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Williams FWO-7D 6 wheeler

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Everso Biggyballies
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Williams FWO-7D 6 wheeler

Post by Everso Biggyballies » 5 months ago

I saw this article about the never raced Williams 6 wheeler from the eighties and thought others might be interested. The car was recently restored by Williams and took part in a demo race at the British GP driven by Jenson Button.

I remember it from when the news first broke and to be honest thought nothing much about it. 6 wheelers were old hat in as much as we had seen the P34 Tyrrell 6 wheeler and March had played with the idea, so I remember thinking of it as 'just another 6 wheeler!

Anyway here is the story of the car with input from those involved. A brilliant piece of engineering and to think it generated enough downforce to have been ok to go through Ricards Signes corner without a rear wing in excess of 200mph!

Of course in the days of technology being unrestrictive compared to today, a lot of new ideas were banned for cost reasons and this was just one of them. Everyone would have had to go down the expensive path of designing their own 'me too' product.

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A few days after he won the Las Vegas Grand Prix on October 17, 1981, for Williams, the previous year’s world champion Alan Jones flew back to Europe to shakedown a strange-looking Formula 1 car that had six wheels.

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All Formula 1 fans have seen the infamous Tyrrell P34 car with four tiny wheels at the front and two standard Goodyear tyres at the back. March also produced a six-wheel car in the mid-1970s, named the 2-4-0, which had two normal wheels at the front and four small ones at the back. Unlike the Tyrrell (pictured below), it was never raced in F1, but the thinking hadn’t passed by the Williams tech boffins of the day...

Near the end of the 1981 season, it became clear to the Williams technical staff that something needed to be done in order to challenge the powerful Ferrari and Renault turbo cars .

“We designed the six-wheel car because we couldn’t get a turbo engine,” Frank Dernie tells Motorsport.com. Then working as a consultant, Dernie was the right-hand man of Patrick Head, the chief designer and technical director of the British team.

“At the time, the turbo engines were about 180 horsepower more powerful than the normally aspirated Ford Cosworth DFV we were using,” he adds. “We really struggled to produce a car that had enough downforce and little drag to compete with them.”

Stuck with the DFV, the engineers had to find an aerodynamic solution to make the car run faster.

“We looked at the wheels and we found out that the rear tyres were producing a huge amount of drag,” Dernie continues. “We came up with this idea of if we could produce a car which had four front wheels at the back, one behind the other, we’d probably be producing much less drag.

“We did some measurements and the six-wheel car showed a substantial reduction in drag. I think it was equivalent to over 160 horsepower in gain of drag. So Patrick [Head] worked on the gearbox and rear suspensions and I worked on aerodynamics.”

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The small technical department of the Williams team could count on two young and talented engineers who were on an apprenticeship.

Dernie says: “Only Patrick and I had some experience in racing car engineering. We had a relatively young engineer named Neil Oatley, who was still in the learning phase. In the windtunnel, it was basically a model maker and me. I was also acting as wind tunnel technician. We had an assistant named Ross Brawn, who helped me.”

“We built the gearbox and ran it because Patrick was very worried that with four driven wheels we might end up with a car that had terminal low-speed understeer. So, he wanted to get some circuit testing.”

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Dernie worked on the car’s aerodynamics and he maximised the use of the sidepods to generate ground effect.

“The bodywork I was working on in the windtunnel, which would have been the final version had we gone ahead, didn’t have a rear wing at all,” he reveals. “That car had huge venturi tunnels, all the way to the back and the bodywork extended all the way to the rear. We managed to get the downforce without a rear wing.

“The drag reduction was phenomenal. Really crude simulations at the time would have us go flat-out through the Signes corner of the Paul Ricard circuit at over 200 mph.”

A test car was produced: the Williams FW07D, which was based on the successful FW07C. The new rear end with four wheels (and two differentials) was bolted to the rear of the DFV.

Jones flew back from his last-ever F1 win at Vegas to the UK to test the new car at Donington. After that, another car was built, the FW08B, the car that was supposed to contest the 1982 season.

“Alan Jones, Jonathan Palmer, Keke Rosberg and Jacques Laffite drove the two versions of the six wheel,” Dernie continues. “Laffite drove it most, especially at Croix-en-Ternois, a short and twisty track located in Northern France.

“Our big concern was we would get massive power understeer out of the slow corners. When Jacques came in to the pits for the first time, we wanted to talk about the handling and he just forgot the car had six wheels! He loved it.”

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The FIA heard about these strange cars, and decided to make a change to the F1 rulebook to ban cars with more than four wheels. Additionally, the FIA considered that the Williams was illegal because it was four-wheel drive, which had already been forbidden.

“Patrick was furious when it got banned,” says Dernie. “In reality, everybody would have done it as quickly as they possibly could, so in a way it was good for F1 that it did get banned.”

