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Pat Symonds explains the story behind the Williams “miracle”
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Pat Symonds, Williams
Posted By: James Allen  |  12 Aug 2014   |  9:07 am GMT  |  66 comments

“One of the racing team said to me last year, ‘It makes no sense to practice pit stops, because the car is so bad.’ This gets you nowhere. Check out our pit stops today; they are very good. The mechanics all believe in themselves again. There is a very different atmosphere in the team.”

Williams technical director Pat Symonds has been part of a revolution at the team that has seen them go from ninth in last year’s Constructors’ Championship with just five points, to podiums, a pole position and 135 points after half of this season.

The second fastest car in the winter testing is still the second fastest car at most venues, seven months and 11 races later, despite a smaller budget than Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari.

Clearly a huge part of the story is the change to the Mercedes engine, but while acknowledging this, Symonds and others in the team point out that last year Williams also shared an engine with the dominant champion team – in that case the Renault, also used by Red Bull.

But with power units being far more of a performance differentiator this year, the Williams has benefitted hugely from the Mercedes association. They also have a quick, experienced driver in Felipe Massa paired with a young driver who is starting to hit peak form in Valterri Bottas.

But what is remarkable is how good the car is – for a relatively simple design – and how well they keep improving it.

Williams F1 cars

Speaking to Auto Motor und Sport, Symonds has shed a little light on how they are doing it.

“I believe that we have just developed faster than our opponents,” says Symonds. “We have significantly improved the aerodynamics, which is pretty impressive because the new regulations actually allow only small steps in this area.

“How have we done it? We proceed logically. When I arrived at Williams, I spent the first period of time just watching. I could feel the panic in this team. They felt that everything would work out fine if they could screw enough new parts onto the car. Which is obviously not the case.

“This year we have fewer developments to be approved than last season, and I am proud that all of them have worked, bar one (a new rear wing). And that just needed a small modification to work; the problem was it was stalling. We have now corrected that.”

Felipe Massa pole position

Williams’ 2014 experience is important for F1 because it shows it can be done. Like Marussia (Symonds’ last team) scoring points in Monaco, which showed that life in the back of the grid teams is not without hope, Williams’ renaissance this year gives a beacon to some of the top teams like McLaren and Ferrari that have found themselves becalmed in recent years in the face of the slickness and sharpness of Red Bull and this year, Mercedes.

McLaren and Ferrari are currently groping around looking for the answer, with new management teams compared to last season. With far less money to spend than either of those grandees (and using the same power unit as McLaren), Williams has found a competitive formula – although not yet winning races, which is the ultimate goal for all of them,

“When people talk of a ‘miracle’, I say that it is just honest and logical engineering,” says Symonds.

“The good news for Williams is the quality of the people. They knew how to do it, just not what they should be doing. This has made my job easy. We have not flooded the company with highly paid celebrity designers, but fixed weaknesses here and there or strengthened some departments. We have managed to get more from the people who were already here.

“It was incredible. When I arrived, there was no confidence in the team. That is why they had all the panic reactions.

Williams Mechanics practice pit stops

And Symonds believes that there is room for optimism that the gap between teams will decrease as the Sporting Regulations on wind tunnel and Computational Fluid Dynamics kick in, restricting the amount of time even the richest teams can spend on aerodynamic development to 30 hours of each per week. This, he feels, will have an impact for the rest of the year, when trading off the development of the current car and next year’s car,

“Previously a big team with a wind tunnel that ran around the clock, could run both programs in parallel. Now that is no longer possible.

“Mercedes, for example, certainly has a greater aerodynamics department than ours. They can certainly generate more ideas (in the drawing office), but they too have to pass through the bottleneck of the 30/30 rule. This is a great leveller.”

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66 Comments
  1. I’m delighted to see Williams back near the top and it’s fantastic to see a young driver like Bottas make a name for himself. Let’s hope they close the gap to Red Bull at Monza and Spa because it’d be great if those two teams had a great battle for 2nd place in the constructors.

    1. Stephen Taylor says:

      They’ve got to make sure they get 3rd place in WCC championship off Ferrari first and that is not going to be easy. I think Williams despite their good results could have done better if they hadn’t taken such a cautious approach in some races. If you look at Ferrari in contrast took a risk in Hungary and it got them a second place with Alonso. Yes I know risks don’t always pay off but I have feeling that taking risks in the double points race might be necessary for those behind Mercedes. I think Ferrari’s boldness will see them finish top 3 behind Red Bull and Merc in the WCC.

