Williams FW15C: F1’s high-tech pinnacle

Goodwood Festival of Speed

The Williams-Renault FW15C was one of the most high-tech cars ever to race in Formula 1. It bristled with gadgets, most of which were outlawed after it dominated the 1993 championship.

It gave Alain Prost his final world championship and Damon Hill his first Grand Prix win.

Williams leap ahead

Williams FW15C, Goodwood Festival of Speed, 2011

Williams FW15C, Goodwood Festival of Speed, 2011

The FW15C was ready to race halfway through 1992. But with the FW14B setting pole positions with a margin of more than two seconds, and Nigel Mansell on the cusp on winning the world championship, there was simply no need for the team to show its hand and roll the new car out.

So they continued with the FW14B, a development of the 1991 car which used active suspension to devastating effect. Computers controlled the suspension at all four corners of the car, setting it up perfectly for every corner.

Williams made some revisions to the system for 1993, but as they were already so far ahead, and the writing was on the wall for the technology, they did little further development on it during the year.

Patrick Head said that, by the end of the season, McLaren had a superior active suspension system on their MP4/8. Ayrton Senna won the last two races of the year with that car.

But Williams were forging ahead in other areas, such as transmission.

The FW15C’s gearbox could be fully automated at the drivers’ discretion. After selecting the fully automatic option the car would shift up and down by itself, until the drive pulled one of the shift levers behind the wheel again to take back control.

Anti-lock braking was introduced at the French Grand Prix on Prost’s car as he took his fifth win from the first eight races.

Battle with the FIA

The season was dogged by rows over when the various driver aids used on the FW15C and, by now, several other cars, would be outlawed.

In Canada technical delegate Charlie Whiting declared 12 teams (all bar the Scuderia Italia Lolas) were running cars that were illegal due to the presence of either active suspension or traction control.

FIA president Max Mosley put pressure on the teams to agree to a ban on the systems for 1994, or he would make good on the threat to exclude them at the next round in France. The teams agreed, and active suspension, traction control and anti-lock braking were banned for 1994.

In the meantime, Prost put the seal on his fourth world championship title and duly retired.

After being robbed of victory while leading at Silverstone and Hockenheim, Damon Hill finally delivered his maiden Grand Prix triumph at the Hungaroring. He made it three on the trot with wins at Spa-Francorchamps and Monza.

Continuously variable transmission

The FW15C boasted other technologies that were never raced. An automatic clutch was tried in testing, but the drivers preferred to use a manual clutch for race starts.

Williams also used the car to develop a continuously variable transmission. This did away with the conventional arrangement of gears and instead used a combination of cones and drive bands to alter the speed delivered from the engine to the road.

This offered the advantage of allowing the engine to work at peak efficiency, leading to the peculiar sound of the car charging into corners where the revs would normally drop with the Renault V10 still screaming away.

Unlike many of the other technologies on the FW15C, CVT was banned before it could be raced.

Williams FW15C at the Goodwood Festival of Speed

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50 comments on Williams FW15C: F1’s high-tech pinnacle

  1. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 14th October 2011, 13:52

    I knew this car was ground-breaking but not to that extent. Seeing the active suspension in use on ‘Senna’ was fascinating to a relative new F1 fan.

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