The FW08B has been recently restored by Williams, and can be seen in action during special track days – Felipe Massa, Martin Brundle and Jenson Button have all driven it.

“The car is still in working condition, which is an amazing feat,” concludes Dernie. “We built only one gearbox and only one set of complete suspension. We only had a small number of internal spares for the gearbox. That was it.

“We were just about to make some more parts when the six-wheel car was banned in F1. That was the end of the road for that project.”
https://www.motorsport.com/f1/news/six- ... s/3196737/

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Post by Antonov » 5 months ago

Thanks for sharing, Chris!

I always thought that six-wheeled cars were banned following the 1977 season.
Seems not so. If I remember correctly, Tyrrell reverted to a four wheel car due to underdevelopment of the four little front tyres.

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Post by Everso Biggyballies » 5 months ago

Indeed.... the rears continued to be developed but not the fronts.... so the better the rears became the greater problem of the front > rear balance became.

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Post by John » 5 months ago

Interesting read, thanks. Shame there's only one car, would be neat if it was raced in historic racing.
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Post by Michael Ferner » 5 months ago

As can be seen, the restored car is the FW08B, not the FW07D.
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Post by Everso Biggyballies » 5 months ago

Did the 8B not result from a development of the 7D? Or was it the 4x4 setup added to the FWO8 tub? :dunno:

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Post by Everso Biggyballies » 5 months ago

OK found the answer to that by digging out a Motorsport Mag article from June 2009. The 4WD rear end was tried on both the FWO7 and FWO8 standard tubs in testing by various drivers at different tracks..
Four x four by Williams
Frustrated by a lack of turbo power, Patrick Head & Co tried an extra driven axle for the FW08 instead. And it looked quick…

Back in 1980-81 Renault and Ferrari put the turbocharged writing on the Formula 1 wall. The new forced-induction 1500cc engines set output levels which the naturally-aspirated 3-litre Cosworth brigade could not match. Patrick Head of Williams approached Ferrari for use of its V6. The answer was predictable. ‘No’.

Cosworth at that time had a rather negative attitude towards further development of its V8’s horsepower from its 490-500bhp. Williams therefore began its own development programme with John Judd’s Engine Developments company, and valve specialist Chris Walters. They soon saw 535-540bhp. But straightline speed was the turbo cars’ greatest advantage.

Rear tyres at that time were 29 inches in outside diameter on rims so wide they generated some 40 per cent of the cars’ total drag.

So Patrick and his design team considered three axles (two at the rear), six wheels and narrow, contemporarily front-sized tyres all round. This could at least maintain, and possibly improve upon, the aggregate rear contact patch area, while other advantages beckoned. Underwing skirts were restricted to the area within the wheelbase. With an extra rear axle, skirted underwings could be longer, and the working area – and therefore the generated download – correspondingly larger.

A six-wheeled model tested promisingly in the team’s Didcot wind tunnel. The new 4x4 rear end was centred more or less around the conventional four-wheeled car’s rear axle-line. The second axle was centred some four inches forward of the normal position, with sharply raked-forward driveshafts from the first final drive. The new third axle was outrigged just behind from an extension final drive.

The Williams FW07D type number originated with this rear end, and Alan Jones first tested the finished car one week after the Las Vegas Grand Prix in 1981. He stood by his decision to retire – temporarily, as it would prove – but the six-wheeler’s standing starts were mighty impressive!

Jonathan Palmer was extremely quick during wet testing at Silverstone, and the team considered it could have run slick tyres on the third axle since the track was squeegeed so well by wet tyres on the first two axles! A tight-circuit test at Croix-en-Ternois saw Palmer lap as quickly as in the four-wheeled FW08, whose short tub had been tailored to deploy the 4x4 rear
end and vast underwings. The prototype was 120lb heavier than the conventional design and although the long wing surfaces passed beneath the driveshafts, they passed above the lower suspension wishbones, which thus interrupted airflow in this critical area. Consequently a second-generation Williams six-wheeler was drawn, in which fixed-length driveshafts doubled as lower lateral location for the upright – à la 1960 Lotus 18.

Both standard FW07 and FW08 tubs were tested with the 4x4 rear end – creating the Williams FW07D and FW08B models
. Jones drove the former at Donington, before Keke Rosberg and Jonathan Palmer took over at Ricard. Late in 1982, Tony Trimmer and the team’s new – four-wheeled – World Champion Rosberg tested the FW08B at Silverstone, then at Donington, while at Croix-en-Ternois Palmer and Jacques Laffite took over. Jacques drove in its final test at Ricard on October 21, 1982.

So why didn’t we see the Williams 0-2-4 race? Because for 1983 both four-wheel drive and six-wheelers were banned. And the gas-guzzling turbos prevailed instead.
https://www.motorsportmagazine.com/arch ... r-williams

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