Four x four by Williams

Frustrated by a lack of turbo power, Patrick Head & Co tried an extra driven axle for the FW08 instead. And it looked quick…

Back in 1980-81 Renault and Ferrari put the turbocharged writing on the Formula 1 wall. The new forced-induction 1500cc engines set output levels which the naturally-aspirated 3-litre Cosworth brigade could not match. Patrick Head of Williams approached Ferrari for use of its V6. The answer was predictable. ‘No’.

Cosworth at that time had a rather negative attitude towards further development of its V8’s horsepower from its 490-500bhp. Williams therefore began its own development programme with John Judd’s Engine Developments company, and valve specialist Chris Walters. They soon saw 535-540bhp. But straightline speed was the turbo cars’ greatest advantage.

Rear tyres at that time were 29 inches in outside diameter on rims so wide they generated some 40 per cent of the cars’ total drag.

So Patrick and his design team considered three axles (two at the rear), six wheels and narrow, contemporarily front-sized tyres all round. This could at least maintain, and possibly improve upon, the aggregate rear contact patch area, while other advantages beckoned. Underwing skirts were restricted to the area within the wheelbase. With an extra rear axle, skirted underwings could be longer, and the working area – and therefore the generated download – correspondingly larger.

A six-wheeled model tested promisingly in the team’s Didcot wind tunnel. The new 4×4 rear end was centred more or less around the conventional four-wheeled car’s rear axle-line. The second axle was centred some four inches forward of the normal position, with sharply raked-forward driveshafts from the first final drive. The new third axle was outrigged just behind from an extension final drive.

The Williams FW07D type number originated with this rear end, and Alan Jones first tested the finished car one week after the Las Vegas Grand Prix in 1981. He stood by his decision to retire – temporarily, as it would prove – but the six-wheeler’s standing starts were mighty impressive!

Jonathan Palmer was extremely quick during wet testing at Silverstone, and the team considered it could have run slick tyres on the third axle since the track was squeegeed so well by wet tyres on the first two axles! A tight-circuit test at Croix-en-Ternois saw Palmer lap as quickly as in the four-wheeled FW08, whose short tub had been tailored to deploy the 4×4 rear
end and vast underwings. The prototype was 120lb heavier than the conventional design and although the long wing surfaces passed beneath the driveshafts, they passed above the lower suspension wishbones, which thus interrupted airflow in this critical area. Consequently a second-generation Williams six-wheeler was drawn, in which fixed-length driveshafts doubled as lower lateral location for the upright – à la 1960 Lotus 18.

Both standard FW07 and FW08 tubs were tested with the 4×4 rear end – creating the Williams FW07D and FW08B models. Jones drove the former at Donington, before Keke Rosberg and Jonathan Palmer took over at Ricard. Late in 1982, Tony Trimmer and the team’s new – four-wheeled – World Champion Rosberg tested the FW08B at Silverstone, then at Donington, while at Croix-en-Ternois Palmer and Jacques Laffite took over. Jacques drove in its final test at Ricard on October 21, 1982. So why didn’t we see the Williams 0-2-4 race? Because for 1983 both four-wheel drive and six-wheelers were banned. And the gas-guzzling turbos prevailed instead.