Patrick Head - An appreciation

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Not my cup of cake
Valued Member
Brazil was the last race with Patrick Head as Technical Director of Williams Grand Prix Engineering. A career in F1 spanning more than 30 years at a company that has produced some exquisite racing cars. I thought it worth putting together a few notes about the man who brought Williams so much success.

Patrick Head was born in Farnborough in 1946 and comes from a family of motor sport enthusiast, his father raced Jaguars and he himself spent time rallying and working on Minis at Eric Broadley’s Broadspeed Motor Sport. He joined the Navy after leaving school but left fairly soon and started work as an engineer, working on the M4 construction.

Head eventually went back to school and gained a degree in Mechanical Engineering from UCL, which got him a job at Lola cars alongside John Barnard (of McLaren fame). After 3 seasons at Lola Head moved on to design an F2 car for Richard Scott and F5000 cars for Trojan, as well as working on their abortive F1 project.

Head’s big break in F1 came in 1976 when Frank Williams offered him a job to lead the design department at Williams Racing Cars but, having sold a controlling interest to Walter Wolf, Williams left to set up Williams Grand Prix Engineering and Head was No.2 to Harvey Posthelthwaite who was Wolf’s chief engineer.

After one season with Walter Wolf, with a very poor March chassis, Head left to work again with Frank Williams. They raced a customer March chassis in 1977 and in 1978 the Head designed Williams FW06 was entered with Alan Jones driving. The 06 was a respectable car but Lotus had raised the bar with ground effect and Williams, with Saudi oil money, set about creating their own challenger.

In 1979 the sublime FW07 was born (albeit that the design owed a great deal to the Lotus 79) and, now with a two car team, Williams had a car to challenge at the front. Clay Regazzoni brought the team their first victory, appropriately for that most British of teams, at the British Grand Prix that year. Jones won the Drivers Championship and Williams the Constructors title for the first time in 1980 and the FW07, in various guises, raced on until 1982.

The FW08 was supposed to be a radical 6 wheel car but the outlawing of 4 wheel drive resulted in a stubby machine which was underpowered compared to the turbo cars of the era and in 1983 Williams moved onto Honda turbo power.

With Head leading the design team Williams continued from success to success and the arrival Renault engines in 1989 and Adrian Newey as aerodynamicist in 1990 moved the team onto another level. The FW14B car of the 1992 season is widely regarded as the most advanced F1 car ever to have raced with active suspension, traction control, ABS, power steering and a host of other mechanical and electronic aids. Nigel Mansell wiped the floor with all challengers, including his team mate.

Newey’s departure to McLaren in 1997 was the start of a slow decline for Williams. With a stated aim of being Technical Director he and Head were in direct competition and it was unlikely Frank Williams would promote Newey over his long serving technical chief and also a major share holder in the company.

Head has nurtured the careers of many super stars of F1 engineering apart from Newey. Ross Brawn, Geoff Willis, Neal Oatley, Frank Dernie and Enrico Scalabroni have all benefitted from Head’s guidance at various points in their career’s.

The last few years must have been intensely frustrating for a man who is quoted as saying “I’m much more driven by contempt for failure than joy at success.”

I personally hope that Mike Coughlan can recover some of the glory days Williams have enjoyed and also hope that Patrick Head will be seen around the Grand Prix circuit more often than not in his new capacity as head of Williams Hybrid Power.

Thanks for some wonderful cars and wonderful memories Patrick.
 
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