The Frank Williams Team

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World Champion Constructors

At a casual glance one might be forgiven for thinking that the Frank Williams Formula 1 team had a pretty disastrous year in 1981, compared with their 1980 season. They started all well, went through a bad patch at mid-season, gathered themselves up and finished with another win, but the dominant finishes did not happen like it did last year. By their 1980 standards you could say it was not a very good season, yet they won the Championship for Manufacturers by a very clear margin and one of their drivers missed the Championship for drivers by one point at the last race of the season, so in fact it was a very good season and one that many other teams would have liked, but it was not good enough for Frank Williams and Patrick Head and all the people at Didcot.

Compared with last year this year’s analysis looks pretty good with 32 starts and 25 finishes (1980 it was 30 and 23), thus having the same number of retirements. They won five races t last year it was seven), scored six second places (last year the same) and three thirds (last year six).

They scored two pole positions (three last year) and eight fastest laps (six last year). From those figures wears see that the team was racing as hard as ever, and they looked to be set to win five more events before driver error or mechanical troubles forestalled them. There was never a question of the Williams team not being in the thick of the fighting nor setting the pace all season and their position as being one of the “Top Teams”, as various European journalists say in any language, has never been in doubt. Their victory in the Manufacturers’ Championship, in which both team cars score points, for the second year running has been well deserved. and we can be sure that they will all be out to repeat the success in 1982.

It will be recalled that this time last year the teams who are part and parcel of Bernard Ecclestone’s Formula One Constructors’ Association, and the Williams team is one of them, were about to try and go “pirate” in protest against the FIA ruling that sliding-side-skirts were banned from January 1st 1981. The major manufacturing teams. Renault, Ferrari. Alfa Romeo and Talbot (nee Ligier), together with Osella and the newly formed Toleman-Hart team, all accepted the ruling with good grace and got on with the job of designing and building new cars for 1981. The FOCA teams were all hanging fire on design and development because they were not sure which way Ecclestone was ‘going to lead them and during the winter months Patrick Head said he would like to be designing the FW08, as the successor to the FW07, but he just did not know which rules they would be running under.

As it turned out FOCA capitulated to FISA and joined the racing of officialdom and the manufacturers’ teams, basil meant, in the case of Williams. that they had to decide to compete with an uprated version of their 1980 car, tided the FWO7C. Before the World Championship series began there was a non-Championship event in South Africa, to which only the FOCA teams went, and the Williams team took out the two cars with which they flushed 1980, together with a brand new one that was finished in 1980 but not raced. These were numbers 8, 9, and 10 and Reutemann won the South African race with the last of the trio, that being the only race it was to run. The serious business started at Long Beach, in California, for the United States Grand Prix (West) and for this event two new cars were completed, numbers 11 and 12. Although they followed the basic configuration of the previous cars they were totally new, with a vastly stronger front end to the chassis monocoque giving much more stiffness and much better driver protection in the event of a head-on crash, and the aerodynamic sidepods were redesigned, as were the adjustable aerofoils front and back, to compensate for the reduction in “ground-effects” with the loss of the sliding-skirts. As always, the cars were below the regulation weight of 585 kilogrammes and carried something like 10 kilogrammes of ballast to bring them up to weight.

The team started the 1981 Championship year as they had ended the 1980 year, with 1st and 2nd places, in team order, Jones before Reutemann. From California they went to Brazil and repeated the scene, except that Reutemann flaunted team orders and did not let Alan Jones by into the lead, keeping first place for himself. This caused a bit of a fuss and a coolness between the two drivers, not that they had ever been real “chums” and Frank Williams was justifiably irate about the situation and docked Reutemann of his winnings. At both these races Colin Chapman had caused a bit of a stir with his revolutionary Lotus 88 and everyone was so busy getting in a flap about the Lotus that they did not really appreciate what Gordon Murray was up to with his Brabham cars. In mid-1980 when FISA announced the sliding-skirt ban, all the top designers smiled and explained simple ways of overcoming the ban, the basic principle being souse suitable coil springs in the suspension so that at speed the air-pressure on the top of the car (down-force) would compress the springs so that the ground-clearance would become almost zero and “ground-effects” would come into play. Such subterfuges had already been tried and found out in Formula 2. Murray assumed, rather naively, that everyone would arrive at Long Beach with some sort of device to lower the car at speed, only to find that he was alone, the rest of them either respecting the spirit of the “no sliding-skirt” rule or not being bright enough to think up ways of cheating. It was not until the Argentine Grand Prix that the Brabham system really worked and then a great scream went up, especially as Piquet in one Brabham ran away from everyone and Rebaque in the second Brabham overtook all the stars with ease and ran in second place until mechanical trouble intervened. The run of Williams domination was over, Reutemann was second and Jones was fourth, sandwiched between the two Renaults of Press and Arnoux. The French team was beginning to make its presence felt by sheer engine power and a vice-free chassis. Not counting South Africa, which was a non-Championship event, the Williams team had had four races on the trot in which they finished first and second, Montreal and Watkins Glen in 1980 and Long Beach and Brazil in 1981, but the Brabham affair could be cited if excuse was needed.

