Williams is now one of the most respected names up and down the Formula One paddock. However, back in 1976, Williams would be just the latest in an unsuccessful line of privateer teams to make an appearance in Formula One. Little did anyone know the former Hesketh chassis would lead to multiple World Championships and a reputation as one of the series' best.
Frank Williams would realize his days as a driver had come to an end. Still, he knew full well that his real talent lay in running a racing team and financing the careers of young, talented drivers. Williams' first foray into Formula One would be successful with Piers Courage taking a couple of 2nd place results in a Brabham BT26A that Williams had purchased.
Williams' next important decision would be both unfruitful and deadly. Joining in partnership with De Tomaso for the 1970 season, the new car designed by Gian Paolo Dallara would be very uncompetitive early on. Then, if things couldn't get any worse after four straight retirements in the first four events of the 1970 season, Piers Courage would be killed in the car after it flipped and caught fire during the Dutch Grand Prix. Courage had been a good friend of Williams' and it would dramatically affect his relationship with drivers from that day on.
The tragic event would put the final exclamation point on what would be a terribly uncompetitive period and the eventual dissolving of the business partnership with De Tomaso. In spite of the poor results, Williams would manage to lure such partners as Politoys and Iso-Marlboro. However, the poor results would keep coming as both partners would be gone by 1974. This would leave Williams to carry on without major backing for the 1975 season.
Unfortunately, without major financial help Williams' team would hang on for dear life financially. Frank Williams would be on the verge of total disappearance when Walter Wolf, a Canadian oil millionaire, decided to buy the team before the 1976 season.
Although the team name would change to Walter Wolf Racing, Williams would be retained as the team manager. Frank Williams' early cars, not helped by lacking financial backing, would struggle and prove to be uncompetitive. Having helped Williams through his terrible debt ordeal, Wolf would look to help his new team become competitive right away. The answer would come in the form of any team's dissolution.
Lord Hesketh had been one of the last to shun corporate sponsorship and the moving billboards the cars were rapidly becoming. Unfortunately, corporately sponsored, and adorned, cars were the way of the future and Hesketh would fail to secure the financial backing he needed to keep his effort going without having to sport the advertising on his cars. This meant Hesketh's cars, equipment and personnel were for sale to the highest bidder. Having the necessary funds and the desire to start with a solid foundation, Wolf would purchase all of the assets of Hesketh's team. This meant Wolf would secure a couple of important elements for the 1976 season.
The first element Wolf would manage to secure by buying the Hesketh assets would be the abilities of Harvey Postlethwaite. The second element Wolf would secure would be a creation of Postlethwaite's, the Hesketh 308C.
Postlethwaite would create the Hesketh 308B in 1974. And in the hands of James Hunt, the car would be immediately successful winning the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort. Postlethwaite's 308B would feature a number of prominent innovations, including a rubber-sprung front suspension. This feature would allow the front suspension to be adjusted very precisely and helped the handling of the car immensely.
The 308, unlike Williams' cars, certainly seemed to be heading in the right direction. Looking to evolve the 308 into the 'C' model, Postlethwaite would merely take what was working on the previous model and fully integrated that into the latest evolution. Therefore, both the front and rear suspensions would boast of the rubber-sprung coil springs.
Postlethwaite had also designed the radiators for the 3.0-liter Cosworth DFV V8 engine to be mounted, not on the nose or on the leading edge of the sidepods, but longitudinally along the backside of the sidepod. This design feature would remain for the 308C but not without some changes. To further integrate with the nose of the car, Postlethwaite would design very low sidepods. The top of the sidepod would remain quite low to the ground, but the outer edge would rise to form something of a leading edge to help mount and protect the longitudinally-mounted radiators. This design feature would then create something of a channel that would direct airflow back toward the rear suspension and out the back of the car where the oil coolers were mounted.
Cleaner air and smooth aerodynamics would be the focus of Postlethwaite on the 308C. The 308B would feature the wedge-shaped nose that would be common throughout the 1970s. Often times this nose would be accented by the addition of another smaller wing element protruding further out beyond the nose of the car. This small wing-flap element would remain on the 308C, but the wedge-shaped nose would be steepened thereby removing more of the blunt edge the 308B had. The small wing-flap element would be attached to the more pointy nose of the 308C, and therefore, would look much more integral to the car's design.
