Disastrous Defense – 1998 Williams FW20 Mecachrome


williams last 16.tif

1997 was an easy cruise to victory for British constructor Williams Grand Prix Engineering. Hiring top title-contending drivers that year with 1995 CART champion, Jacques Villeneuve (CAN). Teaming up with him is Heinz Harald Frentzen (GER), who in the few previous seasons impressed a lot of eyes with his performance at Swiss team Sauber.

Frentzen’s arrival wasn’t without disappointment from other parties, however. The party in question was no other than the champion of the previous year, Damon Hill. Hill was dropped from Williams to make way for Frentzen’s signing to the team. Hill then reluctantly signed with midfield team Arrows Grand Prix International.

1997

 

For Williams, 1997 was the season of everyone’s dreams. Their car, the FW19 performed amazingly, regularly finishing in the podium. Frank Williams’ empire was also something that other teams are really jealous of. They have Sir Patrick Head, a very intelligent engineer as their Technical Director. Adrian Newey OBE, a man very respected in the world of aerodynamics, as their main aerodynamicist. Newey had previously designed Williams’ championship-winning cars like Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese’s FW14, the very technological FW15 of Alain Prost and Damon Hill, and the previous year’s championship winning car of Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve, the FW18.

Along with great brains in the office, Williams also has one of the best partners. Their main sponsor, British American Tobacco’s (BAT) Rothmans International, provided vast amount of budget for the team. And of course, what is a car without an engine? Williams has one of the most successful engines in the 1990s. The engines in question is no other than the RS V10 engines from Renault. Renault’s RS V10s powered the cars that won the 1992 (FW14), 1993 (FW15), 1995 (B195), 1996 (FW18), and 1997 (FW19).

With all that in their sleeves, their only real threat was no other than Jean Todt’s Scuderia Ferrari and their top driver, Michael Schumacher. Villeneuve, Frentzen, and Schumacher were the ones to beat in the 1997 season, and with fans treated to an exciting and controversial season finisher in Jerez.

1998

Williams’ expectation curtailed for 1998. They (along with fellow Renault engine user, Benetton) lost Renault’s top performing RS engines as the French manufacturer pulled out of the series at the end of the previous season. Williams and Benetton then, were on a deep hunt. Their search for a new supplier came with none, however. So, what they did was they used the 1997-spec Renault engines badged as Mechachrome. Benetton would rebadge their engines as Playlife engines.

This already sounds like a very desperate attempt to stay in the league for 1998, doesn’t it?

Well, to make matters worse, Williams lost yet another key to their previous success and that is Chief Aerodynamicist Adrian Newey to rival British team McLaren. In Newey’s place at Williams is not one, but two people, Geoff Willis and Gavin Fisher.

Also changed was the blue and white Rothmans livery. In its place is fellow BAT cigarette product, Winfield and its red, gold, and white colors.

The 1998 challenger, dubbed the FW20, was the first car since the FW13 in 1991 to not bear Adrian Newey’s inputs on the design. Fisher, Willis, and Head however, didn’t really changed much of the design from the FW19, leaving some to comment, supported with the use of last year’s Renault engines, the FW20 was an FW19 adapted with 1998 regulations.

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