Flashback: Williams and active suspension
19 July, 2011
Jul.19 (Williams) The Williams FW14B was utterly dominant in 1992, winning nine races and both world championships. A large part of its success was down to its active suspension system, about which AT&T Williams Director of Engineering Patrick Head tells us more…
“During the skirt era of 1981/’82, we ran the cars very close to the ground. The suspension was incredibly stiff and it struck me at the time that the cars were pogo-ing around the tracks, bouncing over bumps and over kerbs. That’s when we started to think about active suspension.
“The idea behind the system was to run the car as soft as possible, while still having control over the aerodynamic platform. We started work early in 1985 and the first system ran in the back of an FW09 at the end of ’85 with Nelson Piquet at the wheel. It must have been one of Nelson’s first tests for us because he only joined us at the end of the season.
“This early system didn’t have any anti roll bars; it used gas springs and it was controlled by a mechanical control system. As the aerodynamic load came onto the car, it kept it level by pumping oil into the system.
“At this first test at Silverstone, a hydraulic pipe came off and we had a massive fire at the back of the car. We didn’t put a lot of mileage on the system, but we managed to establish that it needed a much more sophisticated electro-hydraulic controller on it.
“The next time we ran the active system was in the back of an FW11. It had much better software and it was a big step forward. We went testing with Nelson and Nigel [Mansell], but Nigel wasn’t that interested because he’d had some bad experiences with Lotus’s system in the past. Nelson, however, loved it and he won with the system at Monza at the end of ’87.
“The ’88 car started with active ride, but we took it off for Silverstone after a string of reliability issues. We weren’t cooling the oil properly and that caused reliability problems with the Judd engine. We didn’t race an active car again until ’92, although we had a pretty extensive test programme with it in ’91.
“The software on the ’92 car was much more advanced than anything we’d run previously; it was both reliable and effective and the car was very quick. We then refined it further on the FW15 of ’93.
“I was disappointed when active ride was banned at the end of ’93. It wasn’t banned on the basis that it was a driver aid, but enough people complained to the FIA that it was bad for F1, so it was banned.”