Wil­liams Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing


Wil­liams F1 hit its nadir in 2018, but sis­ter firm WAE has gone from strength to strength

Su­per­mar­ket shop­pers, ba­bies in des­per­ate need of emer­gency trans­porta­tion and Bri­tish sol­diers – all are linked by one com­pany. It’s got a fa­mous first name in the mo­tor­sport sphere too: Wil­liams Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing.

Along­side Wil­liams’s il­lus­tri­ous 42-year his­tory in For­mula 1, its 114 grand prix wins, seven driv­ers’ cham­pi­ons and nine con­struc­tors’ ti­tles, WAE can trace its roots back through the team’s in­volve­ment with the Metro 6R4 rally car, the Re­nault Bri­tish Tour­ing Car squad and the 1999 Le Mans-win­ning BMW V12 LMR ma­chine.

But the foun­da­tions of the WAE busi­ness were solidly put down in the late 2000s. F1 teams needed to buy or de­velop the first el­e­ments of hy­brid sys­tems with KERS units for the 2009 sea­son, and Wil­liams de­vel­oped both bat­tery and fly­wheel ver­sions of the tech­nol­ogy. Although the for­mer was the favoured route taken for en­ergy re­cov­ery in F1, Wil­liams Hy­brid Power was es­tab­lished in’ 08 and went on to sell the tech­nol­ogy into other in­dus­tries – for in­stance, the stop/start drive cy­cle of city buses. But Wil­liams’s fly­wheel in­vest­ment still achieved no­table suc­cess in mo­tor­sport when it was used on Audi’s R18 pro­to­types that tri­umphed at Le Mans in ’12, ’13 and ’14.

In 2010, Wil­liams was tasked with the de­vel­op­ment of Jaguar Land Rover’s C-X75 hy­brid su­per­car project. Dur­ing the fol­low­ing years, it also con­tin­ued to work on its own bat­tery KERS tech­nol­ogy, which was sold to the Marus­sia F1 team, and an­other grand prix squad – Caterham – also paid to use its se­cond wind­tun­nel.

Although Wil­liams Hy­brid Power was sold to au­to­mo­tive and aero­space multi­na­tional GKN in 2014 and the C-X75 – its ap­pear­ance in James Bond film Spec­tre aside – can­celled, Wil­liams saw enough from its side projects to jus­tify cre­at­ing an um­brella com­pany, so it opened the WAE fa­cil­ity at its Grove base in ’14.

“De­spite hav­ing been in­volved in the C-X75, which was a very high-

pro­file project, be­cause we didn’t go to pro­duc­tion and so it didn’t get the full whack of PR, we were still rel­a­tively un­known even in the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try,” ex­plains WAE man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Craig Wil­son.

“No-one had ever said any­where what Wil­liams Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing was do­ing ver­sus what Jaguar was do­ing, so we didn’t have a lot that was go­ing out about us. But as each year has gone on that’s changed. A lot of peo­ple are now com­ing to us – they’re aware that we’ve done some­thing or they’ve seen some­thing we’ve done.”

From the early days with just 50 em­ploy­ees, via ini­tially spread­ing WAE’S ca­pa­bil­i­ties through net­work­ing and in­dus­try con­fer­ences, the com­pany

– and its project list – has grown. WAE has now com­pleted more than 80 ven­tures for a range of clients in var­i­ous sec­tors, and cur­rently has an­other 40 on the go. Ar­guably its high­est-pro­file de­vel­op­ment has been the bat­tery that pow­ered the orig­i­nal Spark-re­nault SRT_01E for the first four sea­sons of For­mula E.

Many of WAE’S cur­rent and com­pleted projects in­volve de­liv­er­ing spe­cial­ist prod­ucts – in­clud­ing build­ing 16 C-X75S for the con­cept car’s one-off sil­ver-screen out­ing in 2015 – and in­vest­ing in and en­cour­ag­ing start-up tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies.

WAE’S Baby­pod 20 in­cu­ba­tor – built in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ad­vanced Health­care Tech­nol­ogy – is based on the car­bon-fi­bre de­vel­op­ments that raise stan­dards for

F1’s driver safety cells. The light­weight sys­tem has been de­signed to at­tach to any trans­port stretcher and is used by the in­ten­sive care am­bu­lances run by Great Or­mond Street Hos­pi­tal, as well as the Chil­dren Acute Trans­port Ser­vice.

