How to Build a Car_ The Autobiography of the World’s Greatest Formula 1 Designer

How to Build a Car

Clouds were gathering that day. Rain was forecast. Feeling scrutinised, I lowered myself creakily into the cockpit of the FW15, painfully aware that at 35, after 10 years in the business, and with two constructors’ championships under my belt, I was about to take my first proper spin in a Formula One car – in fact, my first real drive on a race track, period.

It was 1993, and I was chief designer at Williams. Frank Williams,
owner of the team, had been talked into letting a journalist take one of our cars for a spin. What you might call a promotional drive. With that idea gaining traction, co-founder and technical director, Patrick Head, thought that the senior engineers, him, me and Bernard Dudot, who was in charge of Renault engine development, should also have a go.

And so here I was, sitting in the car at the Paul Ricard circuit in the
South of France, absorbing from a driver’s angle all the things I’d paid so little attention to as an engineer: the procedure for the ignition sequence;the whine and howl of the engine – a feeling of being cocooned but alone in the cockpit, as though the sheer volume and bone-shaking drama of it is physically holding you in place. Nerves  suddenly give a feeling of intense claustrophobia.‘You’ve got to be smooth on the clutch or you’ll stall it,’ I’d been warned.

I didn’t want to do that. Just the pride talking here: after all I’d
designed it; I really didn’t want to stall it – like some kind of competition winner.
I stalled it. Those carbon clutches are so aggressive. You have to give the engine about 5,500rpm, which is like trying to move off at the rev limit for a normal road car. Even then you’re barely touching the throttle.

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