Great Racing cars: Williams F14, 14B and FW15C



A series taken from the 164-page Motor Sport special Great Racing Carswhich is available to buy here.

From the editor Damien Smith

How would you define a ‘great’ racing car? Race wins and championship titles are an obvious place to start – and admittedly, when we began the process of rounding up the ‘voices’ to fill this special magazine, published by the team behind Motor Sport, we had in mind the likes of the Lotus 72, Ferrari F2004, Porsche 917, Audi R10 and so on.

But as the interviews of familiar racing figures began, we realised greatness is often a very personal thing. Naturally, most – but not all – would pick cars they had experienced first-hand, as a driver, designer, engineer or team boss. And on occasion the cars that stood out in their minds as ‘great’ weren’t necessarily so in the grand scheme of history. That’s why you’ll find a Minardi here among Formula 1 cars from Lotus, Williams and McLaren.

Unexpected? Certainly. Wrong? Not to the man who chose it.

As the interviews accumulated, our magazine took on a life of its own, full of personal anecdotes about the myriad cars that made careers. Some of those we spoke to, such as Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney, couldn’t be tied to a single choice from multi-faceted lives at the wheel. Such heroes have earned the right to choose an F1, sports and Indycar, so we allowed them more than one bite.

Others refused to be confined by category. Hence the short ‘Odd ’n Sods’ chapter on cars that, by and large, are mere footnotes in lower divisions of racing lore.

Thus there is nothing definitive about the selection listed herein. Then again, there’s no claim that this compilation offers the ‘Greatest Racing Cars’ of history. It’s much more personal than that, much more quirky – and all the better for it.

1991-92 Williams FW14 & FW14B

Mark Blundell
1992 Le Mans winner, 61 GP starts, Champ Car race winner

The Williams FW14 was as close as it comes to perfection for me, really. It was just a pleasure to use. It did whatever you wanted it to do and as a driver you can’t ask for much more than that.

It was quite a strange time for me, actually, because I was testing and developing the FW14 in 1991 when I was actually racing for Brabham. There were no issues between the teams with me doing both – in fact Brabham was quite pleased because the team was developing the fairly unusual Sergio Rinland BT60Y and they would ask me about the Williams all the time.

I remember going to Imola in early ’91 and going two seconds quicker in the FW14 on race tyres than I had with the Brabham on qualifying tyres. It was night and day really. I remembered thinking about that quite deeply when we were getting up at the crack of dawn for pre-qualifying!

The FW14 was quick, had amazing downforce levels and that great Renault V10 engine. After some initial bugs were ironed out it was reliable, too. It was actually the first generation of car that used a blown underwing concept. When you planted the throttle you felt it just suck down on to the track and the thing was cornering on rails. It was just the most harmonious car I have ever driven, there were no weak areas.

Essential info: Williams FW14

Entrants: Williams
Drivers: Nigel Mansell, Riccardo Patrese
Debut: 1991 United States Grand Prix
Achievements: 17 wins, 21 poles
Constructors’ Championships: 1 (1992)
Drivers’ Championships: 1 (1992)

Every single change that you made on it would show up immediately.

I worked closely with Patrick Head and also a young guy who had just started at Williams – Paddy Lowe! Then there was Adrian [Newey], who pioneered the FW14 and its performance. It was a ‘supergroup’ of talented people and, looking back, it was quite a formative experience for me as a young driver.

There was a huge amount of development going on, particularly with the active systems and other gizmos. Driving that car was quite influential in my decision-making process, because it made me realise the gulf between the big teams and the not-so-big teams. I realised that doing proper due diligence on career moves was very important!

I had been testing for Williams since 1989 and actually I was scheduled to take part in the planned non-championship race at Donington in 1990. It was meant to happen on Easter weekend and I was going to drive an active car, but it never happened and I was destined never to race for Williams, which was a big shame.