Its Aero­foil tech­nol­ogy, in­spired by an F1 front wing, at­taches to su­per­mar­ket fridge shelves to chan­nel cold air from spilling out into the aisles and pro­vide sig­nif­i­cant en­ergy sav­ings – the

“equiv­a­lent of a month’s worth of the do­mes­tic CO2 emis­sions from a city the size of Manch­ester”, ac­cord­ing to its mar­ket­ing ma­te­rial.

The Bromp­ton Elec­tric bike fea­tures a 300Wh bat­tery and front hub mo­tor, ben­e­fit­ing from WAE’S FE de­vel­op­ments, while the Bi­o­log­i­cal Sur­veil­lance and Col­lec­tor Sys­tem (BSCS) project – com­mis­sioned by the UK’S Min­istry of De­fence and pro­duced in con­junc­tion with aero­space, de­fence, trans­port and se­cu­rity com­pany Thales – draws on com­pu­ta­tional fluid dy­nam­ics de­vel­oped for F1 to cre­ate a sen­sor-based air-par­ti­cle de­tec­tion sys­tem de­signed to pro­tect sol­diers from in­com­ing bi­o­log­i­cal at­tacks.

The com­pany is also work­ing with Air­bus on an aero­space project called the Zephyr High Al­ti­tude Pseu­dosatel­lite – an un­manned, so­lar-pow­ered com­mu­ni­ca­tions and sur­veil­lance air­craft that uses WAE’S ul­tra-light­weight ma­te­rial de­vel­op­ments, and bat­tery elec­tri­cal cell tech­nolo­gies.

“In the first part, peo­ple said, ‘What ex­actly do you do?’” Wil­son says of WAE’S be­gin­nings. “They think of an F1 car and ‘how is that rel­e­vant to our sit­u­a­tion?’

And while we have a lot of ca­pa­bil­i­ties in com­mon [with the F1 team], we are in­creas­ingly work­ing with a lot of new tech­nolo­gies that are dif­fer­ent to F1. I’m not say­ing they’re bet­ter or worse – they’re dif­fer­ent.

“We’ve prob­a­bly carved out our own place in the world along­side an F1 team that’s recog­nised for agility and per­for­mance, pack­ag­ing and light weight and all those things. We’ve carved out our own iden­tity in terms of why peo­ple think of us and why they come to us.”

But although WAE has es­tab­lished its own en­gi­neer­ing place and part­ners away from mo­tor rac­ing, Wil­son reck­ons its en­dur­ing link to the sport is cru­cial to the com­pany’s fu­ture. “The world’s a rapidly chang­ing place in the tech­nol­ogy and en­gi­neer­ing space and I think that mo­tor­sport is a fan­tas­tic en­abler of change be­cause it’s very com­pet­i­tive, you’re al­ways try­ing to do more with less,” he says. “It’s a great plat­form for ex­plor­ing and val­i­dat­ing new tech­nolo­gies in a com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment. It’s cut­ting-edge in many ways, so it’s a very pow­er­ful com­po­nent to have as part of the mix.”

But had Wil­liams’s woe­ful 2018 F1 sea­son oc­curred when WAE was just be­ing es­tab­lished four years ear­lier, it might have been “very dif­fi­cult” for the new busi­ness, ac­cord­ing to Wil­son. As it was, with dom­i­nant Mer­cedes power in ’14, the F1 squad had its most suc­cess­ful sea­son since ’03,

“We’ve carved out our own iden­tity in terms of why peo­ple think of us and come to us”

with a pole in Aus­tria and a dou­ble podium in Abu Dhabi on the way to fin­ish­ing third in the con­struc­tors’ stand­ings.

“[The early stages of WAE were] dif­fi­cult any­way be­cause we were try­ing to cre­ate a new busi­ness and find new cus­tomers,” Wil­son adds. “If Wil­liams F1 had had the year it had last year in 2014, that would have been very dif­fi­cult for us to get go­ing – I can prob­a­bly de­scribe it in that way.