    2. Juzh says:

      Close the gap? Williams will be a clear second fastest car behind merc in spa and monza if past events are anything to go by. i predict similar situation as in austria. rb will struggle hard on those 2 tracks. ferrari will be there or thereabouts, certainly much faster than rb but not fast enough to challenge williams.

      1. KRB says:

        Anil was saying in the WCC standings, quite clearly. I’d take issue with the article saying the Williams is the 2nd fastest car. At Silverstone, Hockenheim, and Austria that was of course true. It might be true at Spa and Monza. Can’t be sure, b/c it’s been said before in prior seasons that RBR would suffer in BEL and ITA, and then they’ve gone and blitzed those events.

        But still, overall, the Red Bull’s been the 2nd best car to date this season.

  2. Andrew M says:

    Very pleased for Williams obviously, they have an embryonic superstar in Bottas and a decent yardstick for him in Massa. The acid test will be whether they can maintain competitiveness once Renault and Ferrari start to close the gap to the Mercedes engines.

    Also, would love to know how the 30 hours of CFD is policed.

    1. Gil Dogon says:

      Yeah, James, I’d very much like to know what does the 30 hours CFD rule says, and how is it policed. In fact with a strong Computer science background myself, I do not exactly understand how to define ’30 hours of CFD’. This depends very much on the particular Software used for the CFD, and maybe more so on what hardware running this software. If you have a budget to buy a stronger supercomputer running your CFD simulations, again you can spend more budget on that …

    2. JakobusVdL says:

      And what a gigaflop looks like ;-)

      1. Random 79 says:

        A giga-watt?

      2. JakobusVdL says:

        oops my bad, thats Terra-flops
        An easy mistake when you have no idea what you are talking about ;-)

      3. Brian Bell says:

        A teraflop looks like a gigaflop, but it is about 1000 times bigger. A gigaflop is just a grown up megaflop. I am guessing that with these guys budgets they will be looking for petaflops….Hope that helps :)

        p.s. FLOPS= cores*clock*FLOPs/cycle

    3. Marty852 says:

      +1
      Can someone explain the 30 hour rule? Exactly what it’s controlling and how it is monitored?

    4. deane says:

      As would I. I keep saying it would make a brilliant article.

    5. Rob says:

      Wow, there’s a lot of mis-information on them interwebs – in 10 minutes of searching I found multiple factually incorrect reports about CFD limitations in F1 testing. Best to go right to the source, F1 regs, at http://www.formula1.com/inside_f1/rules_and_regulations/sporting_regulations/8713/fia.html, Appendix 8 – Aerodynamic testing restrictions.

      Looks like teams need to tell the FIA what computers they intend to use, what configuration it is, and must report all upagrades. They also have to have a record of CFD runs showing computation effort expended, in the case of an audit.

      I’m guessing every team is running a whole lot of CFD on models that are not their official F1 entry in order to test “general aerodynamic concepts”. Also, Engine Simulations are exempt from the restriction, which are defined as “Any simulation of flows contained within the engine cooling or lubrication systems, air, air/fuel mixtures, combustion process or products of combustion from a boundary commencing at the engine’s atmospheric air intake ducts, passing through the engine and finishing at the exit of the exhaust tailpipe will be classified as an Engine Simulation. ” So I’m assuming that accurate CFD will model airflow through the engine, and that part of the modeling is exempt from the restrictions…

      How this can possibly be accurately and convincingly audited without a doubt is beyond me… it sounds like a glorified honor system, from an outsider’s perspective. I imagine the CFD packages have special F1 auditing plug-ins to facilitate this… one would hope… those F1 auditing plug-ins themselves being audited for proper accuracy and anti-tampering measures…

      1. ApexPredator says:

        I would assume ALL CFD and wind tunnel limitations are in reference only to downforce generation via chassis and bodywork. Seeing as “active” bodywork is banned, and there are strict limitations on even semi-passive bodywork (ie blown diffusers, winglets, alerons, etc) 30 hours is limited to effect of airflow over front and rear wing designs, side pods, etc.
        Yes, intake air will effect downforce, but as engine development is frozen, once your airbox is designed, you’re stuck with that and you can’t really change much of the bodywork around the airbox to gain a substantial difference in downforce generation I wouldn’t think. I would assume with engine development being frozen, the FIA don’t think much would come out of insane budgets spent on CFD of intake and exhaust or internal air and fluid flow.