I was not surprised that Mansell dominated so much in 1992. The FW14B suited him because he was capable of completely trusting the car and its downforce. Physically the cars of that era were so much tougher than today’s. Just look at the shape of me and Mansell compared to modern drivers. We had bigger top halves by far because power steering was still not part of the package, although it was just being developed. You had to hustle the cars much more, even a great one like the FW14.

Mansell, the master of traction control
Patrick Head on Nigel Mansell’s skill in making the most of the system that made the FW14B so dominant in 1992

Nigel proved to be particularly adept at getting the best from FW14B, whereas the car troubled Riccardo Patrese — even though he’d been fully competitive with Nigel in the previous year’s FW14.

Nigel showed little interest in active ride in 1986 and ’87, when we ran the Honda engines with him and Nelson Piquet, and when he came back from Ferrari in ’91 he still wasn’t that interested until he heard about the lap times Damon Hill had been achieving in testing. By that time he was also more convinced about its safety. Our active control responded to changes in load distribution, but there was always a small period before the system corrected, and during that period the usual feedback to the driver was not present. There was a fraction of a second delay and it felt to the driver as if he didn’t have roll stiffness or roll resistance. Riccardo found that hard to deal with but once Nigel had worked out that, on the other side of this correction, the grip was still there, he learnt to ignore the slightly floaty initial feel of the car.

Mansell vs Patrese in 1992

Click here to compare more drivers

Our active system had fixed front-to-rear roll stiffness distribution, but we were able to adjust the balance of the car powerfully by altering the angle of attack — in effect changing relative front and rear target ride height. We could do this ‘on the fly’, eliminating any understeer or oversteer characteristic, applying the correction continuously to each metre of the track. To partly overcome the response lag of the system mentioned above, Paddy Lowe applied ‘feed-forward’ [an ‘early warning’ signal], in part predictive and in part responding to sensed lateral and longitudinal acceleration.

Had active been permitted in 1994, we would have moved away from the AP-based ‘tripod’ system towards the [four-channel] system eventually used by McLaren, and now partly present in pitch and roll control on the MP4-12C road car. So active ride has not completely gone.

Taken from the March 2012 issue of Motor Sport. To read the rest of the feature click here.
1993 Williams FW15C

Karun Chandhok
F1 and sports car driver – and super-fan!

I really admire the Lotus 49, the Porsche 956 and the McLaren MP4/4 which are all iconic cars. On looks I suppose the 1990 Ferrari 640 has to be up there too as it was gorgeous. But for me the Williams FW15C is the greatest car of all time because racing is all about technological innovation and it had the lot.

It was my dream car when I was a kid, but it certainly wasn’t Alain Prost’s – although it did bring him a fourth title. When I spoke to Alain about it he wasn’t that keen on the memories of driving it in ’93. I am sure he appreciated that it was technologically advanced, but he said that he felt he could not attack a corner the way he did in a passive car.

The design team on that car reads like a who’s who of F1 these days. Newey, [Geoff] Willis, [Paddy] Lowe, plus David Brown as Alain’s race engineer. What a team, and that is without even mentioning Patrick [Head] and Sir Frank [Williams].

I haven’t driven a 15C but I did have a go in Patrese’s 1992 FW14B from 1992 at Turweston airfield a few years ago. There were a few corners we put into the airfield with cones and it was mega to get an appreciation of the grip levels. It was very funny because the engineers had to bring these early 1990s MS-DOS laptops to run the software and systems.

But by 1993 the FW15C had everything on it and will probably forever be the most advanced F1 car in terms of the systems it had running; ABS, full hydropneumatic active suspension, fly-by-wire controls, anti-lock brakes and full traction control. Just incredible, no wonder Alain called it a ‘little Airbus’.

Alain was given a FW15C for winning the title in ’93, but he sold it in 2011. To maintain it in good standing condition you have to keep pressurising the hydraulic systems and Mrs Prost got very pissed off because the fluid kept leaking all over the garage floor!

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