The making of a MERC BEATER
Why the FW37 could take Williams back to the big time
The English winter of 20132014 may have been mild in meteorological terms but within the rareed atmosphere of Formula 1 the maelstroms were not conned to the teams’ windtunnels. After ve 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 hardfought 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 difculty 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.
“ALL OF US HOPE WE HAVE IDENTIFIED THE AREAS OF THE FW36 THAT, IF IMPROVED, WILL YIELD THE MOST EFFECTIVE STEP IN PERFORMANCE”
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 nal 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.
A HARD ACT TO FOLLOW
Making the next step has not been easy. The team are under no illusions as to the magnitude of the undertaking, and are extremely pragmatic about those areas that are likely to yield the sought- after improvements, while remaining within the constrained budget of an independent team.
So how do you go about making that final step? While the pure mechanics of continual improvement may be easy to define, I believe that the philosophical elements are arguably more important in achieving the ultimate goal. These days, through the science of simulation, it is relatively easy, if not exact, to determine performance deficit. Competitor analysis is a discipline well practiced within all the teams and the availability of GPS data for all the cars, together with sophisticated techniques such as video and acoustic analysis, allows us to reverse-engineer our competitors’ performance and determine the areas in which we may be deficient. While that knowledge provides targets it does not suggest how those aims will be met.
The design specification for a new F1 car can take many forms. In certain areas it precisely defines objectives such as toe stiffness or the ability of a component to operate under certain loading conditions. These goals are generally set by reference to what has been deemed acceptable in previous designs and, unfortunately, also by what has been found to be deficient in the past. More important, in my mind, is the philosophy of design. Part of my role is to determine that philosophy, but it is a role that I undertake in full consultation with the many talented engineers with whom I have the pleasure to work.
There are many examples of the embodiment of that philosophy, but nothing drives it harder than the search for aerodynamic improvement. To this end, challenging aerodynamic targets have been set for the FW37, not just for the first race incarnation of the design but for its development throughout the season. Aggressive goals have been determined that will provide a continual challenge to the development team, but which should, with effort, be attainable. In order to give the aerodynamicists a chance to fulfil these requirements the design space needed to be opened up to allow them the freedom to investigate new ideas. This meant that compromises had to be made and that the aerodynamic and mechanical design teams were required to work in a collaborative manner.
THE COMPROMISE OF DESIGN
To exemplify this, in 2014 many teams suffered with the difficulty of running cars to the weight limit. It is a measure of the excellence of the Williams team that the FW36 ran with a considerable amount of ballast even with a relatively heavy driver like Valtteri. With the minimum weight increasing for 2015 we were in danger of actually having too much ballast. You may question if this is even possible, but the only performance-improving aspect of carrying ballast is the ability to lower the centre of gravity of the car by placing that ballast low in the chassis. This is a quantifiable effect and a rule of thumb is that lowering the centre of gravity by 10mm will improve lap times by one tenth of a second. This may sound a lot, but it is extremely difficult to lower the centre of gravity of a 700kg car significantly by moving a few kilograms of ballast to a lower position. Instead we chose to adopt a philosophy of turning the ballast into performance. You might ask what this means, but it is a truism that all engineering design is
a compromise: the best design is the one that balances any compromises to achieve the most favourable outcome.
As an example, we decided to revisit areas of the car where we had favoured designs with a high value on mass reduction and question whether, for a small weight penalty, we might improve the aerodynamics, suspension characteristics or handling. This is perhaps best illustrated by the rear suspension of the FW37. While the FW36, somewhat unfashionably, retained a lower rear wishbone that was mounted relatively low on the upright and gearbox, for the FW37 we have lifted it.
This simple decision has many implications, not least of which is that the loads in the wishbone are increased significantly. To retain the required stiffness, this necessitated increasing the mass of the suspension itself as well as the gearbox to which it is mounted. A decision like this is not taken lightly and the reasoning behind it was based on that original philosophy of accepting some mass increase to explore new avenues of performance. In this particular case the reasoning was that although
the new design was heavier, we could still remain comfortably below the minimum weight limit and therefore our downside was just the increase in centre of gravity height discussed earlier.
The positive aspects were aerodynamic. With the lower wishbone moved upwards the design allowed much greater exibility for the aerodynamicists to exploit the area on the brake ducts where multi-element winglets are positioned as well as cleaning up the allimportant ow over the top of the diffuser.
DRIVEN BY RULE CHANGE
Another important aspect of the 2015 design is a subtle yet far-reaching change to the rules regarding the front of the monocoque and nose. The 2014 rules were written with the intention of lowering the nose, thereby reducing the propensity of a car to launch high into the air if it impacted the rear of another car. The designs that emanated were, to put it mildly, not what the FIA had envisioned. While F1 design is not driven by aesthetics, we would rather have an elegant car than one that exemplified a contrived design driven solely by geometric constraints. For 2015 this oversight has been addressed, calling a halt to the ugly-nosed designs of 2014.
What was, at first sight, an innocuous change to the rules governing the nose geometry has in fact had a significant effect. The reason nose height has increased since the mid-90s is that the improved airflow under the front of the car enhanced aerodynamic efficiency. It is therefore no surprise that lowering the nose has detracted from performance, but the magnitude of the deficit was a surprise to many.
