Year of Eureka!
This month I’m taking a look back to our first truly successful car, the FW07, with which Clay Regazzoni won our first Grand Prix and which is still winning historic F1 races today. Having run a March in 1977, we designed and built FW06 for ’78: it was simple, effective, but completely outclassed by the Lotus 79. At the end of the year Alan Jones took second at Watkins Glen, which was a strong result for us, but Alan had been telling me that when he was in close company with Andreffi and Peterson in the 79, he thought they were having a relatively easy time.
By mid-78 Neil Oatley had joined us, and we were working on the running gear and chassis structure, using an aluminium honeycomb construction as employed by Harvey Postlethwaite at Wolf. I wanted to make a big step with the FW07. We had a week in the wind tunnel at Imperial College in October ’78, and the complete aerodynamic design was based upon that week. The results from the shaped underside and skits were stunning in comparison to the FW06 data. Frank Dernie joined us in January ’79 and he took on the skirt detail design one of the 07’s strengths.
We used FW06 for the first four races of 1979, but it wasn’t competitive, apart from at Long Beach where Alan finished third. Frank was keen to race FW07 at Long Beach, mainly because our Saudi sponsors were there, but I told him that it must be tested first.
The car resided under a tarpaulin in the Cobo Hall, where all the cars were kept between practices. We had a rather fearsome chief mechanic at the time called Ian Anderson, a very good mechanic but rather an intimidating-looking man. One morning he spotted two feet poking out from under the tarpaulin. He pulled the feet out, and attached to them was Maurice Nunn, team principal at Ensign. He sent him packing with a few choice words, and later I went to have a word with Maurice, who was recounting to an audience that “I was only having a look, and this man attacked me!” in his strong Birmingham accent. I concluded that Ian had frightened him enough, and didn’t reproach him for his curiosity.
After the race, happily with a strong result in FW06’s finale, we took the FW07 to the Ontario Motor Speedway (now a housing estate) which had a good infield section adjoining the banked track. After a few laps Alan came in and switched off, saying, “Now I understand what Mario and Ronnie have had all this time the car has so much grip I can’t even get it to slide.” Later in the day he was gaffing it out of shape and lapping very quickly.
At the end of the month we took the car to the Spanish GP at Jarama where we didn’t qualify very well. We had the car up on stands on the grid when Colin Chapman came to have a look. He and Peter Wright (the man credited with the discovery of ground effect) walked up to the car and stated poking about, Chapman puffing his toe under the skirts and lifting them to see what the springing was like, all the time talking to Peter as if we didn’t exist. I was incensed but didn’t say anything. I’d admired Chapman for many years. In a way it was an honour to have him take a close interest in our car, but I did think his manner was pretty cheeky.
Reliability let us down badly, with a string of retirements, until Regazzoni took second at Monaco and Alan was fourth in France after three retirements, one of which was his fault, clipping a barrier at Monaco when leading. Then came Silverstone, and with some developments the car took a big step forward. Alan (above left with Jabouille and Regazzoni) took pole, way ahead of even the turbo Renaults, which were starting to make a strong mark. He had another retirement after leading more than half the race, but of course Clay went on to win our first Grand Prix.
Frank was blown away he’d struggled with so many bad cars. I felt sorry for Alan, but he and Clay were good friends and he knew we now had a very quick car. Alan went on to win four Grands Prix. We should have won the title in ’79, but we got our act together too late so it would have to wait for 1980.