Sir Frank Williams began his adventure in Formula 1 in 1970, but before writing important pages in the history of the Circus, the English founder has to work hard. Sir Frank's first adventure in Formula 1 does not give great emotions: his team, shared with Alejandro de Tomaso, does not even bear the surname of the English founder, and the latter is even forced to close in 1976, due to the enormous economic difficulties.
Despite the failure, Williams decided to try again immediately, founding another team in 1977, named with the surname of Sir Frank, running a March in the debut season of the new team, and then building his first car in 1978, the FW06, designed by partner Patrick Head, which is entrusted to the skilled Alan Jones.
Williams therefore lays the foundations to create a solid team, able to not fear the confrontation against the giants of Formula 1, such as Ferrari, McLaren and Lotus. There remains only one obstacle to overcome, the same one that had prompted Frank Williams to sell the team's ownership, namely the economic one.
Williams and Head opt for the most logical choice, looking for them in a geographically very rich area such as that of the Middle East, thus finding Arab investors belonging to Saudia, the national airline of Saudi Arabia.
All these elements contribute to the birth of a very competitive single-seater, capable of affirming the name of Sir Frank in Formula 1 after only three years from the re-foundation of his team: the FW07. In 1978, Formula 1 welcomed the technical revolution dictated by the arrival of the Lotus 79, the first wing-car in history, which dominated during the season and won the title with Mario Andretti.
Inevitably, in the following year the teams adapt to the novelty launched by Lotus, presenting their wing-cars. Williams, as well as other teams, disputed the first races of 1979 with the car of the previous year, the FW06, without ground effect, but starting from the Spanish Grand Prix it fielded Patrick Head's first masterpiece, the version evolved from the previous year, the FW07.
The FW07 does not consist of a simple copy of the Lotus 79, but this is an evolution of the wing-car concept, defined not by particular revolutionary solutions, but by a constructive simplicity that is in some ways inexplicable: in Formula 1 the 'extreme concept to try to progress even by a single thousandth of a second, but in Williams they are limited to assembling the parts of the car. However, Patrick Head does not seem worried and, on the contrary, since the beginning of the season he has been repeating a saying of Henry Ford to his team, which says...what is not there does not break.
On the FW07 there is really the bare minimum, since most of the cars use standard components, consisting of the powertrain, that is the eight-cylinder engine, and the gearbox.
The Cosworth motorized units enjoy an important advantage, because the American engine has no cooling problems, and therefore the structure of the drive unit is not very bulky, thus ensuring ample space for the sides to model the Venturi channels, the basis of the ground effect.
Patrick Head makes the most of these characteristics of the components to design a small, light car with clean and linear lines, so well made that it dominates the scene for almost three seasons, determined by a delayed debut in 1979 and an unfortunate management of the drivers. In 1981; without these two issues, Sir Frank Williams' team would have triumphed for three consecutive years.
An in-depth analysis of the FW07 reveals what has just been mentioned: there are no original and innovative solutions, but the simple but at the same time extremely rational arrangement of the components that made up the English car stands out.
However, belittling Patrick Head's work would be a gross error, because it is not the well-known luck of the beginner, but essentially exploits ideas that are not extreme, but simple and never considered: Williams are the first team to understand that an extremely rigid helps stabilize the ground effect. For this reason, very hard springs are mounted, and it is rumoured that in the Paul Ricard tests the FW07 would have even run without springs.
The first satisfactions
The FW07 entrusted to Jones and Regazzoni presents itself in a disastrous way, with a double retirement in the first two races, but on its third appointment it gives the first joys: in Monaco Clay Regazzoni crosses the finish line in second place, glued to the exhausts of the winner Scheckter on Ferrari, who will be crowned World Champion at the end of the championship.
In the same year Williams celebrated his first victory, at Silverstone, in the home Grand Prix, again with Clay Regazzoni. However, Sir Frank does not like the idea that Regazzoni could have been the team's top driver, having a strong regard for Alan Jones.
Thus, according to what the Swiss driver said, after the British Grand Prix Williams will completely boycott Clay's season, even going so far as not to provide him with a set of new tires for qualifying. The goodness of the FW07 is now evident, and in the following six races the Williams conquers four victories, all with Jones.
Aided by a subdued first part of the season, the British team missed the appointment with the world champion in 1979, but tried again the following year, despite strong opposition from the Brazilian driver Nelson Piquet and the Brabham team.
A project with a high potential
In 1980 the version of the FW07 underwent several evolutions, and Patrick Head's project was so successful that it aroused the interest of other car categories: in particular, the Williams designs were purchased to create a car designed to compete in the 500 miles of Indianapolis, even if this one will not have the same luck, and a few years later this will even be converted into a car with covered wheels, to participate in the CanAm championship. But there is a very interesting anecdote about the single-seater designed by Patrick Head.
During the season, Williams tries to increase the potential of the FW07, following the philosophy launched by Tyrrel a few years earlier: a six-wheeled single-seater, placing four tires not on the front axle like the P34, but on the rear one.
Head's idea is to replace the two large rear wheels with four of the same sizes as the front ones, and therefore narrower, by extending the sides up to behind the rear axle and widening the surface of the Venturi channel, thus increasing its efficiency.
According to the statements received by the British team's technicians, the six-wheel version of the FW07 is tested on the track, recording superlative times, so as to scare the FIA, which decides to ban the solution, thus imposing a constraint of only four wheels that persists today. Again.
Simone Pietro Zazza