The Championship season now moved to Europe and started with the newly instigated San Marino Grand Prix at Imola and here many of the teams followed the “cheating” lead of Brabham, including the Williams team, but much against the will of Frank Williams and Patrick Head, who all along were prepared to accept the edict of the FIA and run with fixed ground clearance. The last of the 1980 Williams cars, number 10, had been used as the team spare for the races in Long Beach and Brazil and a new 1981 car appeared in the Argentine acting in the capacity of the spare, or T-car. It held a similar role at Imola and was prepared to take a hydro-coil-spring suspension lowering system, but in the fuss at scrutineering the decision was taken by Frank Williams not to use it. Like most of the other teams a lot of time and money bad been wasted on this blind-alley and the effort should have been put to better use. In this race the turbo-charged Ferraris were dominant, on sheer power, and in the struggle to keep up, Jones ran into the back of his team-mate! The Australian needed a pit stop for repairs. The weather was inclement, to say the least, and in the general confusion Jones changed tyres at the wrong moment and floundered around making a complete “fist” of the race as a whole, finishing 12th. Reutemann finished a rather uninspired third. It was very clear now that the pressure was on the Williams team and they were no longer dominating the scene. First the “cheating” Brabhams were beating them and now the turbo-charged Ferraris were giving them trouble.

By the time the scene got to Belgium, on the Zolder circuit, officialdom had acquiesced on the ground-clearance cheating and a ridiculous compromise had been reached whereby the ground-clearance was only measured as the cars entered the pit-lane and what happened out on the circuit was only of interest so the teams. Observers had been posted around the Imola circuit in practice and it was found that all the cars were running too close to the ground, so restrictions or objections to hydro-pneumatic suspension-lowering systems, or any other form of “cheating”, were removed and the blind-alley was open to everyone. As they were now all cheating it would have been nice for there to have been a “gentleman’s agreement” that they would all stop cheating, but that did not happen. Strong opposition to the Williams team came from Piquet’s Brabham and Pironi’s turbo-Ferrari, but after some pretty serious racing the two Williams cars got into what had become their normal position; that is, first and second, in team order. Without warning and for some reason best known to itself, the gearbox on Alan Jones’ cae jumped out of fourth gear at a crucial moment and FW07C/11 slid off the road and into the barriers with a sickening crunch that took the left front corner off the car. It was left to Reutemann to gain victory for the team and car number 11 was taken home for some pretty extensive repairs.

For Monaco Jones had a brand new car in which the body panels were just that bit tighter around the engine bay, every square inch of order’ car area being vital in the quest for down-force and ground-effect. This was number 15 in the FW07 series and Reutemann still had the can that was new for him in Long Beach, while poor number 14 was still the T-car. Brabham and Ferrari again provided stiff opposition, but the Williams drivers were not giving in, especially Alan Jones, and by dint of really hard driving he got into the lead. Reutemann made an error and its the back of a Lotus, which meant a pit stop for a new nose-cone, which dropped him right out of the running, and then his gearbox broke so that the Argentinian suffered his first retirement after fourteen races in succession. Alan Jones looked all set for victory when his engine began to misfire and thinking that maybe the fuel-system was not picking up the last few gallons of petrol, and having a fair lead at she time, he took a chance and shot into the pits and a 2 1/2 gallon can of petrol was squirted into the tank. It did not help, and the stuttering Williams had to suffer the ignominy of being caught and passed by the second place Ferrari and was lucky to limp home in second place. A certain victory had gone out of the window and already a driver error and a mechanical failure had eliminated the number two back-up car. There was some head-scratching and detail investigation by the team when they got back to Didcot, but nothing could be found obviously wrong.

