formula 1’s ground-effect king
By the end of 1981, it was crystal clear
that turbos would be dominant in the
coming seasons. But in the absence of a
suitable engine deal, Williams began to look
for ways of getting more shelf life out of
the venerable Cosworth DFV engine.
The concept that Williams’ chief
designer Patrick Head pursued – running
four small driven wheels at the back – had
been tried without success by March in
1977. Nevertheless, a so-called FW07D
test car was created and tested with that
layout, which delivered significant benefits
in terms of tunnel length, reduced drag
and increased traction. The downside in
prototype form was around 110-130lbs
of extra weight at the rear.
Despite concerns about the weight
issue, Williams pressed ahead and built an
all-new FW08 six-wheeler, only for it to be
made obsolete when it was decided that F1
cars could only have four wheels.
“We had the rug pulled out from under
us even before we decided if we were going
to race it,” says Head. Initially, he wasn’t
sure what alternative path to take.
“For a while I thought we needed to make
FW08: six becomes Four, takes First
the FW07 last longer, and then we’d bring
out something much later in the year. I
probably spent a month thinking about it.”
In the end he decided to keep the FW08
design and fit a standard 07 rear end,
resulting in a car that had a relatively short
wheelbase, as the chassis had been designed
so that the six-wheeler wasn’t overly long.
It first appeared in May at the Belgian
GP, after the FW07C was used as a
stop-gap in the early races. Rosberg scored
only one victory, at the Swiss GP in Dijon,
France. However, helped by the tragic
accidents that befell pacesetting Ferrari
teammates Gilles Villeneuve and Didier
Pironi, plus woeful reliability for Renault’s
Alain Prost and René Arnoux, he managed
to win the 1982 title – the final one for the
then-16-year-old Cosworth DFV.
“It was a very simple little car,” Head
Williams FW07 was always going to be a hard act to follow, but a ban on six-wheelers made it harder still.
recalls. “Keke had such quick steering
movements, and I think it just suited him
very well. He loved driving it. It had lots of
downforce, and we probably improved the
shape of the underside and so on. It was a
car that Keke could use.”
For the 1983 flat bottom rules, the team
created the FW08C, distinguished by its
stubby sidepods. By now turbos were
unbeatable except on street circuits, and
Rosberg scored a memorable win in
Monaco. Then, in September, the car was
involved in a little bit of history when
Williams gave rising star Ayrton Senna
his first ever F1 test at Donington.
The somewhat stubby Williams FW08 was the
compromised result of a ban on six-wheeled
cars, yet it still took the 1982 F1 Drivers’
Championship with Keke Rosberg.
(ABOVE) This is what the FW08 should
have been – a six-wheeler design that
offered significant performance benefits.
With ground effects banned for ’ 83, FW08C
was the hasty solution. Keke Rosberg won in
Monaco (ABOVE), but struggled elsewhere.