What next for Williams?

The post-Patrick Head era begins. We ask Williams’ new tech chief Mark Gillan how the team plans to recover from the disaster that was 2011
By Rob Widdows

Williams Grand Prix Engineering’s annus horribilis is behind it, there’s a new engine in the back of the car and new faces on the front line. The team is making a fresh start. The only way is up, and next month in Melbourne it will know just how much progress has been made. The newly appointed chief operations engineer at Grove, Mark Gillan, has been fielding questions ahead of the new season, a task he will continue to perform at the circuits in 2012.

The new Formula 1 regulations for 2012 include a ban on exhaust-blown diffusers as seen – and heard – in 2011. How does this affect you?

“It is a significant change. The exhausts can no longer go along the floor of the car, and the engine mapping is quite prescribed, so that limits a lot of what can be done in terms of [blown diffusers] next year. We were behind the curve in developing the system in 2011; we were late in the wind tunnel and we had less flexibility with engine mapping on the Cosworth. Now we have certainty in the regulations, better mapping potential with the Renault engine, and we can still have some blowing – through a much more convoluted path – to get the exhaust gases back to where we want them on the floor of the car. With the Renault package we’ve been able to look again at every aspect of the car, the integration of the engine into the whole drivetrain and its mating onto the chassis.”

So what are the immediate targets for the FW34 as Williams attempts to haul itself back to its glory days?

“Firstly we had to understand the problems we had on the FW33 and make sure we didn’t carry any of those into the FW34, so we’ve worked on eradicating the inconsistencies we had between the two cars and on understanding why certain components didn’t work. I’ve been very pleased to see such a strong team spirit at Williams and a general desire to get ourselves out of the situation in which we found ourselves in 2011. Any repeat of that would just be unacceptable for a team with the history of Williams. In particular we’ve looked closely at tyre wear, cooling, aerodynamics, engine integration, KERS efficiency and driveability. To give you one example, the Renault engine allows us to run higher oil and water temperatures, which improves cooling and aerodynamic efficiency because we don’t have to open the car up so much.”

Has the arrival of new personnel in senior design and engineering positions resulted in a new-found desire to recover?

“I joined the team for the last six races of 2011 and I was surprised to find that things had got to the level they’d gone to, but with Mike Coughlan coming in as technical director, Jason Somerville as head of aerodynamics and Ed Wood continuing as chief designer we have taken a comprehensive and unbiased look at the FW33 and made a number of design changes for the new car. The last few races of 2011 were really more like extended test sessions for us while we tried to get to the bottom of the problems we had with the car. We’ve been able to target all those areas where we were at our weakest. With the Renault rigs we’ve been able to do endurance and reliability testing through the winter, and so when we hit the track in February we’ll have done a lot of endurance testing, which we didn’t have time for with the FW33. We are on schedule with the new car and making our way steadily through all the final criteria to be on time and ready for testing. Then it’s quite a savage season ahead with 20 races and flat out through to November.”

Unlike in previous seasons, Williams is not making any grand claims for the new car from Coughlan and his team, but it is abundantly clear that there is a strong desire to leave behind the trials and tribulations of last year. As testing gets under way in Spain we will begin to get a picture of how the FW34 will stack up against the opposition. A great many fans are fervently hoping to see a Williams-Renault back at the sharp end of the Grand Prix grid.