Raucous Reactionary - 1988 Williams FW12 Judd
Hyperactively skittering around one step behind
In the mid-1980s, Formula One had become obsessed with one big buzzword. One term to rule them all: boost. Ever since Renault had upset the establishment with the first turbocharged engine in the sport, the big teams and engine brands had converted to the holy church of forced induction.
That religion was repressed at the end of the 1986 season, as the FIA put gradual boost restrictions on the 1300+ hp monsters in a phased ban. A 4.0 bar limit in 1987, and just 2.5 bar in 1988. For 1989, turbos would be banned completely.
The flaming turbos caused their own extinction
The ban was prompted in part by the tragic death of Elio de Angelis at Paul Ricard. During a test his Brabham BT55 lost its rear wing at near top speed, caught air, and ended up upside down on the wrong side of the barrier.
As the car caught fire, De Angelis remained trapped underneath the car for over 30 minutes, wedged between the chassis and the guardrail. The popular Italian veteran passed away in hospital later that day.
Elio de Angelis (center) 1958-1986.
Though the unfortunate demise of De Angelis sealed the turbo engines' fate, it wasn't the immediate cause. Even before the tragedy there had been concerns that the sheer complexity, cost and immense power provided by the little boosted devils was getting out of hand.
Aside from obvious safety concerns, the engine formula had made it nearly impossible for smaller teams to compete. In order to bring speeds back down and grid numbers back up, forced induction was abandoned in favor of a naturally aspirated formula.
In order to better give the atmos a chance to compete with the turbos for their remaining two seasons, boosted cars would be limited to just 150 liters of fuel. This would prevent them from using full power during the race. Furthermore, capacity for the naturally aspirated engines was increased from the 3.0L, in use between 1966 and 1985, to 3.5L Initially, only V8 engines would be allowed, but a high-profile protest by Ferrari saw the number of permitted cylinders bumped up to twelve.
The new formula had a less than favorable start. Even at reduced boost, the turbo cars were still putting down between 850 and 1000 horsepower, even in race trim. The only atmo cars that year were all using the 575 horsepower Cosworth DFZ, which was based on the positively ancient DFV V8, dating back to 1967.
Williams had been a dominant force during the later years of the turbo era.
The difference in pace was so great in fact, the FIA decided to divide the championship in two. Teams and drivers fielding naturally aspirated cars would contest the Colin Chapman and Jim Clark Trophies, in order to avoid outrage from those teams as the turbo cars took all the headlines.
The following season, the 3.5L formula gained more traction. A host of smaller, independent outfits joined the fray, including Coloni, Larrousse Calmels, BMS Scuderia Italia, and EuroBrun. The FIA's plans had seemingly worked like a charm.
The Williams team for 1988.
While the return to affordable engines had restored F1's pool of 'amateur'-teams, one of the biggest names in the sport wasn't too happy with the change. Williams had seen a host of success in the turbo era with Honda-power, and had hoped to continue on the same footing. For 1988 however, they were forced into the atmo-field prematurely.
The fearsome Honda V6 had made Williams a force to be reckoned with.
Williams had ushered Honda to the front of the grid in 1984, after the Japanese company had dipped its toes in the water with the underfunded Spirit team. The partnership faced strong opposition from the McLaren-TAG combination, in particular when piloted by the sly Alain Prost. A colossal tire blowout saw Nigel Mansell lose out on the driver's title at Adelaide, handing Prost his second title.
The failure to capture both titles despite a clearly superior package didn't sit well with Honda. The Japanese were reportedly also frustrated by Williams' refusal to prioritize two-time World Champion Nelson Piquet as lead driver, leading to on-track battles which Honda felt cost the team valuable points.
Mansell and Piquet's shenanigans were too much for Honda.
The team managed to make up for it all in 1987, with Piquet clinching his third title, but the writing was on the wall. When Frank Williams flat out refused to drop Nigel Mansell in favor of Honda-protégé Satoru Nakajima for 1988, Honda pulled their existing contract without question.
Instead, they elected to jump ship to McLaren, where a certain young Brazilian they had met the year before at Lotus had just set up shop. Piquet and Nakajima in turn took station at Lotus in turn, taking Honda's loyalty with them.