Of course, while the nose and the sidepods would receive evolutions, it would be the area right behind the driver's head that would be one of the most noticeable differences between the 308B and the 308C. Postlethwaite's 308B would follow the trend at that time of having massive airboxes protruding high above the driver's head in an effort to direct as much airflow to the Cosworth engine as possible. The 308C would look much more aesthetically pleasing in that way as it would sport just two vents on either side of the driver's position in the cockpit to help direct airflow to the engine. This would help to give the car a much cleaner, more compact look.
Unfortunately, the evolutions made to the car would not ensure immediate success. In fact, just a single 4th place finish would be the best the 308C would manage to achieve before Hesketh would be forced to sell his entire team to Wolf. However, in Frank William's case, he now had a car with a lineage of success and that just likely needed some development work before it too could be successful.
Even before the deal with Williams would be final, Wolf would have Postlethwaite continue his work developing the 308C. And, in spite of the promise the rubber-sprung suspension offered, Postlethwaite would abandon the idea in favor of a conventional arrangement. Postlethwaite wouldn't be done there. Besides the suspension issue, Harvey would strengthen the tub of the car to handle the 485bhp produced by the Cosworth engine and to just increase the rigidity of the car for better handling.
When the deal with Frank Williams was finalized the Hesketh 308C would be rebranded as the FW05. Williams, despite his own financial difficulties and the need to sell the Frank Williams Racing Cars to Walter Wolf, would manage to encourage a newly-hired designer, by the name of Patrick Head, to stay on with the team. Unfortunately, the presence of Head and Postlethwaite could do little to stem the underachieving FW05. Just about the whole of the 1976 season would be utterly filled with retirements. In fact, throughout all of the rounds of the championship that year the FW05 would manage just a single race finish and that would come at the hands of Jacky Ickx in the first race of the season, the French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard. In that race Ickx would manage just a 10th place finish. And, after failing to qualify for the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch a couple of weeks later, Ickx would be forced to leave the team.
Despite the fact the cars were called FWs, and the team was known as Wolf-Williams, the team was majority owned by Walter Wolf. This put Wolf in charge of the team. And, after the poor performance throughout the 1976 season, Wolf would determine to make some changes. The biggest change would come in the form of removing Williams from his role of team manager. Wolf, however, recognized Williams' talents for securing sponsorships and backing, and therefore, wanted him to take on that role. Williams would have none of it and would make the decision to leave the team he had once formed to establish yet another one. Called Williams Grand Prix Engineering, Williams would partner with Patrick Head and the two would form the basis of what has become one of the most successful teams in Formula One history.
The FW05 would continue to be campaigned throughout the 1977 and 1978 seasons as part of the Shellsport G8 and Aurora AFX Championships. By the mid-1980s, FW05 would be taking part in historic races around England. Recently restored to its original condition during the 1976 season, the dark blue and gold livery would continue to be seen at historic grand prix events throughout England and Europe including the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Monaco Historic Grand Prix.Sources:
'Hesketh 308C Cosworth', (http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/4301/Hesketh-308C-Cosworth.html). Ultimatecarpage.com: Powered by Knowledge, Driven by Passion. http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/4301/Hesketh-308C-Cosworth.html. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
'Constructors: Walter Wolf Racing', (http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/con-walte.html). GrandPrix.com. http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/con-walte.html. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
'Williams FW05 Cosworth', (http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/4300/Williams-FW05-Cosworth.html). Ultimatecarpage.com: Powered by Knowledge, Driven by Passion. http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/4300/Williams-FW05-Cosworth.html. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
'3-liter Formula 1: Williams FW05/03', (http://www.oldracingcars.com/f1/car.php?CarID=FW05/3). OldRacingCars.com. http://www.oldracingcars.com/f1/car.php?CarID=FW05/3. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Frank Williams Racing Cars', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 11 December 2012, 11:27 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Frank_Williams_Racing_Cars&oldid=527512484 accessed 13 December 2012
Wikipedia contributors, 'Williams F1', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 11 December 2012, 13:35 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Williams_F1&oldid=527529918 accessed 13 December 2012By Jeremy McMullen