Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis
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Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

The changes that took Williams from the back to the F1 podium

Williams had headed into the 2021 Formula 1 campaign eager to avoid its fourth straight season at the bottom of the championship standings.

The changes that took Williams from the back to the F1 podium

But alarm bells were ringing from the first test when it emerged that the Grove-based squad was battling a particularly aero sensitive car, which meant on windy days drivers George Russell and Nicholas Latifi could find themselves struggling.

With a gusty season opener in Bahrain, the difficulties were exposed, and it would have been easy to suspect at the time that the team could be facing another campaign of battling at the back.

However, the season has turned into one of much improved fortune. And not only has the outfit scored a decent bunch of points to boost its constructors' standings, but it even grabbed a podium finish in the rain-hit Belgian Grand Prix, albeit in a race that didn't actually happen. 

Outside factors

Having knuckled down under the ownership of Dorilton Capital, the arrival of key personnel, additional funding and a different approach has clearly had an impact, with the whole squad given a chance to flourish.

Changes to the distribution of resource wealth in the sport will have helped, as in the opening half of the season Williams was at the bottom of the new aero handicap system, allowing it to take advantage of 112.5% of the allotted time in the wind tunnel and afford it the same privileges for CFD simulations.

And, whilst it didn't score its first points of the year until the Hungarian Grand Prix, which actually vaulted it into eighth place, when the limits were altered on the first of July, it was classified ahead of only Haas, reducing its wind tunnel time and CFD usage to 110% for the back half of 2021.

If it maintains eighth place in the closing stages of 2021, which seems likely, the team will see a further reduction for the first half of 2022, when it will be given 105% to work with.

This shouldn't be a cause for concern though, as the coefficient scale in operation between 2022-2025 is more heavily front loaded, meaning those at the front of the grid are pegged back more so than those at the rear.

For example, the winning constructor will drop from 90% to 70%, whereas the position currently occupying 100% is fifth and will drop down to seventh.

Adding to this resource distribution windfall, Williams has made some improvements to its on-site wind tunnel of late, whilst also taking a renewed approach to car development.

Steady progress

Aero is still king in F1, and there has been a lot of progress with the FW43B throughout the course of the season on this front.

Williams FW43/FW43B brake drum comparison

Williams FW43/FW43B brake drum comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The team made a subtle but noteworthy change to its front brake duct at the second race of the season in Imola, as it altered the shape of the inlet.

This had the knock-on effect of increasing the available real estate below and resulted in the cluster of small winglets being exchanged for smaller, paired variants.

William FW43B floor comparison

William FW43B floor comparison

Williams was not long out of the gate before making the switch to the now almost ubiquitous Z-shaped floor cutout either, with the solution also arriving at the second race of the season.

However, the aerodynamic appendages used in combination with the cutout remained largely the same, save the triple fin cluster added at the fulcrum.

The team has since replaced the three 'r' shaped vanes placed midway along the cutout and the slightly curved fin just ahead of the tyre (marked in red) with a cluster of fins right on the edge of the floor (marked in green), when it introduced its major update package at the French Grand Prix.

William FW43B floor fins

William FW43B floor fins

Another small change was made at the third race of the season, in Portugal, when the team exchanged a solution that had been on the car during 2020 for something similar to what Ferrari has been using.

The FW43B had started the season with a row of fins jutting out from the side of the diffuser but these were replaced by a row of vertical fins. Interestingly this aligns neatly with a vertical fin mounted on the rear brake duct winglet cluster, which as we know are also narrower this year by regulation.

Williams FW43B bargeboard comparison

Williams FW43B bargeboard comparison

The aforementioned upgrade package, introduced in France, saw the team make a raft of changes to its bargeboard cluster to help with the wind sensitivity issue that the drivers mentioned in the early part of the season.

The outwash fins mounted on top the multi element footplate were increased in number, not only in the stack that were already in situ (marked in green), but with a second row being introduced just behind (marked in red).

Meanwhile, drawing influence from McLaren, which has had a similar solution since last year, the team added a pair of downwash wings beneath the boomerang wing and created a framework for which the airflow can now operate within (marked in yellow).

The top of the main vertical element has also been adjusted (marked in blue) with the team following what has become a little bit of a trend, with the surface broken up into smaller feather-like sections.

William FW43B diffuser comparison

William FW43B diffuser comparison

The update package also featured a revised diffuser layout too, as the height of the outermost strake was reduced.

This is a decision we've seen several teams take this season, suggesting that the new regulations have altered the course of the airflow sufficiently in that region for the teams to make adjustments.

Williams FW43B comparison

Williams FW43B comparison

Williams' different approach to the use of its resources meant that the team also had a Monza specific setup for the first time in a number of years too.

Ordinarily it would fit its car with a wing seen at other high-speed circuits and simply suffer the aerodynamic penalty of doing so.

However, this year it had a much lower downforce rear wing at its disposal, whilst also taking a half crescent shaped section out of the front wing's upper flap to help balance downforce front-to-rear.

2022 and beyond

2022 will provide many interesting subplots up and down the grid given the scope of regulation change that the sport is going through.

But, with the introduction of the cost cap and sliding scale for resources also a major factor, it will be fascinating to see if the likes of Williams will be drawn closer to the battle ahead.

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