hen Williams Grand Prix Engineering
started in Formula 1 in 1977, the company
headcount was 17. By 1997, the last of its
glory years, it employed 240 people. Today,
the renamed Williams F1 has around 650.
During Tyrrell’s heyday with Jackie
Stewart in the early 1970s, the team peaked
at 19. But in its final, declining years before
being sold to become British American
Racing in 1998, it employed around 120.
The Mercedes F1 team of the
mid-1950s, which dwarfed most of its
rivals, had around 200 people making
everything from the engines to the
exquisitely upholstered seats, whereas
today’s Silver Arrows incarnation, if you
take into account all those at its chassis and
engine facilities, numbers more than 1,000.
You get the idea. F1 teams have
gotten bigger – way, way bigger.
The challenge remains unchanged; to
design, build and successfully run a couple
of grand prix cars. So why the exponential
growth? The answer can be found with a
close examination of the front of a car.
Although Renault’s current power deficit
conceals the fact over a whole lap, the
Red Bull RB10 is the best of the 2014
cars aerodynamically. Look at its front
wing in comparison to that of the McLaren
MP4/5, which dominated in 1989. In both
cases, the wing exists to generate
downforce to make the car faster through
the turns. But the latest wings are creations
of irreducible complexity comprising
80-plus “tools,” designed not just to create
downforce, but to set up airflow structures
that make that downforce more consistent
and allow the whole car to work.
A “barn door” main plane, a couple of
flaps and some endplates – five effective
parts – is child’s play compared to the
hugely elaborate designs of today.
Twenty-five years ago, the front wing was a
modular part, whereas today it’s integral
to the performance of everything behind
it, part of an elaborate airflow system that
you need a supercomputer to understand.
When you change a modern front wing, it’s
not just a question of whether it makes the
wing produce more downforce, but how it
influences airflow under the floor, around the
sidepods, through the rear diffuser or over
the rear wing. This complexity is replicated
throughout the car. A grand prix car is orders
of magnitude more complicated than the
best that the late 1980s had to offer, even
though the regulations are more restrictive.
The reason for this growth is simple; F1’s
become big business. While teams aren’t as
well paid as perhaps they should be, sharing
just 60 percent of the sport’s commercial
revenues, the biggest have big money.
F1 became fat on the cash of tobacco
companies, then banks, energy drinks, and
so on, and so the teams have expanded.
“The standards of design are so high
now that you end up working niche areas,”
explains Christian Horner, team principal
Far from allowing Formula 1 teams to operate competitively
on a smaller scale, the ever-increasing technology at their
disposal has increased overall staffing levels – massively.
WORDS Edd Straw MAIN IMAGE Steven Tee/LAT
Before founding Williams Grand Prix
Engineering in ’ 77, Frank Williams struggled
with projects such as the ’ 73 Iso-Marlboro.
Back then his staff numbered just seven.
DOUBLE DIGITS STAFF? NO...