My favorite Williams Formula One car that I designed, is the FW08—the car Keke Rosberg used to win the 1982 drivers World Championship. I know he only won the one race with the car, the Swiss Grand Prix at Dijon, but he beat people like Piquet driving a Brabham, who had 200 hp more than he did. It was the time when the turbo engines were about. The FW08 was also the most aerodynamically efficient I know of. Even today, Formula One cars with all the peripheral technology available and, of course, the 100 or so staff needed to design and build such machines, aerodynamically are only half as efficient as the FW08.
Speaking as a designer and engineer, I believe racing always prospers when we are given a free hand to design cars to race without the interference of the governing bodies; historically, I think you will find that correct. Rule changing is a very blunt instrument to use to try and manipulate closer racing, and it fails time after time. If engineers were given a reasonable length of time, closer racing can be achieved. Ever since the politicians and marketing people have tried to exploit racing by messing about with the rules it has got worse and worse. I feel that the FIA should make the design rules simpler, in relation to modern Formula One cars, for a lengthy period of time. It is the only way ahead to achieve closer racing and a greater spectacle in Formula One. If you look back over the history of racing, the idea of reducing downforce to improve racing has proven not to be true. From 1982-’83, we lost over 80 percent of our downforce and that did nothing to improve overtaking or anything. If it had proven the case we would have heard about it years ago. Yet, many years later, the governing body is still banging on about reducing downforce to improve racing…it’s obscene! The idea that less downforce equals more overtaking is ridiculous. It astonishes me how so called intelligent people still believe it.
A car that gave me a sense of satisfaction was the Williams FW11, in its “active” form with electronic suspension and all the bits to allow the car to have a constant ride height throughout a lap. When it won its first race it was a real sense of achievement for me, personally, as a designer. One of the secrets to the design of the FW11 is something I found with the FW10, the engine cover. I made a slightly smaller engine cover for the FW10 and found that although there were increases in drag, the downforce increased amazingly. When designing the FW11, I laid the driver down as far as possible and made that section the biggest section of the car. When you look at it, from there onward, the car was made as small as we could—we got something like 30 percent more downforce by doing that.
To make things better, it is always good to have a responsive driver and Nelson Piquet was very good to work with. Ironically, history shows that the Williams driver to gain more from the active car was Nigel Mansell. I think that may have been due to him having some very bad experiences at Lotus when they developed an active car, he really wasn’t interested in helping with any of the testing. He told me that he thought it was very dangerous and he would never drive an active car. That was up to the point where it won its first race at Monza in 1987. After Monza, he insisted he have one for the next race, I believe he now says it’s one of the best cars he has driven.
Driver-wise, I found Alan Jones one of the easiest drivers to get on with, I remember a time when he came into the pits and said to me, “Frank, we’re in the shit!” When I checked the times, he had just set the second fastest of the day.