“Now we’re of suf­fi­cient size and ca­pa­bil­ity and known for what we’re do­ing that although Wil­liams F1 had a dif­fi­cult year, it’s not crit­i­cal for Wil­liams Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing be­cause we are al­ready at a cer­tain mass and have re­la­tion­ships of our own that are go­ing on.

“That’s the other way of look­ing at it in terms of how it could have been had things been very dif­fer­ent. WAE is just very for­tu­nate that the Wil­liams per­for­mance on track in 2014 and ’15 was really strong. It’ll get back there, but it’s an im­por­tant part of our DNA.”

By build­ing on its mo­tor­sport her­itage and then es­tab­lish­ing its own po­si­tion in the en­gi­neer­ing sphere, WAE has ex­panded to more than 300 em­ploy­ees, while the mo­tor­sport skill base and back­ground of its work­force has di­ver­si­fied from roughly 60% when it was launched, to around 20%. This is be­cause of the var­ied en­gi­neer­ing back­grounds re­quired to re­flect the other in­dus­tries where it’s work­ing.

Although its busi­ness port­fo­lio is di­verse and ex­pand­ing into ar­eas that rarely have pre­vi­ous mo­tor­sport asso­ciations, WAE’S de­ter­mi­na­tion to re­tain a link to its rac­ing her­itage is re­flected in what could be termed its head­line acts. Namely, the FE Gen1 bat­tery and its cur­rent tech­ni­cal­part­ner re­la­tion­ship with the Jaguar team.

For FE’S Gen1 car, Wil­liams was tasked with build­ing a 200kg lithium-ion cell bat­tery. It was ini­tially ex­pected to pro­duce a max­i­mum power of 133kw, but this was in­creased to 150kw ahead of the in­au­gu­ral 2014-15 sea­son and was then upped to 170kw for the se­cond cam­paign. By the end of the 201718 sea­son – WAE’S last as the ABB FE Cham­pi­onship’s bat­tery sup­plier – the max­i­mum power out­put was 200kw.

WAE’S FE in­volve­ment came sur­pris­ingly late in the build-up to the series’ first sea­son. A ma­jor OEM had been work­ing on the first FE bat­tery, but that did not come to fruition and so in Septem­ber 2013, just one year be­fore the cham­pi­onship’s first race would kick off in Bei­jing, WAE stepped in.

“We didn’t win any­thing – in fact we had a bloody big prob­lem in late 2013,” Wil­son says of WAE get­ting the con­tract to sup­ply FE with its first bat­tery. “But it was a great prob­lem to have be­cause it was like, ‘If we can do this then it’s fan­tas­tic for our busi­ness.’ But it was really a tough as­sign­ment given the timescale.”

The first pro­to­type bat­tery had to be built by Fe­bru­ary 2014 and the ini­tial ship­ments for the first race started in July of that year, around the pre-sea­son test­ing ar­range­ments, so time was tight for WAE to de­liver.

Given the pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion in which FE found it­self dur­ing its first sea­son – CEO (and soon to be chair­man) and founder Ale­jan­dro Agag has said the cham­pi­onship faced debts of $25mil­lion be­fore ad­di­tional in­vest­ment came in – any ma­jor bat­tery dra­mas could have been dis­as­trous for the series.

“I be­lieve that if we had pro­duced a bat­tery that kept fail­ing it would have killed the cham­pi­onship, it just wouldn’t have ex­isted,” says Wil­son. “There were enough other rea­sons why it would have stopped any­way, and that would have just been the straw that broke the camel’s back. So it was great be­ing part of that and watch­ing the cham­pi­onship flour­ish.”

When Agag is asked if he agrees that WAE saved his fledg­ling cham­pi­onship, he states: “Ab­so­lutely I would. We had a big car man­u­fac­turer that had com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing the bat­tery. Then we were a few months down the line and ev­ery­thing was com­ing and sud­denly they called and JAN­UARY 10 2019 17

said, ‘We can­not do it.’

“So, we found our­selves with no bat­tery. It was a sit­u­a­tion of to­tal panic and the ones who stepped up and said,

‘We will build your bat­tery, don’t worry about that’ were Wil­liams. So, big credit to them, they did save For­mula E be­fore For­mula E was born.”

