Will Gray

Tech Talk: F1′s respect for Head teacher

Will Gray

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Patrick Head

After 35 seasons, seven drivers titles, nine constructors' crowns, 113 wins and 126 poles, 65-year-old Patrick Head has quit Williams and left his drawing board for good - but while no longer on the F1 front line his influence will still be seen in the future.

A straight-talking, no-nonsense character, Head is the son of an army colonel and his corporal-like command of the ranks at Williams were one of the key foundations for the team and he is credited as one of the most influential designers in F1, overseeing three independent glory periods at Williams.

The first success came soon after he and Williams entered F1 in the late 1970s, when the 1979 FW07 took on Lotus at the ground-effect game and won, thanks to a stiff mechanical construction that led to an improved aerodynamic performance, bringing race wins and titles.

The second high point came when the relationship with Honda, which began in 1984, had bedded in. It saw a constructors' title in 1986 and a double in 1987, only for the team to drop off to nothing when Honda left for McLaren a year later.

A quick return to glory came with Renault just five years later, after the bedding in of that engine partnership and the nurturing of a vital relationship - between Head and a young aerodynamicist named Adrian Newey. The FW14B, with Newey's aerodynamics and Head's gearbox and active ride suspension, was one of the greatest F1 machines ever and Williams went on to be on top or thereabouts for seven seasons.

Head says he is "much more driven by contempt for failure than joy at success" and that he is "not one for jumping up and down when we win, because...that's why we're there in the first place." And it is this mentality that is key to his legacy.


Head's exit from Williams - given he is at retirement age - may not necessarily be an indication of any current issues within the team but his departing remarks made it clear he felt he had no value left to give to the current structure.

He became a less crucial figure at Williams in the last seven years, since handing over the technical director position to Sam Michael in 2004, and although he did help at the helm his lack of direct control will have been felt as the team slowly declined to a new low, putting just five points on the board last season.

There is no denying that the modern working of an F1 team has changed considerably since Head and Williams set up in the 1970s, but as Adrian Newey has shown, the influence of one successful person and the infiltration of their individual approach and philosophy can still be felt strongly when plugged in to the right network of people.

Head is responsible for helping to grow the careers of several such people, none less than Newey himself. Indeed, Ross Brawn, Neil Oatley and Frank Dernie also all worked under Head's supervision early in their careers and went on to design title-winning cars for teams including Benetton, Ferrari, Brawn and McLaren, while another former pupil, Geoff Willis, has been influential at Red Bull and is currently aiming to form a strong future for Mercedes.

For all these key F1 players, the lessons learned from their time spent with Head are integral to their success and will continue to shape those F1 engineers they school well into the future.

On top of this, Head has also had a direct influence on the formation of the sport's future itself, thanks to his position as joint leader of the FIA's Technical Working Group alongside former Ferrari designer Rory Byrne.

The pair initially came up with some radical concepts for a new raft of regulations, originally due to launch next year, with a steer towards the ground-effect influences that were so important when Head first arrived in F1.

While these have been much massaged since their initial announcement, and delayed until 2014, a significant part of their core conclusions and solutions remain. So, despite his departure, Head's final influence on F1 is still yet to come.

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