Williams has achieved massive success since it scored its first Grand Prix win in 1979, but none of the team’s cars has been anywhere near as successful as last year’s Renault-powered FW18.
World Champion Damon Hill and runner-up Jacques Villeneuve won 12 of the 16 Grands Prix, a record bettered only by McLaren’s unrepeatable 15 wins with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost back in 1988, when Honda got its sums right in the last year of turbo engines.
Williams scored 10 wins in both 1992 and 1993, the championship years for Nigel Mansell and Prost respectively, and then in the traumatic ’94 season Hill scored six victories and was beaten to the title only in the last race.
In 1995 Hill and David Coulthard won only five times between them with the FW17. It was a season marked by incidents for both men, and the figure could well have been doubled; although Schumacher and Benetton did more winning, there wasn’t much wrong with the FW17 by season’s end. These days successful cars change very little over the winter, and not surprisingly for the Williams design team, the ’96 car was only a subtle development on the previous model. The FW 17 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 which met the new safety rules. Other teams were frustrated when their shapes proved less aerodynamically efficient.
In addition to the 12 wins, Hill and Villeneuve took 12 poles, losing out only to the genius of Michael Schumacher and well-deserved fortune of Olivier Panis in the other four events; remarkably, Damon was on the front row for every single race.
For us, it was our best season. It was definitely a good car. The drivers were obviously happy with it. But as a designer naturally you remember cars from the days when there were maybe only two or three people involved in the design. Now, although it is just as satisfying to create a winning design, you don’t tend to have quite such a central feeling about the car, because design is very much a team effort.
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