The same three cars were taken to Jarama for the Spanish Grand Prix and in the pre-race warm-up session Jones had a nut come undone on the throttle linkage cross-shaft which left him out on the circuit with closed throttle slides. With a screw-driver borrowed from a marshal he wedged things open enough to drive back to the pits. The air in the Williams pit was cool, not to say tense, and Jones was philosophical about it and said to the chief mechanic, “better it happen now than in the race”, Patrick Head looked very black and said “Things do not come undone in this team” and the message went home. In the race Jones was in superb form and simply ran away from the rest of the field, while Reutemann was running a hard third, right behind one of the powerful turbo-Ferraris. It looked like another dominant Williams victory, with every chance of it becoming a 1-2. Then, by his own admission afterwards, Jones suffered “brain-fade” and slid off into the dirt for no obvious reason and by the time begot back on the track he was down to sixteenth place. In typical fashion begot his head down and drove his heart out to make up for his mistake, but before the end of the race his gear-changing began to play up and he could do no better than finish seventh. Meanwhile Reutemann was also in trouble with his gear-changing and finished up 4th. The pressure was undoubtedly on the team now from other teams, and the drivers were having to try just that little bit harder, which makes all the difference between being safe and being “on the limit”. A dismal result of a fourth and a seventh place was partly, but not wholly, due to driver error.

Before the French Grand Prix, at Dijon-Prenois this year, there was a pre-race test-session at Silverstone in preparation for the British Grand Prix and FW07C/14 was removed from its role as T-car and turned over to the separate Research and Development group of the Williams team. It was used for the Silverstone testing.

In France the car that Jones had crashed at Zolder was brought back into commission, after an extensive rebuild and though it were to the race as the T-car, it was actually raced by Jones. He practised with both his regular car, number 15 and the rebuilt number 11 and decided that the rebuilt car felt better balanced on the fast corners. Up to this race the team had been using Michelin tyres, not from choice, but because Goodyear withdrew from racing at the end of 1980 when FOCA vvere trying to break away from FIA racing. The Michelin tyre company had come to the rescue of Formula 1 by supplying a “standard” racing tyre to everyone, which proved remarkably successful and trouble-free. In fact the Michelin engineers could hardly believe it when there were no complaints from teams that had previously run on Goodyear tyres. Last year, the contracted teams that ran on Michelin tyres were always looking for improvement and, if not complaining, were making suggestions for improvement. Now teams like Williams were saying “the tyres are fine, no problems”. However, the deal was only for the first half of the season, to give the ex-Goodyear teams time to make alternative arrangements. Shortly before the French Grand Prix, Goodyear announced that they would be returning to Formula 1 and the Williams team were their first priority, remembering how well they had done in 1980, so for Dijon the cars were back on Goodyear tyres.

The start of the French Grand Prix was a his untidy, due to a malfunctioning of the starting lights, and in the opening scramble Jones collided with another car and bent the right-hand steering tie-rod. After three laps with the steering askew he was forced to stop and have another rod fitted, so all hope of a Williams victory by him were gone. Driver error again. Meanwhile Reutemann was in trouble with a front tyre showing signs of blistering and he could do no better than fourth and to add to the gloom the heavens opened in a cloudburst and the race was stopped. In the second part, on a damp track, Michelin produced a tyre that was vastly superior to anything that Goodyear had, so that the remainder of the race, and the result by addition, was a bit of a farce. The Williams result was dismal in the extreme, Reutcmann tenth and Jones seventeenth. Total failure by the team could only be laid at the door of the drivers and the tyre company, though no-one in the team did apportion blame, for that had never been the way of thinking by Frank Williams or any of his staff. Everyone’s total effort is always considered as the team’s effort. It was the team, of which he is the chief, that had failed.

