Champion Constructor

The Williams-Honda Team 1986

A measure of the success of a Formula One team over a season can be gauged by a number of things, notably how many cars are built during the season, how many are destroyed and the number of major alterations made to the basic design. A team that has to build more than six cars to field two drivers for a complete season, and brings out two or three versions of the original car during the season seldom ends up with much in the way of success. That is not to say that a one-car team that keeps the same car throughout the season is going to be successful: the ratio of success to material is the important factor and the Williams-Honda team has proved this theory during 1986. A team that never changes anything on the cars is unlikely to be successful, while a team that brings out an A, B, C and D version of the basic car is hardly likely to succeed.

The Williams-Honda team started 1986 with the FW11 design, powered by Honda's V6 turbocharged 1-1/2 litre engine. The basic design of the FW11 remained unchanged all season long, but it is doubtful whether the cars were identical in detail for two consecutive races. Adaptability of chassis and aerodynamics to each circuit were essential, and this involved suspension, brakes, cooling, ducting and aerodynamic aids fore and aft while unseen internals of the engine and gearbox were always changing under the headings of continuous development or circuit adaptability.

Before the first race FW11/01 had been thoroughly tested and by the time of the first Grand Prix, which was in Brazil in March, FW11/02 and FW11/03 had been completed so the team arrived in S America in first class order and ready to go. Nelson Piquet had replaced Keijo Rosberg as number one driver, ably supported by Nigel Mansell who was in fine form following two victories at the end of the 1985 season. 1985 had seen the Williams-Honda team with mixed fortunes, but both sides of the partnership got their act together mid-way through the season and they won the last three races of on the trot. While the FW11 was a brand new design, it benefitted from the lessons learnt with the FW10, and in the same way Honda produced new engines for 1986 that were logical developments of the 1985 engines used at the end of the year. With fuel tank capacity being reduced to 195 litres Honda engine development concentrated on fuel consumption and electronic engine management.

While engineering under Patrick Head was all set for 1986 and the whole team was ready to go to Brazil, the team "boss", Frank Williams, suffered an apalling road accident in France, due to a moment's inattention on his part, which left him totally paralysed, but fortunately unaffected mentally. This disaster left the team no option but to go ahead with their plans without the "boss". It meant that key-personnel in Williams Grand Prix Engineering had to shoulder extra responsibility, but such was the construction of the firm and its 100 employees that everyone knew what he had to do. Frank's partner in the firm from the outset has been Patrick Head, normally in charge of engineering, while Frank looked after management, so the temporary loss of Frank meant that Patrick had to tackle double the work and his 12-hour days soon became 24-hour days, but both he and Frank knew that they had the whole work-force 100% behind them. Furthermore, much of the commercial pressure had been taken off Patrick and Frank's shoulders by the appointment of a third director, Frank's longtime friend and associate Sheridan Thynne, in January, 1986.

There were those, including a well-known Fleet Street journalist who pretends to know all about Formula One, who thought that Williams-Honda would collapse without Frank at the helm. Anyone who thought that, hadn't been paying attention to the way the team operated, and under-estimated the strong spirit within the team. A quick look at the statistics at the end of this article will indicate just how wrong those "dismal jimmies" were. It hasn't been an easy season for the team, even though it has been immensely sucessful, in fact, it has been really hard work for everyone, but at the end of the year every one of the 100 strong at the Didcot factory could justifiably feel proud of a job well done. By normal standards it would have been a job well done, but in face of the advertisity and the opposition out on the circuits, it is truly a job fantastically well done.

The team won nine out of the sixteen races, scored four pole positions, eleven fastest laps in the races and dominated the Manufacturers Championship. They finished first and second on two occasions, finished twenty-four times out of thirty-two starts, and all but one of those finishes scored points for the Championship. But for a "rogue" Goodyear tyre in the last race of the series, Nigel Mansell would have won the Drivers World Championship for the team, which would have been the icing on the cake, and made the season near-perfect. For a team that some predicted would fall apart, they didn't do badly, did they?

All along Frank was confident that all would be well, for the way he has structured the firm since 1981 was on the "middle management" business system which obviates against just such a catastrophe as befell him last spring. The success of the 1986 season not only proved how well he had prepared Williams Grand Prix Engineering, but totally justified the system on which he had built it.

At the races Patrick Head has looked after Nigel Mansell, while Frank Dernie has looked after Nelson Piquet, and Allan Challis has looked after the mechanics and the mechanical work.  Back at base Dave Neale has looked after production in the factory and James McDougall has looked after the all-important finance and accounts. These are just a few of the people who have contributed to the success of the team, there are many more and all of them have done a first-class job, otherwise the drivers would not have been able to achieve the results they did. Winning a Grand Prix is not an individual effort, it is a team effort, and the winning of nine races against strong opposition means that there are no weak links in the chain.

Nelson Piquet won the first race of the season in his home country of Brazil, which was also his first race with the team, and that started things off on the right foot. The season was not perfect, no season ever is, but mistakes were few and far between. Of the eight retirements that the team suffered the two drivers had four apiece, and each had an accident of his own making, the other six were due to mechanical defects. The Monaco GP was a technical disaster, as there were no suitable rear axle ratios available, and when it was realised, it was too late to do anything about it.  In Detroit the pressure of Honda politics distracted Patrick Head's attention from the job in hand and a wrong decision was made over braking propensities, but even in the midst of these two low-points Mansell managed a fourth and a fifth place. In Austria neither car finished, one retiring with engine trouble, the other with drive-shaft trouble, and this was the first time in fourteen consecutive races that a Williams hadn't finished. In Mexico the team got into tyre difficulties, as did all the other Goodyear users, and in Australia, tyres again proved to be the Achilles heel.