The solution arrived at on the FW37 to regain this shortfall of downforce may be typical of the class of 2015. But there again it may not. It’s common at this time of the year to lie awake at night wondering if one of your rivals has found a better interpretation of the rules than you have…
As we approach the false dawn of winter testing we can reflect on the path that led to the birth of the FW37. I am often asked when a new design is started. This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer. The truth is that any designer worth his salt will never be satisfied with his latest creation. The act of creation inevitably takes longer than the process of conception. In engineering design, the task of conception is never ending. When asked which car I am most proud of, my inevitable answer is “the next one”. While the bystanders admire the latest creation in the weeks before the start of the season, my only thoughts are for what we could have done better. The ground-breaking design seen by the world on a cold February morning in Jerez is a child of thoughts fertilised many months previously. With this in mind it is hard to put a date on the start of the design process. The notions born of frustration of time constraints can date back to the previous preseason period, but the process is largely, 2014 excepted, evolutionary.
FROM REVOLUTION COMES EVOLUTION
The Williams FW36 was a very effective car. It was a car that exploited the efficiency demands of the new Formula 1 rules in a very particular way. Ultimately it lacked in areas that could be identified and excelled in others that were equally discernible. The conceptual brief for the FW37 was to improve the former while losing nothing from the latter, a task that is far easier to stipulate than it is to enact. The design team have risen to the task in admirable fashion.
Certain aspects of the design have arisen out of necessity. The new regulations governing the nose and front bulkhead area have driven changes to the front suspension and steering layout. Other aspects are the logical conclusion of development areas that came up against hard limits during the development of the FW36. The nature of some of these limits is such that only a change of local architecture will free the design space once again. The ever-present quest for improved safety drives other design decisions, the higher strength upper cockpit sides being an example of this.
Other aspects of the design are far more esoteric. They usually arise from the eternal quest for continuous improvement, which must be based on a thorough understanding of those aspects that contributed to the relative success of 2014. They are based on the engineering integrity that is the cornerstone of the Williams technical renaissance.
It would be logical to assume that these features are founded in the musings of the aerodynamicists, and indeed many of them are. But we should not forget that vehicle dynamics, tyre management and reliability are also key drivers in the development arena. Each of these is considered very carefully and our chief designer, Ed Wood, needs to establish how best he can balance the sometimes conflicting
requirements that these multifarious disciplines demand. At the same time, he has to bear in mind the requirements of his customer, the race team. It is they who will constantly remind him of the practical constraints that need to be imposed on nebulous ideas.
With the first seeds of the design sown as early as March 2014, the detailed timeline that will culminate in the rollout of the FW37 was accurately determined by operations director Simon Wells and his team. They have to rein in the dreams, ambitions and procrastinations of the design group to provide a coherent logistic solution, while allowing maximum time for the creative activities that ultimately determine the performance capability of the vehicle.
In common with most design offices, the work is divided across various departments. These departments must all integrate with one another if the whole is to be greater than the sum of the parts, and this has to be orchestrated as one cohesive effort. Work on long-lead items such as the transmission has to be started first, but the transmission design group cannot complete their task unless they have an intimate knowledge of the requirements of those designers who are trying to compress an ever more complex rear-suspension system into an ever-decreasing volume. Equally, the composite design group need to have a basic layout of the chassis completed by the time the enforced August break rolls round. This in turn dictates the release from
aerodynamics of the definition of the wetted surfaces at an even earlier date. Each activity is interdependent and it is bringing these together in a logical manner that achieves the impressive timescales of Formula 1 production schedules, while maximising performance enhancement is the key to design success.
For 2015, the detail design task is somewhat easier than it was last year. With rule stability and the use of the same power-unit supplier, a larger number of designs can be carried over from 2014 to 2015. An early decision on these components can greatly assist the production department as they can start making these parts during the so called ‘quiet period’ in the latter stages of the 2014 season. That reserves capacity for the new design elements that will flow out of the design office thick and fast during the period from October to February.
Certain key dates will be driven by the production process and while it is now common practice to run the first two winter tests in a ‘launch car’ configuration, it would be wrong to think that the design and production process is focused solely on defining the ultimate performance specification for the final test. Far more often, the milestone is set by having enough components to operate effectively at the first race. With a complex component such as a front wing, for example, to achieve a sufficient quantity to race with at Melbourne in mid-March, the first components need to be available for that final test. While the need to assess the performance and reliability of a component before the first race is not diminished, it is not that objective in itself that drives the design schedule. Rather, it is the need to have sufficient quantities to race in Melbourne with adequate spares that will set the milestones.
All of us at Williams hope we have identified the areas of the FW36 that, if improved, will yield the most effective step in performance. We are fully aware that we enjoyed a power unit advantage in 2014 that may be eroded in 2015, but equally we respect the ability of our partners at Mercedes HPP to try as hard as we do to increase performance beyond the capabilities of our competitors. Only time will tell as to the effectiveness of our efforts, but we will approach winter testing with a determination to improve, and with our sights set rmly on the ultimate targets of future years.
DESIGN OFFICE THE DRAWING BOARD
It takes painstaking effort to produce even the smallest and most disposable parts. The FW37 will use four of these wheel nuts on every wheel change, and they are discarded after use
NEXT STOP MACHINE SHOP
It takes lengthy discussion and investigation to work out how a part like this radiator will interact with the other parts. Once its layout has been optimised it takes hours of effort to put together
All the aluminium and titanium used on the FW37 is aircraft grade. Every component made using these high-spec materials is coded so that the batch can be traced back to source in the event of a failure