winter we felt that the FW14 was probably ahead of the McLaren aerodynamically," explains Patrick, "but we felt they would make a big step forward in that area, whereas we could take only a small step forward. So I think our view was that we would not be able to beat them if we just improved the FW14. We knew we could gain a little from the aerodynamics and Renault would improve the engine a small amount, but we had to take a risk on the active suspension.
"I don't think the package deserves to have been as successful as it has been because there are an awful lot of messy areas on the FW14B. If you look around the back of the car you will see pipes going here there and everywhere and one pipe resting across another and so on. The mechanics are obviously very careful to put protection here and there but it all takes a very long time, whereas a thing that is properly done will be designed so the pipes never touch.
"Anyway, we had been doing quite a lot of testing with the active system but it was still a risk because there is always the possibility of error when you transfer anything from R&D technicians to a race team. The indications however were that it was quicker than the passive car and the test team used it and word got to the race team that it wasn't as difficult as they might have thought it would be so they accepted it."
The system had had a long gestation and, for Head and the Williams team the advantage they have enjoyed in 1992 should continue to some extent next year.
"You just don't know, do you?" says Head with a shrug. "We might just disappear up our own exhaust pipes!"
But in theory, at least, Williams is ahead in terms of research.
"One of the areas which will make it difficult for people developing active in hurry is that the testing is very important. An F1 car is a nasty, aggressive environment in which sensors must operate. Making a hydraulic strut is relatively easy, sorting out computers that won't crash when they are vibrating, sensors that won't fail and software which recognizes when a sensor has failed and switches to a different sensor takes a long time.
"Obviously the other teams can hire people who will be able to tell them which bits of hardware you are using, and this is a big jump-up because they do not have to go through the long process of sorting out what is best on the car, but the secrets are in the software which runs the system and unless you have the same processor and computer running that software, it will not work in the same way."
So what is the plan for 1993?
Head doesn't like talking about plans. He understands that to win in F1 the best thing to have is a technical advantage. It is his plan to keep that advantage next year and the best way to do that is not to people what is going on: in the pipeline are new electronic features such as anti-lock brakes, electronic differentials and revised versions of the active suspension, semi-automatic gearbox and traction control systems, but Patrick will not tell you that.
The new FW15 is, he says, a continuation of the same theme, but it is a racing car destined never to race. The FW14B has outlived its planned existence and the FW15 has been squeezed into oblivion. It will test over the winter.
"We'll probably race in FW15B form at the start of next year," says Head, "but there maybe an FW16 as well later in the year."
There are new regulations to consider and new narrower tyres and what Head wants now is a stable environment in which to get the 1993 testing programme well-advanced. He wants to know who will be driving: he wants stability and continuity. Unfortunately, with both Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese leaving the team, things are going to be more difficult.
For Head it is frustrating for he knows that with each new deal in deciding on a driver, some of his hard-won technical advantage may be slipping away. And one thing that Patrick Head hates more than anything is losing.