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Can Williams Catch The Bus In 2013?

Dateline Barcelona, February 19: the Williams FW35 is unveiled in low-key fashion ahead of the first day of the second 2013 Formula One test session, to be staged at the Circuit de Catalunya. This is where, in 2012, Pastor Maldonado piloted the car’s predecessor to victory in the Spanish Grand Prix – the first Williams success since the end of 2004.

Is FW35 the car to build on that success and return Sir Frank’s team to the top?

Question: what was the designation of the first ‘true’ Williams, which appeared at the end of 1977?


‘FW35 NEEDS TO BE A VERY COMPETITIVE MACHINE’

That’s Sir Frank himself speaking ahead of the launch. The Barcelona victory was balm on a wound that had simply got deeper and deeper in the seven and a half years since Juan Pablo Montoya won for Williams in Brazil in the final race of 2004.

The pain goes back even further, however: while Williams have won the coveted Constructors’ Championship on nine occasions, all of them came in the 20th century, the last of them in 1997. To men like Williams and long-time partner Patrick Head, that is unbearable.

The Constructors’ title is the one that matters most, Sir Frank says, because it is “the most accurate gauge of a team’s performance relative to its rivals”. Unsentimental as Enzo Ferrari also was, Williams looks past its champion drivers to its champion cars. Can FW35 be the next in that long line?


CAN COANDA MAKE A CAR GO QUICKER?

“It’s a better, more refined Formula One car than the FW34,” claims Technical Director Mike Coughlan, “and I think everyone involved in the project can feel proud of the work they’ve done.”

While Coughlan insists FW35 is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, given the stability of the rules from 2012 to this year, it’s hard not to see it as a new car when 80% of it is new in his own words. That includes its Williams gearbox and its rear suspension as well as radiators, floor, exhausts, nose and, of course, bodywork!

The gearbox itself has been put through its paces well before hitting the Barcelona track: it had already gone through 3200 kilometres’ running on the Williams dyno, simulating five successive Grand Prix race weekends.

Coughlan sets great store by a relatively new F1 phenomenon called the Coanda effect, which you may have read a lot about in relation to Lotus in particular last year. Its name comes from the Romanian engineer who first alerted the world to it, whose name was Henri Coanda. In layman’s terms Coanda allows exhaust gases – hotly debated, you might say, in recent years – to be channelled downwards on to significant surfaces of the car in pursuit of aerodynamic benefit. If you want a scientific description, try “the tendency of a gas or liquid emerging as a jet to be attracted to a nearby surface”.

“The Coanda effect is going to be a big thing for us,” says Coughlan. “We’ll work closely with Renault to maximise the available gains.”


ANGLO-FRENCH ALLIANCE AT WORK AGAIN

Speaking of Renault, should we see it as more than coincidence that the first season in which Williams had won for eight years was also the first of their renewed partnership with Renault?

Back in the glory days, Renault succeeded Honda as engine-suppliers who powered Williams to title after title. For nine seasons from 1989 through 1997, they contested 146 races together. In that time they claimed 79 pole positions, 69 fastest laps and 63 Grand Prix victories – that’s over 55% of Williams’ all-time total of 114 victories.

In 2013 Williams will use the Renault RS27-2013 to power FW35, which Sir Frank calls “a car that must move us well up the grid”.


ENGINEERING EXCELLENCE

In case you were wondering, the reason for our ‘catch the bus’ headline is something that underlines the difference about Williams.

It was established on a proper footing in 1977 as Williams Grand Prix Engineering and has remained true to that appellation ever since.

Williams exists to race – but, in a changing world, it has made remarkable strides in transferring race-winning technology to commercial applications.

Take a London bus, for example: not literally, of course, but if you did, chances are it would be a vehicle hybridised by Williams Advanced Engineering and using the technology that went into electro-mechanical flywheel energy storage.

That kind of innovation earned Williams the ‘Business of the Year’ award from the UK’s Motorsport Industry Association in January, underlining the technical excellence at the heart of this unique F1 team.

For FW35 it was a steady start: Pastor Maldonado clocked the fifth-fastest time of the first day of the first Barcelona test. All the noises, though, were optimistic. It’s a typically no-nonsense Williams to look at, but there will be conspicuous changes by the time it hits the track at Albert Park.

As Sir Frank says, “The next race is the only thing that matters in F1.” A worldwide legion of Williams fans will be watching expectantly when that date in Australia rolls round.


Answer: No, it wasn’t FW01 as you might expect – it was in fact FW06!

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