Wil­son says that elec­tri­fi­ca­tion is

“a big driver of what we’re do­ing and what our ca­pa­bil­ity is”, and WAE is cur­rently work­ing on sev­eral high-pro­file projects in this area. In ad­di­tion to the prod­ucts al­ready men­tioned, it also sup­ported the record-break­ing Jaguar Vec­tor V20E elec­tric boat, works with var­i­ous bat­tery and en­ergy-stor­age com­pa­nies, and it will pro­vide the pow­er­train for As­ton Martin’s

Rapide E road car, which is set to be the man­u­fac­turer’s first all-elec­tric model when it launches later this year.

This rapidly evolv­ing tech­nol­ogy sphere is one Wil­son thinks more peo­ple should be turn­ing to­wards, even though WAE was un­suc­cess­ful in win­ning the FIA ten­der to sup­ply the bat­tery for the Gen2 FE car – that deal ul­ti­mately went to Mclaren.

“I read re­cently that a per­son who is now 14, 15, at the point that they come to buy their first car – let’s say in four or five years’ time – there’s a good chance it’s go­ing to be an elec­tric car,” Wil­son ex­plains. “Maybe, that’s not that far away. From that point they’re likely to never own any­thing but an elec­tric car. If you think about it like that, then em­brace For­mula E be­cause the world’s chang­ing.”

WAE cer­tainly em­braced FE be­yond its ini­tial role in sup­ply­ing the Gen1 bat­tery. Since the 2016-17 sea­son, Jaguar has been com­pet­ing in the series with sig­nif­i­cant sup­port from WAE. As well as pro­vid­ing en­gi­neers and me­chan­ics as Jaguar’s tech­ni­cal part­ner, the com­pany has re­searched and pro­duced the ar­eas of the team’s pow­er­train that are open to de­vel­op­ment within FE’S tightly con­trolled reg­u­la­tions.

The com­pany’s ini­tial foray into work­ing for an FE team ac­tu­ally came about in part thanks to FE’S (now much-al­tered) tech­nol­ogy roadmap. The cham­pi­onship’s ini­tial in­ten­tion was to have free bat­tery com­pe­ti­tion from the start of the third sea­son, which meant “we didn’t have a role in For­mula E after year two at that time”, ac­cord­ing to Wil­son.

So, after bat­ting away Agag’s un­der­stand­able “bad­ger­ing” to get Wil­liams to for­mally en­ter FE as a com­peti­tor along­side its F1 com­mit­ments, WAE saw its chance to add a se­cond strand from the series to its busi­ness via its well-es­tab­lished ties with Jaguar.

“By chance one day I was talk­ing to Dr Wolf­gang Ziebart, who was the head of Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing at the time,” says Wil­son. “He’s since re­tired, but he led the Jaguar I-PACE [SUV model that has its own Fia-sanc­tioned FE sup­port series] pro­gramme. I said, ‘Would Jaguar have any in­ter­est in For­mula E?’ be­cause I knew that at that time Ale­jan­dro was still look­ing for more cred­i­ble teams.

“His eyes lit up a lit­tle bit, which was a good sign, and about four months later I was asked to go to a meet­ing with him and three oth­ers to talk about what it might look like and how they could do it. We worked with them to put a pro­posal to­gether, which was sub­se­quently signed off by their board should the op­por­tu­nity

“There’s no point in us get­ting credit and next year the pro­gramme stops”

[to en­ter a team] present it­self.”

At that stage, while Agag was keen to add an­other ma­jor man­u­fac­turer to FE’S port­fo­lio, the max­i­mum num­ber of teams al­lowed to com­pete in the series was 10.

All 10 slots had been filled since the first sea­son and the ex­ist­ing squads were within their con­trac­tual rights at that mo­ment to stop an 11th en­trant com­ing onto the grid – although from the start of the cur­rent cam­paign 11 teams have been per­mit­ted and that will ex­pand to 12 for 2019-20.

“[They said] ‘No way, we’re not go­ing to have an­other team join, thanks very much, and cer­tainly not Jaguar and Wil­liams,’” says Wil­son. “It took un­til the Trulli team fell over for an en­try to be­come avail­able and that’s how – and be­cause we were in pole po­si­tion with ev­ery­thing signed off ready to go – we were able to start. Jaguar ac­quired that en­try and went from there.”

