Sam Michael, Williams, 2011

Michael explains Williams’ gearbox, KERS and more

2011 F1 season

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Sam Michael, Williams, 2011
Sam Michael, Williams, 2011

Williams technical director Sam Michael explained the thinking behind the unusual design of the Williams FW33.

Michael said the team decided to produce a very tightly-packaged rear for the car to improve the airflow to the rear wing:

“We ended up with a pull-rod [suspension] to improve air to the rear wing. And that’s really where the gearbox comes in as well.

“The whole driving force behind the gearbox is to improve air to that rear lower wing. We saw very early on in the aero development that, along with exhaust-blowing, was going to be a key differentiator this year.

“As you know the top suspension is a Z-bone. That’s also tied up with improving flow to the rear lower wing. All the suspension is high because any intrusion on the rear lower wing you want to take away from the lower surface – that was our philosophy.”

He explained “the upper part of the wing is not as critical as the lower.”

Producing such a small gearbox has meant an unusual driveshaft arrangement as well:

Pastor Maldonado, Williams, Valencia, 2011
Pastor Maldonado, Williams, Valencia, 2011

“The driveshaft angles that we’ve had to put the car through are very extreme. They’re higher angles than anyone’s ever done in Formula 1 before.

“That took a lot of dyno testing, we’ve completed many thousands of kilometres. The first time we started doing tests on the driveshaft was back in June last year. We had a full gearbox and rear end on the dyno by September/October time. We knew by then that we were under control with it.”

However he said the finished design did not force any compromises on rigidity: “The last part of the rear end which was something that was a concern to us to start with was the stiffness.

“But none of the stiffness of the gearbox on all parameters is lower than last year’s car. And once again there’s two or three tricks we had to apply and really take a non-conventional view to F1 suspension design to achieve that.

“As a result we haven’t had any problems with the stiffness of the car.”

Michael pointed out the team have covered 3,800km with the new car and “We’ve had no issues with the transmission, no issues with the rear suspension, no problems at all – which is great.

“The fundamental part of the car is right and it enables us to just concentrate on performance.”

He added: “We’ve had lots of little teething problems and tiny things which take three minutes to fix but have cost us six hours in the garage on some days. There’s been a couple of little, annoying system problems like that, but generally pretty good.”

Michael said that a positive outcome of F1’s increasingly restrictive technical rules is that it forces teams to innovate in other areas:

“One thing that’s very interesting about Formula 1 now is that if you look at the cars, there’s some very interesting concepts out there. And the reason why is because the rules have been restrained so much on bodywork, and you can do very little on the diffuser now, teams have had to push very hard in other areas and take much bigger risks than they would have done in the past.

“The interesting designs for me are, obviously you’ve got the Williams tight rear end, you’ve got the double floor on the Toro Rosso, the forward exhaust on the Renault – these are all things that, potentially, some of them you could have done before.

“But you didn’t because there was much bigger gains for much lower risk. And I think that’s great for Formula 1 because the cars don’t look the same, they do look different, and everyone’s trying different concepts.”

Williams did not race their flywheel KERS system in 2009. For 2011 they will use a battery system but he suggested the team could use a flywheel next year:

“We did consider a flywheel for this car, it was very close, but unfortunately the packaging stopped us doing that to start with. Obviously Williams Hybrid Power work with flywheels in other industries.

“But we also haven’t discounted introducing a flywheel to this car at some point. It would be very unlikely during 2011 but it will definitely be on the cards again for 2012.”

Michael explained how packaging the KERS had led the team towards increasing the length of their car:

Rubens Barrichello, Williams, Valencia, 2011
Rubens Barrichello, Williams, Valencia, 2011

“All of our KERS is contained underneath the chassis. We did that mainly for aerodynamic reasons.

“Previously people had pushed that into the sidepods. But when you do that you affect this undercut, where the sidepod scoops in above the floor, which is very critical. If you package the KERS out there you start pushing this undercut wider and losing downforce.

“So immediately we said we wanted to keep everything inside the chassis and if necessary make the chassis longer. Which is what we did because that’s not really a penalty.”

Michael said the teams were getting to grips with the switch to Pirelli tyres: “To start with the tyres were having a lot of wear and a lot of degradation.

“But even in the last three tests you can already see that improving, and it’s improving because of three primary things.

“First of all, Pirelli are working on the tyres, they’re making them better. It’s not a massive programme compared to a tyre war, but they are doing it.

“The second thing is the drivers learning to drive around the tyres. They’re very different and it’s great when you’ve got someone like Rubens [Barrichello] in the car to identify these differences because he’s driven so many different tyres over the course of his career.

“And the third thing is the teams are making them better. We’re changing the set-up, adding more downforce to the car, and all those things stop the car sliding and improve the degradation.

Having said that I’m quite sure in the first few races we’ll be into multi-stop strategies. I think it’ll be a minimum of two stops and maybe three stops in the early races. I’d be surprised if it went any worse than that but I think that will improve as the year goes on as well.”

2011 F1 season

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Images ?? Williams/LAT, F1 Fanatic/ Julien Leroy, F1 Fanatic/ Julien Leroy

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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19 comments on “Michael explains Williams’ gearbox, KERS and more”

  1. Whem Sam Michael said “Everyone likes a tight rear end” everyone who are watching the live bursted out laughing. either I.

    1. I suspect there will be many, many double entendres to come regarding FW33’s ‘tight rear end’…

    2. it’s actually a message from Michael: everybody will be looking at the Williams’ tight rear – means everybody will be behind them ;-)

      1. … for one reason or another ;-)

    3. For sure! I like the tight rear end.

    4. You are such cheeky kids… dont make Williams the butt of your jokes..

      1. Well, we’ll refrain as long as they’re not bringing up the rear…

      2. You are such cheeky kids… dont make Williams the butt of your jokes..

        Yeah, who started it?, we need to get to the bottom of this!

        1. If there’s another conspiracy to uncover, I’m behind you all the way!

  2. this part of the launch was great. really interesting to hear about some of the design process

    1. …and especially interesting to hear michaels’ comments on the tyres (the first few races could well be multi-stop affairs while the teams are gradually coming to terms with them) and his view that the midfield could be really tight this year (although this might just be self-promotion)

      1. That was great. Shame the livery was not that good to watch with the light and all.

        And I have not yet understood, why we saw the shefs talking and showing their kitchen

        1. Apparently those present got served a 5 course meal after the presentation.

  3. someone call Williams, apparently someone stole the rear-end from the FW33! :D

  4. To me, this points out a fundamental, ongoing, problem with F1. Aero it way too dominant as THE factor which controls performance. It’s fascinating, to be sure, but nonetheless…I really wish there was away around all this emphasis on the minutae of aerodynamics that fit within the confines of the tightly structured regulations.

    1. aeros been the #1 factor since at least 1987 but ok.

      1. He has a point. I think mechanical and computer technology was the #1 thing through the 90’s and early 2000s. Things like Williams active suspension, Mclarens independant rear brakes, Renaults Mass dampers, and furious engine development by the manufacturers. This is what gave you the biggest performance boost over your rivals and made a winning car back then, not any kind of aerodynamic gizmos like Tyrrells X-wings.

  5. Tell you what, I have a sudden urge to go to Venezuela! :)

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