At Silverstone for the British Grand Prix they were struggling in practice, for the turbo-charged Renaults were now beginning to come on song in a most devastating way, while Ferrari and Brabham were as strong as ever. Although the Williams team no longer dominated, they were still in the thick of the fighting. For the race on home-ground they turned out with a complement of four cars, each driver having his own T-car. Jones elected to return to number 11 permanently, making number IS his T-car, while Reutemann took number 14 and had his old car, number 12 as his spare. Practice was not at all good, partly because the turbo-charged cars were going well, and partly because the team was still in trouble adapting itself for the cross-ply Goodyear tyres as against the radial-ply Michelins. Jones was seventh on the grid and Reutemann was ninth, and while you could be sure that the Australian would be racing really hard once the green light came on, you could not be sure what the Argentinian would do. Sure enough, Jones raced hard, perhaps a bit too hard, for he was tight up behind one of the Ferraris when it spun and the Williams his it amidships, ending the Australian World Champion’s race there and then. Although the turbo-charged cars dominated the opening phase of the race, and wrote loud and deacon the wall that the reign of the 3-litre engines was over, it turned out to be a race of attrition and from it all Reutemann emerged in second place.

The Silverstone crash damaged car number 11 pretty badly so a new one had to be built up in a hurry for the German Grand Prix which followed. The factory had now got up to number 16 and it was being assembled as an experimental.car with two rear axles and four small driving wheels in place of the normal two large ones. This experimental car was FWO7D but before it was finished it had to be snatched back from the R & D group and used to build up FWO7C/16 for Jones to use in Hockenheim. Back in the winter and early spring a very impressive wind-tunnel had been completed in a new factory next door to the main one in Didcot, so that Frank Dernic could carry out experiments, investigations and tests in total secrecy and undisturbed by the time factor involved when hiring someone else’s wind-tunnel. By the German Grand Prix some of the results from the Williams wind-tunnel were beginning to be apparent and revised and improved side-pods were in evidence as well as twin air-scoops for the inlets of the Cosworth DFV engines.

Reutemann kept to car number 14 and car number 15 was the spare car, though it did not have the benefit of the new sidepods. At Dijon there had apparently been a recurrence of the misfire that intervened at Monaco, though with such a shambles of a race it was difficult to pin-point any particular cause. Investigations had been going on all the time following the Monaco debacle, with no real conclusions being drawn. The fuel system had been gone through in its entirety and been replaced and the batteries and electrical system had come under close scrutiny. In the warm-up for the German race Reutemann reported a chronic misfire in the engine in car number 14 so a hasty engine change was instigated and though it was completed in time there was no chance to try it out so Reutemann opted to take the T-car. Jones was in devastating form and fought his way into the lead, and like in Monaco, had it all sewn up when the dreaded misfire began and developed into a continual hiccoughing as if there were air bubbles in the fuel-injection system. From an invincible lead the Williams dropped back, passed by one car after another and though a pit-stop was made to change the ignition unit there was no improvement and,a dejected World Champion limped home in eleventh place. Reutemann’s race was doomed from the word go as the spare car was not really adjusted for him, it did not have the improved side pods and he had little faith in the whole affair. The engine blew up very early on in the race which put him out of his misery.

Returning home more puzzled thao ever the team took FWO7C/16 just as it finished the race and re-ran a full race distance with it at Donington Park and there was no trace of a misfire! So where do you start loolcing? Everything was gone through in fine detail, everything was renewed, nothing was left to chance but still the trouble could not be pin-pointed. Eventually the trouble was literally chased away without it being known what it really was. There were numerous theories and possibilities, but none of them could be proved. It could have involved ambient temperatures, it could have involved increased fuel now due to the Cosworth engines having to squeeze out every possible horsepower to do battle with the turbo-charged engines, it could have been this, it could have been that, but whatever it was it eventually went away and no-one in the team could categorically say what it had been. The only thing they were certain about was that the misfiring and hiccoughing lost Alan Jones two victories.

The season was now in the thick of the high speed circuits, as thstinct from the Mickey-Mouse twisty circuits, and while the Ferrari turbo-charged cars were not progressing the Renault turbo-charged cars were becoining increasingly dominant no that the limitations of the Williams team, as well as Brabham and Lotus and others, was the Cosworth DFV engine. On the fast Austrian circuit it was not only the turbo-charged cars that left the Cosworth powered ones behind, but also the French Matra V12 powered Talbot. The best that the Williams tearn drivers could do was to lead the Cosworth-powered brigade, which they did. At the beginning of the second lap Reutemann made a driving error and went up an escape road, which left him eighth, while Jones was running sixth. Both cars ran faultlessly, but just not fast enough, and they finished in team order in fourth and fifth places. Moving on to Holland for the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort, Reutemann was given a brand new car, number 17, while Jones stayed with number 16 and 15 remained as the T-car. Jones, as always, was in terrific form, but he could do nothing about the turbo-charged Renault, though he held second place and gave the Renault as hard a time as possible. Before the end of the race his rear tyres were worn out and he had to ease back and lose his second place to Piquet’s Brabham, eventually finishing a disappointed third. The team had made a bit of a gamble on tyre wear and lost out. If you never gamble you never win, and sometimes a gamble comes off and sometimes it doesn’t; this was one time it didn’t. Of Reutemann the less said the better. He made a gross driving error and collided wtih Laftite’s Talbot and smashed the left front corner on FWO7C/17.

