Meet Keke Ros­berg’s smokin’ Monaco win­ner – and Ayr­ton Senna’s cherry-pop­ping ride


The Wil­liams FW08C

The same but dif­fer­ent? It’s a non­sense para­dox easy to dis­miss, but when it comes to this clas­sic 1980s Wil­liams the old pearl car­ries a grit of truth. Only a sin­gle let­ter in their names dif­fer­en­ti­ate the Wil­liams FW08 in which Keke Ros­berg won the 1982 F1 World Cham­pi­onship and the car you see here in which he de­fended his ti­tle, yet they look com­pletely dif­fer­ent. In one sense, thanks to the po­lit­i­cally sharp­ened axe that cut a swathe through the F1 rule book late in the win­ter of 1982, they are. In three short months F1’s plucky band-of-brother teams burned the can­dle to cre­ate fresh F1 cars from a brand new premise, but in most cases and be­cause of the time and bud­get con­straints, from what they had be­fore. The 08C is the same car as its older sis­ter in a lit­eral sense, be­cause it is the same chas­sis – but thanks to the Fia-pat­terned rug firmly ripped from be­neath its wheels, it can barely be con­sid­ered so.

It wouldn’t hap­pen to­day. The shock an­nounce­ment that caught the ma­jor­ity short was the ban­ning of ground ef­fects for ’83. This was no small mat­ter. With a new sea­son be­gin­ning in South Amer­ica in March, For­mula 1 teams were flung a new rule book de­mand­ing flat-bot­tom cars from front to rear axle, out­law­ing the un­der­side aero­dy­nam­ics that had formed the ba­sis of most Cos­worth Dfv-pow­ered cars since the late 1970s. The prob­lem was that the turbo con­tin­gent, namely the man­u­fac­turer pow­er­houses of Re­nault and Fer­rari – and now BMW in har­ness with Bernie Ec­cle­stone’s Brab­ham – had strug­gled to mate full ground ef­fects to their forced-in­duc­tion V6s. This dras­tic change not only en­hanced their ever-in­creas­ing ad­van­tage, but in one move also suc­ceeded in hob­bling those pesky Bri­tish garag­istes who had given tru­cu­lent FIA pres­i­dent Jean-marie Balestre such grief over the sport’s con­trol.

Safety, of course, was said to be the mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tor and it’s true that ground-ef­fect cars were be­com­ing lethal. The ban­ning at the end of 1981 of slid­ing skirts, the move­able de­vices that ran along the bot­tom of side­pods to help suck the cars to the track had, as a re­sult, led to ever-harder springs and rock-solid sus­pen­sion set­tings. Driv­ers were com­plain­ing of back ache, while in­creas­ingly as­tound­ing G-forces added stress to al­ready taut neck mus­cles.

Some­thing had to change. But this? Overnight? It was too sim­plis­tic, and in the words of Wil­liams co-de­signer Frank Dernie, a “mas­sive catas­tro­phe”. Not be­cause of the work and ex­pense, but be­cause of the new aero­dy­namic chal­lenges flat­bot­tomed F1 cars cre­ated. In one fell swoop, as much as 80 per cent of down­force was lost – and in Dernie’s opin­ion, teams were handed rules that cre­ated in­her­ently un­sta­ble F1 cars.

Still, Wil­liams be­ing Wil­liams, they just got on with it. Dernie and Wil­liams co-founder Pa­trick Head, like other Cos­worth run­ners around them, cut to the chase – lit­er­ally in terms of what they did to the side­pods. From full-length wheel to wheel, they were now short and stubby to pack­age the ra­di­a­tors and re­duce drag – that mor­tal en­emy of the racing car de­signer. Their rear wing was smaller than oth­ers with drag in mind, too.

The pair had cir­cled drag re­duc­tion as es­sen­tial for any car hop­ing to still com­pete against tur­bos with a DFY, as the


en­gine’s last it­er­a­tion was known. Un­til re­cently, Head and Dernie had been pur­su­ing a six-wheeled F1 car (known as the FW08B), which un­like the fa­mous Tyrrell of 1976 fea­tured its ex­tra wheels at the back, not the front. The six uni­form-sized wheels in­creased trac­tion, but cru­cially de­creased drag cre­ated by fat rear tyres. The low-drag six-wheeler was a gamechanger, they be­lieved. But again the FIA scup­pered them: fear­ful of promis­ing test re­ports, they banned six wheels and 4WD from F1 forth­with. The flat-bot­tomed rul­ing thus rep­re­sented some­thing of a dou­ble-whammy for Wil­liams.

The con­text adds depth to FW08C’S legacy, as much for what its team was up against above what it achieved. Al­though what it did pull off was pretty spe­cial too, thanks to the smokin’, mous­ta­chioed star driver who ped­alled it.

Ros­berg’s ti­tle in ’82 had sur­prised ev­ery­one, prob­a­bly even the man him­self, in a turbulent sea­son rocked by tragedy and po­lit­i­cal strife. His sin­gle race vic­tory, in the Swiss GP at the French Di­jon cir­cuit (that’s another story!), had been enough for nor­mal as­pi­ra­tion to fend off the turbo might for one last time. But in ’83, with these new rules, Keke now had both arms tied be­hind his back…

Ros­berg marked this new era with a vic­tory in a race that sig­ni­fied the end of another.

The Race of Cham­pi­ons was run at Brands Hatch in March for one last time, at­tract­ing a re­duced F1 field for what would be the last ever non­cham­pi­onship race. Then in

Rio for the cham­pi­onship opener Keke stunned ev­ery­one by tak­ing an un­likely pole.

The race it­self would fea­ture the con­tro­ver­sial rein­tro­duc­tion of re­fu­elling to F1. Alarmed by the test­ing times set by Gor­don Mur­ray’s small-tank Brab­ham BT52 dart, Wil­liams rushed through their own rudi­men­tary sys­tem – made from a pres­surised beer bar­rel. In the race, Ros­berg pit­ted, the re­fu­el­ing con­trap­tion leaked and he scram­bled from the cock­pit as a flash in­ferno briefly en­gulfed him. Re­mark­ably, lit­tle dam­age was done and there fol­lowed a frank ex­change be­tween Head and his driver, in which Pa­trick bel­lowed those inim­itable words: “Keke, get back in the fuck­ing car!” An un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally cowed Ros­berg did as he was told, then drove the race of his life to fin­ish sec­ond to Nel­son Pi­quet’s Brab­ham – only to be dis­qual­i­fied for his me­chan­ics giving him a push start from his pit­stop. Ho-hum.

But no one would take away his Monaco vic­tory in May. An in­spired de­ci­sion to start on slicks on a wet track al­lowed Ros­berg to show­case the FW08C’S nim­ble­ness and driver- friendly char­ac­ter­is­tics in a per­for­mance for­ever re­mem­bered as one from the top drawer. Ros­berg re­moved two lay­ers of skin from his hands dur­ing that race – and soothed them later by drop­ping them into the salty sea… Tough doesn’t cut it.

That should be enough to chisel FW08C’S place in the rock­face of great­ness, but there’s more. In July, a young For­mula 3 driver called Ayr­ton Senna ex­pe­ri­enced F1 for the first time in one of these cars, at Don­ing­ton. Test driver Jonathan Palmer set a bench­mark of 61.7s; Senna tonked that out of the park with a 60.1s best. And some­how Frank Wil­liams didn’t sign him – at least for another 11 years.

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