Impacting on the design of the FW27 are two fundamental influences.
The first is a significant set of changes to the technical regulations. Changes in the rules perhaps for the design team, but this is a consideration that the entire grid has to contend with, so the challenge for WilliamsF1 is to best adapt to the demands of the new regulations. The other factor that will have a bearing on the FW27 are the changes to the structure and organisation of the WilliamsF1 design team, which underwent restructuring during the 2004 season, and the effect will be most visible in the performance of the new car.
At WilliamsF1, Patrick Head changed his regular engagement with the day to day development of the race car in his move to the post of Director of Engineering. "It is a significant change. In the early part of my career, I was very hands on, involved in every aspect of every component of every car design. Progressively, as the technology and resourcing has scaled up, I have become less involved with the detail of the design process, taking on the responsibility of leading the car development. Passing the Technical Director's baton is the next step in this process. My task as Director of Engineering is to manage R&D, the advanced engineering projects and allocation of future resources such as wind tunnels."
Sam Michael, moving into the Technical Director's role during 2004 explains how his responsibilities fit into the structure. "My role is to ensure that the entire design team has clear direction on where the FW27 must arrive, both at the launch and then at the subsequent development stages. This comes from having clear targets, adequate resources and of course the right people in the right places. We have recently made some good changes to the design team which should positively reflect on the new car", he says.
Michael continues, "After finishing the last GP's of 2004 so strongly with the FW26, we are looking forward to challenging in 2005 with the new FW27. We have concentrated on the fundamentals, and while respecting the new regulations, the approach of the FW27 has been one of refining every area of the car aerodynamically and mechanically. Every part on the car has been optimised to reduce weight, reduce friction or increase stiffness - depending what the individual targets were."
"While reducing weight, a lot of attention has been placed on reliability, in particular the gearbox. The FW27 gearbox has been running on the track since November 2004, with no major problems, and any issues we had with last season's gearbox have been resolved", the Technical Director confirms.
The new regulations for 2005 require the front wing to be raised another 50 mm, the rear wing to be moved forwards 150 mm, the diffuser height to be reduced significantly and the floor in front of the rear tyre to be cut away. The changes initially resulted in a loss of nearly 30% of the car's total downforce and the challenge over the last couple of months has been to recover as much of the lost downforce as possible.
WilliamsF1 tackled this in a number ways. During 2004, Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) capability was scaled up, by increasing the processing ability of the WilliamsF1 Linux cluster. With the assistance of HP, WilliamsF1 have an unrivalled supercomputing capacity, all of which assists predictive aerodynamic activities. This means more ideas can be considered, processed and validated in a virtual way, before potentially leading to the rapid prototyping of new geometries to test in the wind tunnel. WilliamsF1 have also expanded and improved the wind tunnel facilities to further support the aerodynamic development of the FW27.
The other significant change in the 2005 rules is the requirement for one set of tyres to complete both qualifying and the race. This has triggered a large R&D program for the tyre companies to find a balance between grip for qualifying versus durability of the tyre over a race distance. There are clear implications on the design of the FW27 that must take this rule change into account.
As Sam Michael explains, "The new tyre regulations place extra demands on the car as well as Michelin, and these two elements are never separated. Every variable in the car always ultimately affects tyre performance, it's just a matter of deciding which ones are more important than others. Aerodynamics, weight transfer, mechanical balance and traction control are all slaves working to improve tyre performance. Taking traction control as an example, we are always looking for the optimum slip ratio to provide the most amount of grip without destroying the tyres. That challenge has just become a lot bigger now with the tyres having to last the whole race.
The team had limited opportunity to test and evaluate new compounds and constructions developed by Michelin during the pre-Christmas window. This data was available late in the design cycle, but will make a valuable contribution to the refinement of the car design."
Reflecting on the implications of both organisational and regulation change on the design and development of the FW27, Patrick Head reflected, "Ultimately, Formula One is all about change management. Unlike many other design and engineering environments, we make fundamental change on a fortnightly basis to ensure competitiveness at the race track, so we are well used to working in an adaptive manner. As far as the regulation changes are concerned, they are the same for everybody, but I hope we have marshalled our resources and approached the rule changes better than the opposition. Ultimately it is that belief that will determine whether the FW27 is a championship winning car or not."