In 1991 Williams introduced the FW14, winning seven out of the 16 races in the season, but it was the introduction of an updated car for the 1992 season that left the competition fighting for second best. The car was was designated the Williams FW14B.
During the off season after the 1991 championship Williams took advantage of grey areas in the rulebook to design an update that would make the Williams team the envy of the paddock and the FW14B the most advanced F1 car ever produced. The Williams-Renault was equipped with a cutting-edge active suspension (developed in partnership with AP Racing), a semi-automatic gearbox, electronic traction control, anti-lock brakes (which were introduced later in the the 1992 season), electronic data logging, and a Renault 3.5 litre V10 that was considered the best engine in the field, that helped the exhaust-blown diffuser.
Active suspension had been around in Formula 1 since 1983 with the Lotus team, however it wasn’t until 1987 that an active car posted a win. Nigel Mansell, who had been with Lotus during the development of its active suspension, hated the system and even when Williams introduced it, he preferred the slower, but more predictable passive suspension.
Come 1992 however, Williams had perfected the system. It was predictable although it gave somewhat delayed feedback. Technical Director Patrick Head recalls,
“Our active control responded to changes in load distribution, but there was always a small period before the system corrected, and during that period the usual feedback to the driver was not present. There was a fraction of a second delay and it felt to the driver as if he didn’t have roll stiffness or roll resistance.”
It allowed the vehicle to maintain a constant ride height, regardless of load, which meant the aerodynamic wings and underbody were able to work consistently. So advanced that the system was able to lean the car back on straights to flatten out the wings and create less drag, leading to higher top speeds. The car was able to lean into corners and optimise the loads on each tyre, creating a car that was very good on it’s tyres.
Mansell was able to extract the most form the FW14B, his fighting driving style meant he put his number 5 Williams on pole 12 times in the season and won 9 of those to take the championship. The Fw14B was so good that the FW15 was never raced until 1993, when with less driver aids (thanks to rule changes) the FW15C was rolled out.
Active suspension did away with traditional springs, dampers and roll bars. The entire system was replaced with an interlinked hydraulic system with actuators on each wheel. These were controlled by advanced (for the time) electronics and moog valves which allowed the precise control and movement of fluid through the system.
Front suspension: Twin-link, pushrod-operated, hydro-pneumatic
Rear suspension: Twin-link, pushrod-operated, hydro-pneumatic
Suspension dampers: Williams
Wheel diameter: front: 13 inch / rear: 13 inch
Wheel rim widths: front: 11.4 inch / rear: 16.3 inch
Brakes: calipers: AP / discs: Carbone Industrie
Brake pads: Carbone Industrie
Fuel tanks: ATL
Instruments: Magnetti Marelli
Gearbox: Williams six-speed transverse semi-automatic
Wheelbase: 2921 mm
Track: front: 1803 mm / rear: 1676 mm
Gearbox weight: 50 kg
Chassis weight (tub): 50 kg
Formula weight: 505 kg
Fuel capacity: 230 litres
Type: Renault RS3C/RS4
No. of cylinders: V10 (67°)
Maximum rpm: 14400
Fuel and oil: Elf
Sparking plugs: Champion
Fuel injection: Magneti Marelli
Ignition system: Magneti Marelli