F1 Racing (UK) - - THE CHAMPION CARS - 1996

In the 1990s, Adrian Newey was all about con­ti­nu­ity as he es­tab­lished himself as F1’s premier tech­ni­cian. Some saw him sim­ply as an in­ge­nious aero­dy­nam­i­cist, but what set him apart from his peers was his abil­ity to see both the big pic­ture and the fine de­tail of a car, max­imis­ing per­for­mance out­side and in.

As car de­sign grew ever more so­phis­ti­cated in the 1990s, and re­quired ever larger groups of peo­ple work­ing on it, most ad­vances came from seek­ing out mar­gin gains rather than find­ing ‘magic bul­let’ so­lu­tions that de­liv­ered big lap­time im­prove­ments. The main ex­cep­tion to this rule was when de­sign­ers found clever ways of cir­cum­vent­ing the rules, as with the FW18.

When reg­u­la­tions were sta­ble, Newey favoured care­ful evo­lu­tion over clean-sheet de­signs. In 1992 and 1993, Wil­liams had swept all be­fore them, but the next two sea­sons were tough. The ’94 car was tetchy at first as the team adapted to the ban on ac­tive sus­pen­sion, yet Da­mon Hill still came within a whisker of win­ning the ti­tle. Rule changes ush­ered in to slow down the cars af­ter Ayr­ton Senna’s death moved Newey to adopt the raised-nose de­sign phi­los­o­phy for ’95, but while the FW17 was quick, er­rors and bad luck meant that it was Benet­ton and Michael Schu­macher who snatched the ti­tle dou­ble. Hill won an at­tri­tional sea­son-clos­ing Aus­tralian GP by two laps, but by then it was too late.

The next year, 1996, was about con­sol­i­dat­ing pace and elim­i­nat­ing er­rors. Patrick Head, Wil­liams’ tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor, made that plain: “The ’96 car was only a sub­tle de­vel­op­ment on the pre­vi­ous model. The FW17 had an up­grade to­wards the end of 1995, which was the 17B, and that was al­ready a pretty good car. The higher cock­pit sides were the main vis­ual dif­fer­ence on the FW18, but it was very much an evo­lu­tion.

“The cock­pit sides were a key change; along with Jor­dan, Wil­liams pro­duced a very sleek, low de­sign that met the new safety rules. Other teams were frus­trated when their shapes proved less aero­dy­nam­i­cally ef­fi­cient.”

Ri­vals missed an­other clever in­ter­pre­ta­tion that was used on the FW17B, through which Newey was able to ex­tend the rear dif­fuser to more pow­er­ful ef­fect. Con­sid­er­ing the rear as­pect of the Wil­liams was the view most of th­ese other teams had through ’96, as Hill and team-mate Jac­ques Vil­leneuve bat­tled for the ti­tle, you’d have ex­pected them to cot­ton on sooner. Car­bon-fi­bre mono­coque Dou­ble wish­bones, pushrod-ac­tu­ated tor­sion bar (front) and coil (rear) springs and dampers Re­nault RS8 V10 3,000cc 750bhp Wil­liams 6-speed semi-au­to­matic 595kg 2,890mm Goodyear Da­mon Hill, Jac­ques Vil­leneuve Patrick Head, Adrian Newey

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