Williams have debuted their latest Formula 1 challenger today (19th January), at the Algarve Motor Park in Portimao Southern Portugal. The occasion also doubled as the first official test of the car.
The team asserts the new Williams-Toyota FW31 is the first major clean- sheet car design for perhaps 30 years and they have ploughed a lot of resources into it, starting the design process earlier than many of their rivals.
Technical Director, Sam Michael, said, "The changes in the aerodynamic regulations are the most profound and will have the most impact on lap time. There are many immediate visual changes, but also many smaller reductions around the car through new regulation wording and exclusion zones."
Looking at the Williams as you would expect it does have a familiar look to it but there are some interesting details. The front wing end plates are heavily angled to deflect airflow around the front tyre and the front wing itself has more of a shape to it compared to the dead straight wings seen on other launch cars.
The wing is straight in the centre section but kinks downwards and then upwards towards the edge. The McLaren launch car showed a similar upwards kink towards the edge but less profound suggesting the Williams front wing has also been subject to a great deal more development. The end plate wing flaps on the car are large and a rather complex two-layer design, not something previously seen.
The nose cone on the Williams is dips down at the front and has a convex profile. Going by the impressions on the car there is a clear intention to fit wings to the sides of the nose cone although they are not there yet. The fins under the wing and behind the wheels as seen on the Ferrari are present and Williams have like most manufacturers opted to fit small barge boards at the base of the side pods.
The sidepods, in common with all except the Ferrari, are positioned at the start of the open cockpit area. The side pods themselves have the undercut sections as seen in many of the launch cars and indeed many of the 2008 cars and are quite a sculptured shape. Again suggesting much work has been done.
Towards the back, the sidepods taper in sharply in contrast to other 2009 spec cars and the exhaust exiting straight out of the end, rather than out of the top as seen on other cars. The narrow rear wing contains the slits in the end plates, as seen on the McLaren.
Michael commented, "Starting at the front, the front wing end plate design has changed as the interaction with the front tyre is completely different, and important to control. There are no longer large barge boards - although we managed to squeeze a small one in."
He went on to explain, "The engine cover no longer has the traditional" chimneys and louvers on top for cooling, and that has forced a higher and wider exit at the rear in order to provide an effective exit for hot air."
Michael believes the Kenetic Energy Recovery System will play a significant role: "KERS in 2009 could be worth between 2/10ths and 3/10ths of a second per lap. However, once aero performance converges, KERS could start to become a greater performance differentiator and if the regulations give more scope to the technology, it could be worth anything up to a second a lap and it will be needed to win Grands Prix."
The FW31 being at its first test session did take to the track in the hands of Nico Hulkenberg. Although the conditions would be described as wet, the first impressions of the new car are positive.
Hulkenberg commented "Straight away the new car feels okay, I feel comfortable in it and for a new car, we have also had a trouble-free morning technically, which is important."
Hulkenberg added, "Of course everyone will want to know how it compares to the 2008 car and what the impact of the rule changes are from a driver's point of view. In truth, I cannot say too much after a few laps, because the track is 100% new to me, I have never run here and also it is pretty wet, so I have no baseline for comparison."
Sir Frank Williams is hopeful that the approach the team has taken will work well for them but is cautiously optimistic at this stage.
Williams said, "It will be a very interesting year ahead. The new aero rules mean a different approach to the cars in a number if areas. However, by the time we get to Melbourne, I would expect the usual suspects to still be dominating the top two positions. More importantly, I hope Williams will have made a significantly large step forward with the FW31."