The Judd CV was the only option for Williams.
Honda's exit put Williams in a decidedly uncomfortable position. Just like that, the reigning champions were out of a works engine contract. With the big names running out the clock on their turbos or in exclusive partnerships, the team was forced to look to a third party supplier.
With Cosworth only offering up the outdated DFZ to customer teams, it was discounted as an option. That left only one other supplier: Engine Developments Limited, colloquially known as Judd. The firm had started out as preparers of Cosworth-based Formula 3000 engines, but had since constructed their own design: the compact, 600 horsepower CV V8.
The Vee-angle of the engine was supposed to be 75-degrees, but Judd ran into some trouble while setting op the CNC-machine. It somehow failed to comprehend the concept of uneven numbers, forcing the engineers to round up to 76.
In any case, the V8 was narrower than its 90-degree Cosworth rival, which aided packaging at the expense of a slightly higher center of gravity. A 6-speed manual Williams gearbox with Hewland internals would direct the CV's power to the rear wheels.
Tire test at Brands hatch, 1988.
The Judd was then fitted to an carbon fiber and aluminium honeycomb monocoque, following concepts similar to the FW11B from the year before. Aerodynamically the car was also similar, with the exception of the vastly different engine cover designed to fit the naturally aspirated V8.
In a word, the basic outline of the FW12 was unremarkable. However, it packed a hidden surprise. Like the FW11B before it, the car incorporated what the team called 'Williams Reactive Ride'.
The reactive suspension system took its fair share of attention.
Using computer controlled hydraulic struts, the car would be able to adjust its suspension settings on the go. The system would anticipate and counter the car's tendency to roll and pitch according to braking, acceleration and cornering, keeping the platform of the car as flat as possible. This not only aided stability, but also made the car's aerodynamic properties more consistent, helping it to better maintain downforce.
Williams had been forced to use the word 'reactive' due to a copyright held by Lotus, which had first tried a similar system they termed 'active' in 1983 on the ill-fated Lotus 92. Williams thought it ripe for a revisit in 1987 however, and promptly took victory with Nelson Piquet at Monza, the first race for the reactive car.
The active suspension Lotus 92 didn't deliver for Nigel Mansell in 1983.
Considering the success of the reactive system and the major disadvantage Williams had on brute engine power, the decision was made to carry it over to the FW12. This was much to Nigel Mansell's chagrin, as he had experienced firsthand how awful Lotus' early iteration had been in 1983.
With this in mind, he had refused to drive the reactive version of the FW11B. However, he relented after realizing it was the team's only trump card against the turbo opposition for 1988. Despite the weight penalty of some 25 kg (55 lbs) and a 5% power decrease (30 hp) to drive the computers and hydraulics, Williams was confident the system would pay dividends.
Mansell (sans mustache) and new teammate Riccardo Patrese traveled to Jacarepagua, Brazil for the opening round of the season. Of the 18 competing teams, just six still used turbo power.
McLaren and Lotus fielded the brand new Honda RA168-E V6 (650 hp), Ferrari soldiered on with the Tipo 033E V6 (660 hp), Arrows kept using a BMW M12/13 four cylinder rebranded as a Megatron (660 hp), while Zakspeed stuck to their guns with their own 1500/4 four pot (630 hp) and Osella reused the exotic rebranded 890T Alfa Romeo V8 (700 hp).
On the atmo-side, Benetton benefited from an exclusive deal as Ford's works team to use the redesigned Cosworth DFR V8 (620 hp). Tyrrell, AGS, Coloni, Larrousse, BMS Scuderia Italia, EuroBrun, Rial, and Minardi were all left with the aging DFZ (575-590 hp). Aside from Williams, March and Ligier also took delivery of the Judd CV.
Patrese debut for Williams ended in disappointment.
In qualifying, Nigel Mansell managed to surprise everyone by putting the FW12 second on the grid, only slightly more than a second behind the mighty McLaren MP4/4 of Ayrton Senna. Riccardo Patrese wasn't as impressive, placing 8th at some 2.343 seconds from pole.
