Mansell's FW14B: how Williams maintains one of the most advanced F1 cars ever


The Williams FW14B is one of the most technically advanced F1 cars ever – Grove's Heritage department explains how it looks after a legendary machine

Nigel Mansell at 2022 Goodwood Festival of Speed

Running a 30-year-old F1 car has its challenges, as Williams Heritage emphasises


Living with one legend isn’t easy, never mind a whole workshop full of them – just ask the Williams Heritage department.

Tasked with maintaining and running some of the most successful cars ever to compete in Formula 1, every day at Grove is about details, care and mechanical sympathy with a collection of highly-strung competition machines.

Two examples of one model are getting particular attention at the moment: Nigel Mansell’s championship-winning FW14B.

“We take extra care to make sure that everything’s right”

One chassis was restored to full running order so it could be demonstrated at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed to celebrate the 30th anniversary of ‘Our Nige’s’ world title, driven by none other than the man himself.

Perhaps the more iconic than any other Williams, the FW14B car was the most technologically advanced of its time, with active suspension, traction control, a semi-automatic gear box and sometimes-used anti-lock brakes. The results were there to be seen: ten wins and a drivers’ championship wrapped up by mid-August for Mansell, with the team claiming the constructors’ crown by 65 points from McLaren.

Running such precious and temperamental machines at high-profile events is something Williams Heritage team manager Tom Morton says can bring a lot of “pressure”, but the reward of fans getting to experience the cars once again makes the hard work worth it.

Morton makes it clear it’s not quite like the Williams race team reincarnate though.

Nigel Mansell at 2022 Goodwood Festival of Speed

Active suspension is the dominating factor in running and maintaining the FW14B


“There’s definitely a difference between running the car back in period versus now,” he says. “Similar to a Formula 1 race weekend now, back then there were 15 people surrounding the car, running it, operating it at one time.

“Now we just have a couple – so the car gets a higher level of care, but it takes a lot longer. It’s a heritage asset, it’s worth a lot of money. We take extra care to make sure that everything’s right.”

It’ll probably come as no surprise what the main factor is that makes looking after the FW14B different from almost any of Williams.

“I think it’s purely the active suspension system that requires operation, in comparison to an ordinary passive car from that era,” Morton says.

“The FW15C ’93 car, which is more technologically advanced version 14B, and shows that its predecessor was essentially a bit of a rush job, due a culmination of things happened in the winter of ’91 and early in 1992. The FW14B was a passive car with active suspension added on.

From the archive

“The main standout feature when you look at a 14B – and to tell it from a 14 or a 15C – is where the top wishbones go into the chassis, there’s a sort of a bulge on either side. That’s where the active suspension sits on the top of the chassis. That’s the only place that the team could put it, they’ve basically dumped it on the top. For ’93 they packaged it more compactly into the car.”

Some of Mansell’s idiosyncratic alterations on the car come into play when looking after the car in the modern day.

“It’s really annoying actually to wheel around car parks, because of the smaller steering wheel – Mansell’s preference – that is set quite far in under the chassis. Moving it around is very difficult.”

It’s not all mechanical trickery, as this car was born in a period when F1 was moving into the digital age, with software devised for its active system by legendary engineer Paddy Lowe. Therefore Williams Heritage has to work with software used at the time to get the 14B up and running.

“Operating the computer system is really the main thing with the suspension and car, as well as reading the reading the data that comes off it,” Morton says.

Nigel Mansell at 2022 Goodwood Festival of Speed

Ride height is adjusted for each circuit by the team and driver


“It’s old school. We’ve got one computer that reads the data card that comes out of the car, and it’s literally put into an old, beige, ‘Tower of Power’ desktop computer on our truck – we still rely on that.

“We’ve got a couple of guys in Heritage who raced this car in period which massively, massively helps as well, as do a couple of guys in the electronics department who helped assist Paddy do all the clever stuff back in the day.”

Though the team doesn’t get too deep into a system which can be complicated at the best of times, it still utilises the active suspension to make the 14B more comfortable in its surroundings.

“We can adjust the right height as per the circuit, and there’s two main different ways to adjust it,” Morton explains.

“One is by the push rods, like any passive car, which we ran at Goodwood this year, when we raised the ride height mechanically.

“We’ve also got a couple of adjustments on the sub-dash inside the cockpit, which can alter the height of the car.

