Then & Now – Williams

I was fortunate enough to spend Tuesday afternoon at what has been described on the FBC podcast as everyone’s second favourite F1 team. I went to the Williams Conference Centre on a tour of their Grand Prix Collection. Being a Grand Prix team with cars in development photography is not permitted on site with the exception of the Conference Centre. As there are no 2015 cars there visitors are allowed and encouraged to take photographs. The only proviso was no video photography, as displays throughout the collection showed archive footage of F1 races which is owned by FOM, and so to prevent copyright infringements no video photography was allowed. The only other restriction was not to touch the cars.

The tour was conducted by members of the Williams staff who were on hand to answer any questions the group may have, and they provided a useful insight to the nature of the team. Despite retiring from the board some years ago, Sir Frank Williams still comes in to the factory seven days a week (unless he was at the track for a race or test). He was described as the hardest working member of staff the team has, it was mentioned that perhaps he had forgotten that he had retired as Chairman, and no-one had yet reminded him of the fact. He is however still Team Principle with Clair Williams as his deputy. The staff hold a great deal of respect and admiration for Sir Frank and that was apparent in the way he was described. The other founder of the team, Patrick Head, is not seen at the factory so much these days, and when he does appear he is usually heard before he is seen.

In the foyer of the conference centre is the most modern car in the building (always last season’s car, currently Valtteri Bottas’FW36 from 2014), while suspended above it is the last Williams to win a championship (currently Jaques Villenuve’s FW19).   This was a source of some annoyance, and it was described as ‘not good enough’. The team desperately want to win another title and are determined to do so. They were very proud of being third in the list of all time title winners (behind Ferrari and McLaren) but couldn’t resist pointing out that they actually had more constructors’ titles than the Woking team.




Being able to see the underside of an F1 car is rare, but you can clearly see the plank on the underside with a couple of to me interesting features. There are six holes in the plank which are used to measure the thickness of the plank after the race to ensure that the car hasn’t been run too low to the ground. These are spread throughout the length of the plank (and are in the same position for all the teams), one on the centre line at the front, one on the centre line at the point of the start of the rear diffuser, and two pairs spaced equally along the left and right edges of the plank. Also visible are the silver coloured skid blocks used to prevent excessive wear on the plank. The number and size of these are controlled by the regulations, but the exact positioning is up to the team. For this season the material has been specified as Titanium which is softer than the material used previously and is the reason why so many more sparks have been visible this year compared to last. As you can see from the picture, these blocks are concentrated at the front of the plank, indicating that even in 1997 the cars used to run with a significant rake angle, to get the front wing as close to the ground as possible and to increase the effective angle of the rear diffuser. All measurements on an F1 car are taken from the ‘reference plane’, which is the bottom of the step that the plank is bolted onto. If this reference plane can be tilted to bring the front of the car lower and to raise the rear, there is an aerodynamic advantage. This does risk wearing the front of the plank, hence the skid blocks and why the material was changed this season.

Moving into the collection, Williams has a complete example of every car constructed by the team (the FW06 of 1978)


To the FW36 in the foyer.   Some years are missing though, as in recent seasons Williams have only built four examples of each chassis to save costs, and the demand for show cars (no running cars mad to resemble current cars) is so great that a number of the cars from recent seasons have all been converted to show cars. As these are some of the least successful cars from the teams history, they are not too upset by their absence. The team also chooses to sell off cars to private individuals in order to help fund the current race team. In fact the FW19 example that is normally in the collection (in addition to the one suspended over the foyer) was missing as the engine was being transferred into a customer’s FW18 as there was an issue with the customer’s engine.

All bar one of the cars in the collection was complete with the exception of the FW32, as Cosworth requested the engine back when the team moved to Renault power, and the engine was still a current F1 engine at the time. The remaining 2.4 litre V8 Cosworth powered cars had all been converted into show cars. Now that the engine format had changed to 1.6 litre turbos, the team hope that they will be able to obtain the correct engine for the FW32. Although all the remaining cars are complete and could be made to run, only a few actually run each year. The team takes one or two to Goodwood each year for the festival of speed, and hold a partner day where sponsors are entertained by a number of the historic cars being driven by the current drivers. The cars that had recently been used in this manner were easily identifiable as they were on Avon tyres rather than the period Goodyear items that are probably not safe to use in anger after three decades. There are a large stock of parts for the cars within the factory, but if they run out of anything they certainly have the drawings and the capability to remanufacture spares when required.


For me, it was fascinating to be able to study the evolution of the F1 cars over the last 38 years, noting the impact on the changing regulations on the shape of the cars. Things like spotting the exhaust blown diffuser on the 1987 FW11B

Double Diffuser

Or the double diffuser of the 2009 FW34.

Double Diffuser 2

They even had a crashed nosecone on display, courtesy of Kazuki Nakajima rather than a more recent FBC favourite.


Williams has a budget of £100 million for the year, and while it can survive on just the income from sponsorship and prize money, the profit from Williams Advanced Engineering helps to make the position easier. There was a Jaguar C-X75 in the entrance of the Advanced Engineering building next door to the Conference Centre. The design goal for this was to be faster than a Bugatti Veyron, More economical than a Toyota Prius and the electric range of a Chevrolet Volt. Williams certainly applies it technology to road cars (even if they are super cars).

A trip thorough the trophy room had just a small selection of the trophies that the team has won over the years, together with some of the driver’s helmets.

trophy 1


trophy 2


trophy 3


trophy 4


trophy 5


trophy 6

The last stop on the tour was the shop. This wasn’t your normal F1 merchandise (£100 key fobs), but a chance to purchase some obsolete parts of F1 cars or wind-tunnel models.




If you get the chance to visit the Williams Collection I can recommend it.

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Tom Firth

Looks like a very nice day out, did the FW07D happen to make it into the collection?


I don’t think so, they have an FW07C. If you mean the six wheeler I think that’s the FW08B, and that is there.

Tom Firth

I was referring to the six wheelers yes. I think and I may be wrong, but wasn’t the 07D the exploration of the concept for Williams, with the 08B the car that could in a universe whereby the FIA hadn’t banned six-wheelers, of been produced?


The Forix database lists the FW07D as starting nine races (end of 1981 & early 1982). The six wheeler never raced in a Grand Prix, but individual chassis designations aren’t my strong point.

Tom Firth

Mystery solved, thanks Forix –


Great report MIE, thanks for that. It would be an amazing collection to see.
Were the Williams staff running the tour as knowledgeable about F1 as you are? If so were you able to gain any insights into what Williams have done in the last couple of season to turn their fortunes around?


The staff were very knowledgeable, but understandably reluctant to disclose current developments on this year’s car. The change in regulations last year gave the team an opportunity to reset as everyone would be starting from a clean sheet of paper. The choice of Mercedes as a Power Unit has certainly helped. The team has a budget of £100Million a year to go racing, this is substantially less than the top teams (approx £300Million), but they are not complaining as they are better off than those struggling with funding. Their ethos is they have to be smarter with car development than… Read more »


Thanks Dave, as you say much easier to say you’ll work smarter than do it. Have you heard the Motorsport podcast interviews with Pat Symonds? He says his main impacts have been to get the parts of the organisation working together better and focusing on things they know will make a difference rather than throwing lots of ideas on the car and hoping some work. But I think they must have started on that track before Symonds arrived as the 2014 was good from the start of that season, I think Symonds arrived too late to influence that very much.… Read more »