A series taken from the 164-page Motor Sport special Great Racing Cars, which is available to buy here.
To buy the lead image click 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.
1996 F1 world champion
I have to say my world championship-winning car from 1996, no hesitation. This was a Williams made for me. Adrian Newey made sure I fitted inside the car – my biggest problem throughout my career was fitting inside a car because of my height, and my big feet, so I had some extra room in the footwell and a bit more length because I’m long in the body, too. I promise you, that car was more comfortable than going to bed at night. I could get in FW18 and just sit there, my feet up on the taps, it was just beautiful.
Essential info: Williams FW18
Drivers: Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve
Debut: 1996 Australian Grand Prix
Achievements: 12 wins, 12 poles
Constructors’ Championships: 1 (1996)
Drivers’ Championships: 1 (1996)
The car was brilliantly balanced, everything worked so well, it was just a dream. It wasn’t nervous in any way, the aerodynamics were very useable and it just had such good balance. Where I sat in the car, that was the centre of everything, so with a slight bit of pressure here and there, you could move the car around, make it do your bidding. Just a delightful racing car to drive.
If everyone else is struggling, you just turned to Adrian and he’d put his egg head on, scribble something on his pad, go away and solve it. He was just such fun to work with because he’s bright and you could have a giggle with him. The key to both Adrian and Patrick [Head] is that, in their different ways, they’re both racers.
They both needed to win and so wanted their driver to give them what they desired.
1997 F1 world champion, 1995 Indy 500 winner
My favourite race car obviously was the Williams-Renault in 1997, because I could do what I wanted with it. It was a very difficult car to drive. It was an Adrian Newey car and they’re always like that. They operate best in a very small window, but when you get in that window you can go a second a lap faster and we had that with that car that year. It was amazing, but it was a car that would catch us out once in a while.
It wasn’t a car you could drive fast with understeer. It suited me. It was a car you had to respond to. It was like driving on ice but with a lot of grip. You were always on a knife edge but the edge with that car was so fine and if you could live on that edge it was great. But as the tyres got old in the race and you got a little bit ‘out of the window’ [of performance] it was difficult to drive and very difficult to drive in the wet. But for qualifying it was amazing. You could do a lap and get out of the car and think, ‘Wow, that was amazing. That was special’. You knew you had done a lap that nobody could get close to.
You could go into the last run and feel stressed out, like in a boxing match, knowing you really had to put your balls on the line. But if you did that you went two or three tenths faster and didn’t know where it had come from. That car permitted you to do that.
Patrick Head on another Williams masterpiece
Designer Patrick Head on the significance of the car that took Damon Hill to the 1996 World Championship
Taken from the July 1997 issue of Motor Sport. To read more click here.
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 win the title, 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 FW17 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 that 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 Michael Schumacher and Olivier Panis in the other four events; remarkably, Damon was on the front row for every 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.