However, neither driver was satisfied with the performance of the car. In fact, they labelled it 'pathetically slow'. The data backed up their accusations: on Jacarepagua's 900 meter back straight, the FW12 clocked in at only 265 kph (165 mph).
By contrast, the turbo McLarens had been able to touch 290 (180). It had become painfully clear the extra weight and power loss caused by the reactive ride system was taking its toll on the already underpowered Judd.
Patrese's debut for Williams ended in a cloud of smoke.
On race day, neither driver was given much time to be annoyed by the lack of speed. Patrese's car expired on lap 6, while 12 laps later Mansell's FW12 pulled in with an overheating CV. The retirements came as a bit of a blessing, as both Mansell and Patrese complained of inconsistent handling.
The FW12's onboard computer had gotten confused due to air leaking into the hydraulics, causing the suspension system to behave erratically due to false inputs. As a result, the car jumped around on its wheels, changing its suspension settings on the fly from lap to lap. Sometimes, even from corner to corner. Clearly, the car's debut left a lot to be desired.
The FW12 wasn't getting much love from its drivers.
Back at Imola, the situation hadn't gotten any better. Ricardo Patrese flew the flag for Williams in sixth place on the grid, but the Italian was some 3.804 seconds down on pole sitter Ayrton Senna. Nigel Mansell fared even worse with 11th place, 4.487 seconds down.
Despite this, Mansell went on a monster recovery on race day, passing Nelson Piquet for third on lap 41. Sadly, his engine expired shortly after. Patrese finished a distant 13th, 2 laps down. Meanwhile, the McLarens had lapped every single other car on track.
1988 in one image: Senna storms away at the start.
On the tight street circuit of Monaco, the Williams team was able to recover some ground. Nigel Mansell lined up fifth on the grid, 3.667 seconds down on the godlike lap recorded by Ayrton Senna. Riccardo Patrese was only a couple of tenths behind in 8th.
Mansell managed to slip by Michele Alboreto's Ferrari at the start, slotting into fourth place. However, 33 laps later the Italian made a brash move at the swimming pool, crashing Nigel out of contention.
Patrese kept it steady until he encountered the Larrousse Lola of Philippe Alliot. The Frenchman was slow to react to the blue flags and forced Riccardo to crowbar his way through. The Williams unfortunately made contact with the Lola, sending it into the barriers and out of the race.
Luckily Patrese had suffered no significant damage, and he was left to take Williams' first point of the season, and Judd's first ever point as an engine supplier, in sixth place. Despite this he was still a full lap down on winner Alain Prost.
Round 4 of the 1988 championship took place at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez near Mexico City. The track's long straights made life difficult for the Williams drivers, with neither Mansell nor Patrese making the top 10 in qualifying.
Nigel led the charge in 14th, while Ricardo could only manage 17th. Both were at least five seconds off the pace of Ayrton Senna's leading McLaren. On race day they weren't given much time to consider how underpowered their engines were, as both cars dropped out with blown Judds in the opening stages. Patrese's V8 conked out on lap 16, with Mansell managing four more laps.
Mansell struggling to slow it down, Montreal 1988.
The drama of Mexico was followed by even more strife at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Canada. Once again the Williams duo was hanging off the bottom of the top 10, with Nigel Mansell just scraping in with a 9th best time. Riccardo Patrese was less than a tenth behind in 11th. Both were around 3.2 seconds off Senna's pole time.
Once again though, their Judd powerplants let them down. As if by clockwork, both CV's expired within four laps of each other once again. Mansell managed to complete 28 laps, while Patrese brought his total to 32.
Nigel's car in the pits, Detroit 1988.
The tight and bumpy street track at Detroit promised to alleviate Williams' power issues, and hopefully provided an opportunity for the finicky reactive suspension system to prove its worth.
Nigel Mansell duly delivered with a time good enough for sixth in qualifying, while Riccardo Patrese could only manage 10th. Sadly, it was all in vain. Mansell once again saw his V8 go up in smoke on lap 18, while Patrese slowed with electrical issues on lap 26.
Nigel Mansell ahead of Satoru Nakajima (Lotus) and Derek Warwick (Arrows), Paul Ricard 1988.