Throughout the season the power of the Honda engine and the speed of the car has caused problems with tyres, and pit-stops to change wheels and tyres became the normal thing. All the Formula One teams tackled the tyre-change routine with enormous enthusiasm and skill, the mechanics relishing the opportunity to become a vital part of the race-winning equation.  The Williams mechanics under Allan Challis did a superb job, an under nine second stop to change all four wheels being a regular ocurrence.

A total of six cars were built during the season, the normal arrangment being to take a single spare car, ostensibly for the use of the number one driver, but always available for the number two if needed. At the British GP Mansell's car broke a drive-shaft joint at the start, and then a mid-grid accident caused the race to be stopped and restarted, which allowed him time to switch to Piquet's spare car. For the last three races of the season, in Portugal, Mexico and Australia, two spare cars were on hand, one for each driver, the reason being that both were in the running for the Drivers World Championship and it was felt that they should be given an equal chance with identical equipment.

While all the fore-going has concentrated on the Williams part of the equation, the Honda part is just as important, if not more so, for the best car in the world won't get far without an engine. Once the Honda company had committed itself to supply engines to the Williams team no limit was put on the effort, and a special engine department was built onto the Williams factory at Didcot, where engines were overhauled and prepared for use in practice and testing. Actual race engines were built in Japan and flown to the UK, which was not a simple matter as freight paperwork and customs paperwork was complicated. Honda made a tentative estimate that something like forty-five engines would be necessary to maintain the team for a whole season, though they managed to keep the number nearer twenty in actual circulation throughout the season. With four cars at a race, with at least two engines to a car, and others in transit either back to Japan or on their way from Japan, the engine department did well to maintain the total so low. The Didcot engine shop is totally self-contained, with its own dynamometer, and is "off limits" to everyone except Honda personnel, and a strong force of Japanese mechanics and engineers look after the engines at races.

The team has had total support from numerous sponsors, both large and small, and a look at one of the cars will soon show who they are, as the colour scheme and decorations proudly announce who is backing the Williams team, most of them being involved in supplying materials and technology for the cars. Mobil is very strong on fuel and oil, Goodyear on tyres, ICI on materials, NGK on sparking plugs, while Canon is a major financial backer.

At the time of writing Frank Williams is recovering well, leaving the factory to Patrick Head and his faithful band of workers, while he concentrates on the therapy to get him mobile again, but even so he visits the factory once or twice a week. As he says, "I needn't really be there, they are all doing a fantastic lob". An under-statement by any yardstick, and certainly after studying the analysis which follows.

— D.S.J.


Williams Results and Chassis — 1986:

32 starts; 24 finishes; 23 in first six scoring points:

8 Retirements; Piquet 4; Mansell 4.

9 Wins: Piquet 4; Mansell 5.

5 Second places: Piquet 3; Mansell 2.   5 Third places: Piquet 3; Mansell 2.   2 Fourth places: Piquet 1: Mansell 1.   2 Fifth places: Mansell 2.  1 Seventh place: Piquet 1.

4 Pole positions: Piquet 2; Mansell 2.   11 Fastest laps: Piquet 7; Mansell 4.  

Winners of 1986 Manufacturers Championship.



New for beginning of season.

Won Brazilian GP (Piquet) and fastest lap. Retired Spanish GP (Piquet) engine failure. Stand-by car Monaco GP (Mansell) not used.

Test and development car for rest of season.


New for beginning of season. Retired Brazilian GP (Mansell) slight accident.

2nd Spanish GP (Mansell) and fastest lap. Retired San Marino GP (Mansell) engine failure.

4th Monaco GP (Mansell).

Won Belgian GP (Mansell). Won Canadian GP (Mansell) and pole position on grid.

5th USA (Detroit) GP (Mansell).

Won French GP (Mansell) and fastest lap. Broke transmission at first start of British GP (Mansell).

3rd German GP (Mansell).

T-car Portuguese GP (Mansell).

T-car Mexican GP (Mansell).

T-car Australian GP (Mansell).

To Honda-Japan for test work.


New for beginning of season.

1-car in Brazil, Spain, San Marino, Monaco, Belgium, Canada, Detroit, France. Won British GP (Mansell) and fastest lap. T-car Germany, Hungary, Austria, Italy. T-car (Piquet) Portugal. Mexico, Australia.


New for San Marino GP in April.

2nd San Marino GP (Piquet) and fastest lap. 7th Monaco GP (Piquet).

Retired Belgian GP (Piquet) engine failure.  Pole on grid.

3rd Canadian GP (Piquet) and fastest lap. Repaired and used for testing and development work.

FW11 /05

New for French GP in July.

3rd French GP (Piquet). 2nd British GP (Piquet) and pole position on grid.

Won German GP (Piquet).

Won Hungarian GP (Piquet) and fastest lap.

Retired Austrian GP (Piquet) engine failure.

Won Italian GP (Piquet).

3rd Portuguese GP (Piquet).

4th Mexican GP (Piquet) and fastest lap.

2nd Australian GP (Piquet) and fastest lap.


New for Hungarian GP in August. 3rd Hungarian GP (Mansell).

Retired Austrian GP (Mansell).

2nd Italian GP (Mansell). Won Portuguese GP (Mansell) and fastest lap.

5th Mexican GP (Mansell). Retired Australian GP (Mansell) tyre failure

Pole on grid.