      2. Phil says:

        I don’t see how it can be policed adequately. There is nothing to stop a team from running CFD simulations ‘off-grid’. The value in CFD is from the interpretation of the results which enable design decisions to be taken. An engineer could run a sim off-grid (possibly at home, using unlicensed software), interpret the results and make verbal recommendations to the designers. There need not be any record or trace of a CFD sim in order for value to be gained from it.

        In my view it is totally unenforceable.

  3. Kristiane says:

    Definitely happy to see Williams coming back to form.

    Can’t wait till McLaren and Ferrari also return to top form and make the top 5 or 6 teams battle it out rather than just one or two (or in the case of past few years, just one team running away with it).

  4. Pkara says:

    Glad to see Symonds back :-)

    1. Denis68 says:

      “Glad to see Symonds back”

      How is this guy even allowed back in F1 after crashgate 2008. I guess alI we need now to cap it off is the return of Flavio then.

      1. Random 79 says:

        They both did wrong, but there’s a big difference between them; Symonds acknowledged his involvement early on and was sorry for it, while I have yet to hear anything like that from Briatore.

        On that basis and on that basis alone I’d give Symonds a second chance and I very much doubt he’d do anything like that again.

    2. Gaz Boy says:

      Agree.
      Pat always seem at his best in a year with major changes – 1994 (driver aids banned), 1995 (switch to 3 litre V10s), 2005 (tyre change ban), 2006 (switch to 2.4 litre V8) and now 2014 (switch to 1.6 litre turbo hybrid). What a coincidence!
      OK, this year’s Williams is not going to win the WDC this year, but it does a realistic chance of 2nd place in constructors cup – a remarkable turnaround from the dogs breakfast that was 2013 for Williams!

    3. deane says:

      I’m ambivalent there, as I will never forgive what he did.

      1. ACx says:

        When you forgive someone, it is for your sake, not theirs.

    4. Simmo says:

      Well I’m glad to see Maldonado out.

      In fact, the more I think about, the more I think that Maldonado gone and Massa in made a tremendous difference!

  5. DaveF says:

    I think this shows the value of logical organised thinking that are the hallmarks of people like Pat Symonds and Ross Brawn. I wonder who does this at Red Bull or if Adrian Newey also has this talent? I suspect he doesn’t (at least not to the same degree) and yet Red Bull do seem to be very methodical and their updates usually work. To me the lack of this approach is why Ferrari and McLaren are struggling. It’s all very well having talented designers but the whole team needs to pull in the same direction. Not very glamorous I know but essential.

  6. goferet says:

    For sure rule changes are fun for they always throw up surprising results.

    Not only didn’t the fans expect Mercedes to dominate the sport but also we have the miracle resurrection in Williams.

    And yes, just like any other field in life it has more to do with luck why some people make it and others don’t.

    The likes of Ferrari and Mclaren have great engineering solutions but alas their ideas didn’t work.

    I think the most impressive fact about Williams has been their in-season development program for at the start of the season the cars lacked lots of downforce but this has now been fixed >>> so what.

    Looking to the future in a bid to score more points, I think the team should replace Massa with either Hulkenberg or Grosjean for unfortunately Massa has never been lucky e.g. Interlagos 2008.

    All in all, Claire Williams has done a mega job and yes I love watching the reactions of Claire and Suise in the paddock when things go well.

    1. goferet says:

      Correction:

      but this has now been fixed >>> some what.

  7. JakobusVdL says:

    There is a really good podcast interview with pat symonds on the motorsport magazine website.
    It covers quite a bit more than the report above, his views on 18 inch wheels, and the difficulties in re engineering the cars for them, lots of other stuff too. Really informative, well worth a listen while we wait for the next race…….

  8. TommyK says:

    Good to see Williams back in the mix, if any team deserves it they do. I’ve always been a McLaren fan but can’t help feel their commitment to F1 has been diluted by their road car program which has to be in place to support the F1 business, but seems like they’ve taken their eye off the ball, especially under Martin Whitmarsh. i appreciate Williams have other ventures, but they appear to have understood the importance of their main goal and have put the effort back into F1 and are getting results.

    James, are you able to do a piece on CFD? And as Andrew M above states, how this is policed?

  9. F Zero says:

    I wouldn’t begrudge Massa a win, he’s had some tough times this year.