The French Grand Prix at the high speed Paul Ricard track once again spelled disaster for Williams' competitiveness. Moreover, they ran the risk of once again overloading the engines. As fate would have it however, other factors would once again end both drivers' races.
Mansell started from an impressive 9th considering the circumstances, but only made it to lap 48 of 80 when the reactive suspension failed. Patrese had to make his way from 15th on the grid, but was out after just 35 laps with brake failure.
With twelve retirements out of fourteen entries, Williams was starting to panic. The reigning world champions had only scored a single point in the first half of the season. It was clear something had to be done.
Fed up with his underpowered and unreliable car, Nigel Mansell did the only thing he knew how to in practice for the British Grand Prix: drive as fast as was humanly possible. Unfortunately, his car wasn't as brave as he was.
Multiple high speed offs were the result. This, coupled to Williams general bad form and lack of reliability, led Mansell to announce his switch to Ferrari for 1989. For the time being however, he had to make do with the Williams. At the end of that messy Friday session, he was only 13th. His teammate fared even worse, being stranded on P20.
Equally miffed with the poor performance of the reactive FW12, technical director Patrick Head decided enough was enough. Overnight, he and his mechanics converted the cars to conventional spring and damper suspension. Previously, he had told his drivers such modifications would require months of redesign work on the chassis, but these were desperate times.
The FW12 was undrivable at Silverstone
Even so, Head wasn't sure the gung-ho modification would actually work. There was no telling how the car would react, as it had been designed with reactive suspension in mind from the get-go.
Qualifying came and went, and when the results came in the Williams garage collectively let out a sigh of relief. Though Mansell improved marginally to 11th, Patrese recovered 18 seconds and bumped himself up to 15th place.
Nevertheless, both drivers were ecstatic with their converted cars, as they were finally able to rely on consistent handling characteristics instead of the cars changing from corner to corner.
The race was the first held in the wet since the 1985 Belgian Grand Prix, and as expected from British weather, it wasn't a light drizzle. Nigel Mansell displayed heroics in front of his home crowd, scything through the field to enter a fierce battle for third with Mauricio Gugelmin (March) and Alessandro Nannini (Benetton).
Mansell had the drive of his life in the wet.
Mansell managed to best both of them and went on the hunt for Gerhard Berger's Ferrari. In the process he set the fastest lap of the race on a drying track on lap 48.
Two laps later he caught and passed the ailing Ferrari, which was struggling with excessive fuel consumption. Ayrton Senna's McLaren was out of reach, but second place felt like a victory for Mansell and the plagued Williams team. Patrese meanwhile managed to secure a respectable eight.
A delighted Mansell on the podium, Silverstone 1988.
The highs of Silverstone were immediately met with a return to bad form at the incredibly high speed Hockenheim. Williams pulled out all the stops to mitigate their lack of power, fitting an extremely low drag rear wing to the FW12. Despite this, both cars qualified as expected: Mansell 11th, Patrese 13th.
Once again the race was run under wet conditions, with thunderstorms on Sunday morning. The tricky conditions, high speeds and the extreme low downforce setup caused trouble for the Williams squad, as both drivers spun off into retirement early on. Nigel Mansell lost it on lap 16, followed by Riccardo Patrese on lap 34.
Riccardo Patrese displaying the special low drag wing for Hockenheim.
The FW12 once again proved to be suited to tight and twisty tracks on the Hungaroring. Nigel Mansell pulled off a surprisingly quick lap for P2, only .108 of a second from pole sitter Ayrton Senna. Riccardo Patrese also recorded his best qualifying position with a 6th ahead of Alain Prost in the second McLaren.
Mansell was able to threaten Senna for the lead at the start, but eventually had to yield to the McLaren's 115 horsepower turbocharged advantage. Meanwhile Patrese made a hell of a start to slot in third.
The Williams duo harassing Ayrton Senna, Hungaroring 1988.
Nigel was able to keep Senna honest, but on lap 12 he cut it a bit too close, spinning and dropping down to 4th as his Williams suffered from the effects dirty air behind the McLaren. Mansell stopped to replace flatspotted tires, and eventually retired of fatigue on lap 58, still suffering from the effects of chickenpox.