“You can also change it for high-speed and low-speed corners, which is quite complicated, and we have absolutely no use for that nowadays. Fans will probably be sad to see that, but generally speaking, we’re not going for lap times more.

“We can adjust dampers, springs, ratios, thickness of washers, though everything we choose set-up-wise is generally middle of the road. There’s actually an awful lot of adjustability, more so than normal, with the active suspension if you want it.”

Morton admits that running and maintaining the car is tricky.

“There’s two sides to it,” he says. “What’s expensive to manufacture is the seals and tooling inside the active system – you can’t just buy them off the shelf, so we have to get the procurement department find them from somewhere or have them manufactured bespoke.

“The other side is the code, which Paddy wrote 30 years ago. We use Psions, which are period personal organiser computers that you put chips into, so we can go through all the different systems in the VCM [Vehicle Control Module].”


FW14B’s huge success has made it a key part of the Williams Heritage collection

Grand Prix Photo

The fact that Williams still relies on these old computer systems emphasises that if it wants to look after its past, it needs to think about the future.

“We’re in a bit of a transitional phase at the moment,” Morton says. “If you think back 20 years ago, 2000-2005-ish, these cars were still relatively recent – it was just ‘Oh that’s a nice car from 10 years ago’.

“Now they’ve got all the history and the heritage, and there’s much more of a need and a want to future proof.

“Particularly in Williams, we’ve had the luxury of always having the people that raced the cars still working here. We’ve really strung it out with the cars on the original hardware and software, but we’re now getting to the point where people are retiring, and we’re losing that knowledge.

From the archive

“We have solutions to this, and we’ll be applying them over the next 12 months.”

Whenever active suspension is mentioned, what often springs to mind for F1 fans is the FW14B ‘dancing’ before it went on track, shifting up and down as engineers with furrowed brows poured over screens and data. Morton explains what is going on as the goes through its routine.

“It’s done for a couple of reasons,” he says. “There’s two processes, a ‘flush’ and a ‘grip’. The flush is basically to get all the air out of the hydraulic system, and then we have a grip, which is like a flush, but at a higher pressure.

“A flush moves the car up and down from the front and then [doing the same] to the rear, whilst a high pressure grip will go make the whole car rise all the way to the top, as a level, and then all the way down.

“It’s basically a hydraulic leak check, it runs the system at super, super high pressure to make sure all the struts go up at the same time, to the maximum extension.”

It’s not all down to the engineers though – the driver would still be trusted with some changes to the active suspension out on track, as long as they remember. As Morton highlights, it can catch out even the best of them.

“When the car is stopped, we have a couple of buttons on the dash that will always take the car back to its maximum ride height, so that when you’re pushing it around in the pits or off the track, it’s more practical,” he says.

“That’s the one thing that we tell the driver the most before they go on track – they need to make sure they flick the switch before turning the engine off, otherwise the car will stay at its racing ride height.

“When Nigel drove the car at Goodwood and got to just outside the house, he forgot…”

From the archive

Sebastian Vettel, when he drove his car at the British Grand Prix, because he’s used to having literally a computer in his hands, he remembered. It’s different generation.”

Mansell’s slight error didn’t take away from what was a glorious day at Goodwood, the fans clearly in awe of their hero and his car. The ’92 champ was just as appreciative of the FW14B.

“He was very grateful,” says Morton. “Whenever you’ve not worked with a particular driver before, especially someone of that stature, you do hear different stories, especially from people at Williams.

“I was a little bit sceptical about looking him in the eye and telling him to look after the car and and all that kind of stuff, but he was thrilled with it and was so grateful to the entire crew.

“There were a couple of guys there that he worked with him period that helps him win the championship, and he knew that.

Nigel Mansell at 2022 Goodwood Festival of Speed

Morton says Mansell was delighted to be reunited with his championship-winner


“We met him at a couple of events across the weekend, and every time he made a point of shaking everyone’s hand, saying thanks to Williams for basically giving him a car and creating that moment.”

Morton admits he and his Heritage team felt pressure in making sure the car ran smoothly for the big event, but was ultimately elated that Williams could help enable a “special” experience for everyone present.

With the team focused on looking after its fleet – and those of customers who have bought historic Williams machinery too – for many years ahead, we can look forward to more joyous celebrations of Grove cars for years to come.