    1. Mark says:

      Absolutely. I cant even read the espnf1 site these days due to the unbelievably negative comments about him.

  10. kenneth chapman says:

    having followed williams as a team for very many years starting really with mansell it is gratifying to see them rise as a genuine competitor this year. IMO though it is largely due to the mercedes engine. last year williams had so many disappointments due to their inability to match the top teams when it came to innovation. the coanda exhausts were a prime example.

    i recall patrick head stating when asked why williams were rapidly going downhill, he said, ‘we have very good people, that is not the problem, we just don’t have the ideas’. now we are seeing what can be achieved when you have the right people with the right ideas and the most powerful engine on the grid. williams are on the up, all they need to maintain the momentum is two drivers that can regularly haul in some tasty points at every race. bottas is doing fine but massa is the weak link. i am reasonably sure that he will be there next year as i think by memory he has a three year contract. no doubt there will clauses in there that could be enacted re performance but massa needs to lift his game. if he can do this then williams will be a force to be reckoned with in 2015.

  11. chris green says:

    i think mclaren and ferrari could learn a thing or two from williams. it’s not always about money.
    it’s structures and management.

    have ferrari and mac become so bureaucratic that they’ve become slow and cumbersome ?

    i notice driver salaries have been published.

    what teams pay for each point earned in driver salaries;

    ferrari 310,000 eu
    mclaren 175,000 eu
    red bull 105,000 eu
    merc 81,000 eu
    f india 61,000 eu
    williams 37,000 eu

  12. M Wishart says:

    A very interesting point in the last paragraph.

    “they too have to pass through the bottleneck of the 30/30 rule. This is a great leveller.”

    This is very interesting as it shows that there can be some kind of rules in F1 that make it fair on all the teams no matter how much money you have.

    For years now you have had the smaller teams fighting on a budget and the richer teams winning on a budget, but those budgets are very different.

    I don’t have any answers to my question but I would be very interested to hear other peoples views, but if there are more ways that create a kind of bottle neck within F1, this could just make the sport a bit fairer for the rich and the poor.

  13. BluesPaul says:

    - “Previously a big team with a wind tunnel that ran around the clock, could run both programs in
    parallel. Now that is no longer possible.

    Yep. The new regs and restrictions in the name of cost cutting etc may be fair in principle, but F1 fans are missing out on seeing the very best of the drivers competeing in the best of the cars.

    That was why we watched F1.

    Williams is a lovely story but they pulled the short straw when they went with Merc.
    We find Ferrari by contrast unable to compete at the top through no fault of their drivers.

    1. Mark says:

      “but F1 fans are missing out on seeing the very best of the drivers competeing in the best of the cars”

      how can the cars not be the best?

      Are you saying it would only be the best if there were no rules?

      OF course they are the BEST, between tyres, rules, physics and Engineering ideas, there are always limitations…to say they are not the best doesn’t even make sense…the best car is the car that wins within the framework of the formula……there is ALWAYS a formula!!!

      It is called FORMULA 1 after all and not just 1 :)

      1. Blues Paul says:

        @ Mark
        :) I think you miss the point

        It was more to do with some of the best drivers not ending up in the best cars because their design teams let them down … if you read again carefully

  14. zombie says:

    Does ‘Force India’ get the same spec Merc engine as Williams ? If yes, then Vijay Mallya needs to take a long hard look at his crew. With his bottomless pockets and two good drivers, there is no reason why ForceIndia should lurk in the midfield.

    1. SteveH says:

      Bottomless pockets? From a story in an Indian paper today, 12 August, regarding United Bank of India publishing the names of debt defaulters:

      “While United Bank has gone after Mallya with great enthusiasm in trying to recover some of the Rs400 crore lent to Kingfisher Airlines, his name doesn’t figure in the bank’s list of wilful defaulters as on June-end.

      That’s because Mallya has gone to court, trying to stop the bank from declaring him as a wilful defaulter. He, too, will probably feature in the “name and shame” list if a favourable verdict comes from the court, bank’s executive director Sanjay Arya told dna.

      “We had earlier served notice to Mr Mallya, and now a case is being heard at the Calcutta high court, which will be decided soon. The bank will take necessary steps after that,” Arya said.”

      The guy hasn’t paid some of his Kingfisher Airlines employees for a year and just had to sell his stake in United Spirits to repay some Kingfisher debt; here is a link to an July article in Forbes Magazine:

      http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2014/07/02/indias-ex-billionaire-mallya-sells-more-assets-to-help-pay-kingfisher-debt/

      I think we’re lucky Force India still exists.