Patrese continued the assault on Senna, but had to back off when his engine started protesting once again. Luckily for the Italian, the Judd held it together to see him finish sixth, recording his second point of the season.
Martin Brundle got his big break replacing Mansell.
With Nigel Mansell still affected by his chicken pox diagnosis, Williams brought in former Tyrrell and Zakspeed driver Martin Brundle to replace him for the Belgian Grand Prix. Brundle had grown tired of racing underfunded machinery, and had taken a year out to join Tom Walkinshaw Racing and Jaguar in sportscar racing.
Riccardo Patrese duly took his chance as team leader and qualified an impressive 12th on the normally heavily power-dependent Spa Francorchamps circuit. Brundle held his own in an unfamiliar car, qualifying 12th. On race day the roles were reversed: Patrese retired with engine failure on lap 30, while Martin Brundle narrowly missed out on a point by finishing 7th.
Start of the race, Spa Francorchamps 1988.
Mansell's chickenpox was letting up in time for him to rejoin the team at Monza, forcing Williams to attempt to retain Martin Brundle. The team was pleased with his services, but Brundle unfortunately couldn't stick around. Tom Walkinshaw personally vetoed Brundle's second drive and made him unavailable.
What followed would turn out to be perhaps the most infamous driver swap in Formula One history. With Brundle out, test driver Jean-Louis Schlesser was given the nod. The Frenchman had very little F1-experience, having bought his way into the RAM team back in 1983.
Jean-Louis Schlesser inspecting his ride, Monza 1988.
After a one-off drive in the non-championship Race of Champions at Brands Hatch, where he started 13th (and last) and finished sixth, he failed to qualify for the French Grand Prix. Schlesser was the slowest of the 29 entrants, qualifying some 9.194 seconds slower than Alain Prost, then at Renault.
The long straights of Monza weren't too kind to the underpowered Williams, but Riccardo Patrese still managed to plant his FW12 on the tenth grid spot. His new teammate was not so fortunate. Jean-Louis Schlesser found himself stuck in 22nd, but was still set for his first Grand Prix start, just a day before his 40th birthday.
Jean-Louis Schlesser in his one and only Grand Prix, Monza 1988.
While Patrese had a steady race, eventually climbing up to seventh, Schlesser managed to shock the paddock in a decidedly contentious incident. As had become the norm in 1988, Ayrton Senna was comfortably leading the race.
Senna was the only McLaren driver left after a rare Honda engine failure took out Alain Prost, but the Brazilian looked set to add another win to Woking's tally. When he came up to lap Schlesser at the Rettifilo chicane however, that all changed.
In what could be described as the move that defined the season, Schlesser outbraked himself on the outside, appearing to leave room for the McLaren on the inside. Never one to leave a gap unfilled, Senna went for it, thinking Schlesser would take himself off straight through the grass.
The Frenchman was however able to regain control, and jinked to the inside to stay on the track, damaging the MP4/4's right rear suspension in the process. The McLaren vaulted over the Williams' front wheels, spun around and beached itself on the outside kerb, unable to continue with just two laps to go.
Instead, the Ferraris of Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto took an emotional 1-2 in front of the tifosi, a mere month after the death of Enzo Ferrari. Schlesser eventually finished behind 11th, two laps down on Berger, and behind Ayrton Senna, who was classified 10th as he had completed 90% of the race distance and was too far ahead at the moment of retirement.
Jean-Louis Schlesser would never drive in a Grand Prix ever again.
At Estoril, Nigel Mansell had finally become fit enough to retake his seat. He returned in style, taking P6 in qualifying, some six tenths ahead of Riccardo Patrese in 11th. However, neither driver made it to the finish once again. Patrese had to give up with a broken radiator after 29 laps, while Mansell took himself out with a spin on lap 54.
Controversy once again surrounded the Williams team at the Spanish Grand Prix, as Riccardo Patrese came to blows with rookie Tyrrell driver Julian Bailey. While Patrese was on a fast lap, Bailey was just heading to the pits, and the pair unfortunately found each other.
