The final part of the factory tour was the chance to see the simulator. It is an impressive piece of kit. The driver sits in a cockpit, surrounded by a massive screen that curves round to take up his entire field of vision.
Little wonder it has been known to induce sickness. Drivers are advised that they may want to close eyes if they spin in order to avoid reacquainting themselves with their lunch. Apparently drivers have been known to be sick all over the place while driving the simulator. Come to think of it, I’m slightly suspicious because I remember that the cleaner was leaving the room just as we were entering it. We were told, though, that Kazuki Nakajima is amazing in the simulator and can spend all day in it with no ill effects.
The circuit models are said to be very accurate indeed, albeit some more accurate than others. For instance, someone else has exclusive rights to the best map of the Nürburgring. The maps are constructed using lasers. A van drives slowly around the circuit emitting laser beams at multiple angles, creating a map of millions of dots. This means that every bump on the circuit is accounted for.
An aerial image of the circuit is then overlaid on top of these dots to create the environment. But if you look at the circuit, some of the landmarks are not very accurately reproduced. In fact, some of it looks like bad virtual reality graphics. The idea is to reduce any confusion that might be caused by too many cues. If they don’t think something will give a driver an accurate cue, they won’t implement it.
Some teams have more sophisticated simulators. In some simulators the car will be on a moving platform to give the impression of movement — something clearly lacking from the still Williams cockpit. It is said that some simulators even have belts that tighten up to give you some impression of g-forces. Williams shun such devices, which they regard as off-putting.
I have to confess that I have been slightly sceptical about the Williams simulator in the past. McLaren’s is said to be amazing, but it is jealously kept under wraps from outsiders. Williams have no such qualms however. It is the only simulator that I have seen on television. See, for instance, this ITV video with Mark Blundell and this BBC video.
We were lucky enough to be in the room when occasional Williams tester Daniel Clos was driving it. He was there to acquaint himself with the Hungaroring in preparation for the GP2 races which were being held just a few days later. I have to say he didn’t look very good while we were there, and he even spun at one point. But those must have been his very first laps round the circuit and of course I am in no position to pass comment. In the real thing, he finished 11th in both races.
It is presumably a service that Williams are happy to offer young drivers in the hope of developing them into a Formula 1 star of the future. Whether Daniel Clos is one remains to be seen. But surely on his way to F1 stardom is another Williams tester, Nico Hülkenberg. Simulator Engineer Jeff Calam is adamant that the simulator is a worthwhile piece of equipment to invest in, pointing at Hülkenberg’s highly impressive GP2 results at circuits he hasn’t driven at before. This fact puts to bed my doubts about the quality of the Williams simulator.
Once the factory tour was over, we had a Q&A with Sam Michael. He was largely very open in his responses, and came across very well to me. I was impressed that he took the time out of his schedule to talk to a bunch of bloggers. You can hear audio of the Q&A session over at Brits on Pole once again.
After that, we went for a tour of the fabulous Williams museum. Here, we were expertly guided by Scott Garrett from Synergy, the company that arranged our visit on behalf of Philips. Although he now works for Synergy, he was previously Head of Marketing at Williams and now has links with a number of F1 teams. This makes him a highly knowledgeable speaker on Formula 1, and Williams in particular. It was a real pleasure to have this sort of insight.
For obvious reasons, photography was strictly forbidden in the factory, but we were free to take as many photographs as we wanted in the museum. And boy did we take the opportunity!
The museum is impressive, with a range of cars from the full history of the Williams team’s existence. The first car you see is Alan Jones’s FW06 with its Ford Cosworth engine peering out the back. Cars are displayed, more or less a car for every year, right up to 2007’s FW29 — the very car that the competition winner will be driving.
All-in-all, the museum contains over forty cars. We are told that Frank Williams is a hoarder. The team still owns 106 chassis, while it only makes around six per year. Most of these cars are well looked after and can theoretically still be driven. The main exception is the Honda-powered cars, because they asked for the engines back!
For the most part, the cars are laid out in chronological order, and as you make your way through the museum videos are played telling us about Williams during the period of the cars in the vicinity. The relevant cars are lit up while the video is playing.
Unfortunately, this means that they are plunged into darkness once the video is finished, and you are supposed to move along to the next section. It is a pretty clever device to get us to keep moving and get rid of us quickly, but quite annoying for those of us who would have liked to have done it at our own pace. One person sarcastically remarked under his breath, “you have a lot of great cars, then put them in the dark.” It is for this reason that the lighting is not very good in some of the photographs.
Despite the chronological layout of the museum, there is still a fairly clear centrepiece. Two cars in particular are displayed on a higher plinth — the FW18 and the FW19, the team’s latest two championship-winning cars from 1996 and 1997 driven by Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve.
A great moment of F1 geekery occurred when Mr Garrett pointed out that the FW19 on display is the actual car which Michael Schumacher famously crashed into at Jerez in 1997. Everyone went “oooh” and inquisitively gathered to look at this particularly historic Williams F1 car. The damage is still evident. I had heard that Patrick Head liked the car to be displayed with the tyre mark still there, but it has since been restored and now just looks like a couple of holes have been punched in the corner of the sidepod.
“We never got on very well with Michael Schumacher,” Scott Garrett noted, just in case we didn’t get the clue. This prompted a cheeky question from someone else, “How did you get on with Ralf?”
There is a notable omission. The most distinctive F1 car in the team’s history, the FW26 with the “walrus nose” is nowhere to be seen. It is perhaps not the team’s proudest design.
One unusual design does proudly feature though. Williams were never able to race with their FW08B six-wheeler. It was banned by the FIA before the season started over fears that it would be too dominant.
Go up the stairs, and you will see two cars that are clearly very special to the team. One is Ayrton Senna’s test car from 1994. The other is the record-breaking FW10, in which Keke Rosberg was the first person ever to set a lap at a speed of 160mph in 1985. The record was set at Silverstone and remarkably stayed in place until 2002!
All-in-all, it was an absolutely fantastic day. Although Williams are not among my favourite teams, they have got to be admired for being so accommodating to us. If you ever get the chance to attend such an event, I would highly recommend it. A massive thank you to those who organised it and invited me.
Below is the full slideshow of photographs from my visit to Williams.