      1. Random 79 says:

        VJ has always maintained that FI exists as an entirely separate entity, but I think you’re right.

        I’d also say that as much as I like F1, personally I’d make sure all my workers were getting paid instead of spending absurd amounts of money to run around in the mid-field year after year.

      2. build says:

        Subrata Roy the owner of Sahara and part owner of Force India has been in jail since about March and it’s related to debts.

        It’s a shame because the team is quite good.

  15. RichB says:

    really pleased to see Williams in good form, I’d love to see them doing this well next year. McLaren need to turn their form around next year but I don’t think they will, they seem to be lacking direction and there hasn’t been much positivity coming from them.

  16. Doug says:

    ….and the best livery on the grid!

  17. David R says:

    “We have not flooded the company with highly paid celebrity designers”

    Haha that’s brilliant, only in F1 engineers get to be celebrities, there’s no other field in engineering where this is even remotely possible.

  18. fox says:

    I expected to hear more optimism from him. Seems he will soon follow Ross.

  19. Gudien says:

    Nice to see Williams back to being competitive. How much effect did concentrating this year on F-1 have vs. the previous years where the company was developing it’s KERS for other applications?

    Also, reading this interview I get the distinct impression Symonds is taking the lion’s share of the credit for the turnaround at Williams. Is it deserved? Can it really come down to one man in the Formula One of today?

    1. Rockman says:

      Adrian Newey takes most of the credit at Redbull, so why not Pat Symonds at Williams?

      1. James Allen says:

        When I was speaking to Sir Frank the other week, he clearly feels that Pat deserves a lot of the credit

  20. Rupert Richardson says:

    Great story. I’ve long had a high regard for Pat Symonds, ever since he worked his (pre Crashgate) magic at Renault

  21. Park says:

    I believe they will become a big team again in terms of budget soon

  22. Andrew Woodruff says:

    Symonds obviously doing a great job. Who was in his role before him, was it Sam Michael – what was he doing all those years??

    Is there anything in particular that is unique about the Williams chassis compared to the McLaren or other Mercedes powered non-works teams?

    1. build says:

      Mike Coughlan was Symonds predecessor http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Coughlan

  23. Park says:

    From some recent Pat’s interviews ,I have known a bit why MAL feels happier at Enstone squad.
    Their mindset really didnot help their revival in last years, which maybe Frank and Parr should take the responsibility.

  24. Park says:

    Hiring Coughlan is really one thing I want to forget. A BIG BIG MISTAKE

  25. JohnBt says:

    Am really glad Pat Symonds is back and explaining the new formula in a much more positive way.
    I’ve always like Pat for his made simple to understand from the highly technical side of F1.
    As for the fiasco of a certain race when he was dragged into, I still don’t believe he was guilty at all.

    Listen to this:
    http://www.motorsportmagazine.com/f1/podcast-with-pat-symonds/

  26. Richard says:

    I say that it is just honest and logical engineering,” Steady with the honesty Pat

  27. Rod Salazar says:

    Massa is always Massa. He is not at the level of the team. Valteri Botas is an humble-hunger boy ready to fight without excuses. Massa’s “bad luck” is product of his low self esteem trying to over deliver more than he can.

    Let’s see on time to come.

    1. H.Guderian (ALO Fan) says:

      EXACTLY!!!!

    2. fox says:

      strange if Williams keeps him for next season.
      there are probably sponsor money rather than talent.

  28. Darren says:

    I still find it ironic that Massa is working with Symonds, the man whose cheating effectively cost Massa the 2008 title!

    1. Aelfwald says:

      Zzzzzz

  29. Bart says:

    It’s always a pleasure to read what Pat Symonds says. Thanks, Bart

  30. Kram gp says:

    I still think Alonso’s best chance of another world title would be at Williams, and it would have the added advantage of getting Massa to move on, possibly back to Ferrari.

  31. Chris says:

    Watch Williams progress mirror Mercedes. The deal to sign Suzie to their ranks is paying off in more ways than one!!

  32. danny says:

    Massa has let the team down this year. They should have way more points than they currently have.

  33. jmv says:

    James, great insight! Hope you are enjoying your holiday!

    Could you please shed more light on the 30/30 rule? Is that part of the resources restriction agreement?
    Could you also please shed more light on this RRA? what is its scope and how is it monitored?

    Tks!

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