The Italian Grand Prix returned to its rightful home as Monza and here the team result was a resounding second and third on paper, but in reality it was nothing like as good as that for Prost in the turbo-charged Renault was completely uncatchable, even by Alan Jones, while Reutemann could do no better than fourth until near end of the race when he inherited a very lucky third place, when the third man broke down.

The final races of this very long and arduous season took place in Canada and the United States of America. At Montreal the weather conditions were awful, with incessant rain on race day and Reutemann virtually gave up the unequal struggle. In sharp contrast Jones was out to win and seas actually leading the race when he slid off on the slippery surface. Although he got going again he seas making no real progress so he gave up. Reutemann finished a dismal tenth. As these two races were run close together the team did not return home between them, so took four cars on the trip, so that each driver had a spare car that he could use to save some wear and tear on his race-car. Jones raced number 16, as always, with 15 as his spare, and Reutemann raced 17 with number 12 as his spare. In the final race at Las Vegas Jones put on a superb show and led from the tirst corner to the finish, never even looking like being challenged. The circuit was slow and twisty and the combination of the Williams handling and Jones’ aggressive driving was more than any superior horsepower could cope with. It was Alan Jones at his superb best and the can never missed a beat and he never put a wheel wrong. Prior to the Canadian race he had announced that he was retiring at the end of the season, and he certainly ended the season on the highest possible note. In sharp contrast Reutemann ended the season on a depressingly low note. By a series of finishes he had amassed nearly enough points to claim the Driver’s World Championship. It all rested on the outcome of this final race but he seemingly psyched himself right out of it, putting in a hopeless performance to finish eighth and lose the Championship by a single point to Nelson Piquet in the Brabham. After the race there was talk about gearbox trouble, imbalance in the suspension set-up of his car, tyre choice and so on, but none of it was very convincing and not really supported by his team. Disappearing from the scene immediately after the race Reutemann rnuch later announced from his home in Argentina that he was retiring from Grand Prix racing.

At the end of a tumultuous and hard season. Punctuated by frustrations and faults the Williams team suddenly found itself without any drivers. They had won the Manufacturers Championship very convincingly, missed the Driver’s Championship by a single point, were confident that had things gone smoothly Alan Jones could have been World Champion again, sure in the knowledge that they were still one of the “Top Teams” and yet suddenly it all seemed to be finished. As always they were financed by money from Saudi Arabia, notably Sandia Airlines, and Techniques d’Avant Garde (TAG), and by Leyland Vehicles. In a perfectly correct manner Leyland announced that they would have to withdraw from financial sponsorship of the team, but the Saudis agreed to make up the balance. As if nothing had happened the team produced its new car as winter closed in. This was the revolution, six-wheeled car, FWO7D, with two driving wdes at the rear and using four tyres of the same size as the front ones. This layout offers many things, notably reduced frontal area. more rubber on the road at the rear with the power being applied through four contact patches as against two and the mounting of the rear aerofoil much further back relative to the centre of gravity of the car, than with a normal single aide layout at the rear. Alan Jones gave the car a test run at Donington Park before returning home to Australia and apparent retirement, but with doubts in his mind, not of the experimental six-wheeler, nor of the future of the Williams team, but of whether he is being sensible in retiring from Grand Prix racing. At the tune of writing no final decision has been made by him, and in the meantime Keijo Rosberg has been taken on the staff to conduct further testing on the six-wheeler. Whether this new can races in 1982 depends on the outcome of the winter test-programme, but whatever happens we can be sure that the Frank Williams Racing Team will be at the forefront in 1982, determined to claim a hat-trick of Manufacturers Championships.

D.S.J.

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