Patrese had to brake hard to avoid the Tyrrell and subsequently had his lap ruined. Furious, the Italian moved over on Bailey and brake-tested him, sending his car up on its back wheels. The damaged Tyrrell rolled onto the grass and Riccardo went right back to his qualifying run.
Inexplicably, the FIA blamed Julian Bailey and Tyrrell in general for being too slow and getting in the way, holding a meeting with both Bailey and teammate Jonathan Palmer to prevent further incidents.
After a stern talking to by burly team boss Ken Tyrrell, the officials reviewed the incident and promptly blamed Patrese, fining him $10.000 for his troubles. However, with his reputation as the most experienced driver on the grid, Patrese's actions drew more ire from his colleagues, many of which thought the punishment was not severe enough considering the potential consequences.
Mansell challenging Senna, Jerez 1988.
The controversy tarnished a good weekend for Williams at Jerez, as Nigel Mansell qualified a fine third. Riccardo Patrese eventually gathered up a lap good enough for seventh. Mansell managed to muscle his way past Senna at the start, and began the hunt for Alain Prost.
The Englishman was able to keep pace with the powerful McLaren, but passing was out of the question due to the sheer straight line speed difference. A jammed wheel nut saw him drop further back during the pitstops, but he was able to maintain his second place.
Meanwhile, Patrese had gone for a no-stop strategy, finishing a fine fifth. With just two races left to go, this marked the first time all season that both Williams cars finished in the points. It was hardly something to be proud of.
Mansell ahead of Michele Alboreto, Alessandro Nannini, Patrese and Andrea de Cesaris, Suzuka 1988.
Williams fell back to mediocrity in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, with Mansell placing 8th and Patrese 11th. The race was marred by changeable conditions as spots of rain began to fall from lap 14.
Ten laps later, Nigel Mansell's race was over. In his haste to lap his former teammate, he tagged Nelson Piquet's Lotus in the final chicane. The Brazilian had been suffering from flu-like symptoms and complained of double vision, which certainly didn't help prevent the incident. Piquet soldiered on for ten more laps before retiring, completely exhausted.
Meanwhile, Riccardo Patrese kept his cool and drove to a respectable 6th place, once again scoring a single point.
Nigel Mansell, Adelaide 1988.
The season finale on the streets of Adelaide started promising. Once again, the FW12 proved to be an agile, capable chassis on tight tracks where power wasn't as much of a factor. Nigel Mansell qualified third, with Riccardo Patrese lining up in 6th.
On race day, Nelson Piquet once again frustrated his former employers by taking third after the start, ending up ahead of Patrese and Mansell. Riccardo tried feverishly to pass the turbo Lotus, but spun himself out on lap 53. Mansell then took over, but was also unable to pass the Brazilian in his ill-handling, but much powerful car. Mansell's fervor led to him overcooking his brakes, resulting in a spin and a wall tap, ending his last race for Williams in retirement.
His teammate had recovered from his spin in the meantime, and was able to salvage a fourth place finish for three more World Championship points. This brought Williams to a total of 20, some 121 points less than the team had scored in 1987.
1988 was clearly a year to forget for Williams.
With the balance made up, 1988 went into Williams' history books as their worst season since since 1978, the second year the team had even existed. The reactive suspension system's flaws were seemingly incurable, with the weak and unreliable Judd V8 unable to mask its shortcomings as the Honda V6 turbo had done in 1987.
With extremely inconsistent handling, a chronic lack of power and no real reliability to speak of, the FW12 was doomed to fail from the start. It was only when the feeble reactive system was removed that the car found competitive pace, but only on the tightest and twistiest of tracks. In the end political battles between Williams, Honda and McLaren, had robbed the car of competing with a potent powerplant.
Renault would power Williams to never before seen heights.
For 1989 however, the car would be relieved of its sub-par costumer engine. French automotive giant Renault had decided to return to the sport as an engine supplier in the new 3.5L atmo-era, developing the RS1 V10.
With the FW13 needing more development time, the FW12 was adapted to accept the Renault-unit to become the FW12C. In this form, the car would contest most of the 1989 season, becoming a regular challenger for podiums and even victories in the hands of Riccardo Patrese and Thierry Boutsen.