To avoid any ac­cu­sa­tion of con­flict of in­ter­est for the fol­low­ing two sea­sons, where it con­tin­ued to sup­ply FE with its Gen1 bat­ter­ies while work­ing with Jaguar’s team, WAE “trans­ferred the tech­ni­cal man­age­ment [of the bat­ter­ies] to Spark”.

“We trained up Spark en­gi­neers and they did all the in­ter­face with teams,” Wil­son con­tin­ues. “So from that point we didn’t look at any teams. We still main­tained the bat­ter­ies, so we did ser­vice re­pairs and things if they needed them, but we com­pletely sev­ered any ties with any data link with teams. And it was fine; a cou­ple of teams moaned for a cou­ple of races, but it was noth­ing.”

Although it may look as if WAE’S Jaguar FE project is some­thing of a flag­ship for the com­pany, Wil­son in­sists that’s for oth­ers to say. WAE’S re­la­tion­ship with the man­u­fac­turer – and the vast ma­jor­ity of the com­pa­nies it works with – is to be very much a quiet part­ner.

“Peo­ple in the in­dus­try know what we’re do­ing,” says Wil­son. “It’s not some­thing that we’re des­per­ate to be singing and shout­ing about. In the first year, Jaguar was mak­ing a lot more ref­er­ence to us than they do now and that’s just their mar­ket­ing rea­sons that are driv­ing that. They’ve got their I-PACE out now – they need to really push that and at the end of the day, in a com­mer­cial round­about that’s what cre­ates the rev­enues in or­der to fund their mo­tor­sport pro­gramme.

“So that’s what we sup­port. That’s the most im­por­tant thing – that the eco­nomic cir­cle is joined up and works. There’s no point in us get­ting a lot of credit and then next year the pro­gramme stops be­cause it hasn’t helped sell the cars, you haven’t got the rev­enues. We’ve just got to be very mind­ful of the re­al­i­ties.”

WAE is also keen to high­light how it sees it­self in the UK’S en­gi­neer­ing en­vi­ron­ment. As well as its gov­ern­ment com­mis­sions, Wil­son points out that its in­no­va­tions cre­ate jobs fur­ther down the line. For ex­am­ple, WAE doesn’t make the Aero­foil sys­tem for su­per­mar­kets – “there’s an­other busi­ness now who’s mak­ing them,” he ex­plains.

“We’re a very proud Bri­tish com­pany, that’s the first thing, and I think that’s a Wil­liams thing as well,” con­cludes Wil­son. “We are do­ing what we can also to help UK com­pa­nies. That really drives us – how can we help not only Wil­liams but also the UK from an en­gi­neer­ing per­spec­tive? So, we do a lot with schools, we do a lot with grad­u­ates, uni­ver­si­ties – bring­ing peo­ple in for train­ing and de­vel­op­ment.

“Pa­trick Head was the one who really drove the en­gi­neer­ing cul­ture for many years at Wil­liams, and we of­ten say we’re an en­gi­neer­ing com­pany. Frank has said ac­tu­ally we’re an en­gi­neer­ing com­pany that hap­pens to go mo­tor rac­ing, be­cause his love was mo­tor rac­ing, but we just like solv­ing en­gi­neer­ing prob­lems.”

Com­pared to the brash na­ture of mo­tor­sport suc­cess, WAE maybe is some­thing of a quiet com­pany. But that ap­pears to suit it well – it lets its prod­ucts and in­no­va­tions do the talk­ing.

Clock­wise from top: Jag FE pro­gramme is WAE’S head­line act; MOD has used WAE’S ex­per­tise; WAE bat­tery saved FE; Aero­foil tech is also trans­ferred to the su­per­mar­ket

WAE’S ori­gins lie in 6R4 Group B mon­ster and La­guna Su­per Tourer

Wil­son charts the rise of WAE, and em­pha­sises the grow­ing im­por­tance of elec­tri­fi­ca­tion

Dou­ble podium in Abu Dhabi capped ex­cel­lent 2014 for Wil­liams F1

FE’S first race in Bei­jing 2014 passed smoothly with new WAE bat­tery

Wil­liams F1 had a tough 2018, but WAE now has its own iden­tity

Fleet of C-X75S was built for Bond movie but never re­leased

Pi­quet presses on test­ing Wae-sup­ported Jaguar For­mula E racer

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