The mak­ing of a MERC BEATER

Why the FW37 could take Wil­liams back to the big time

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The English win­ter of 20132014 may have been mild in me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal terms but within the rareed at­mos­phere of For­mula 1 the mael­stroms were not conned 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 difculty 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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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


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



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