With Patrick Head leaving the Formula One side to take up a position with Williams Hybrid Power, Kate Walker caught up with the Williams stalwart in Brazil to discuss the past, present and future.
- Patrick Head
Are you able to confirm the rumours that this is going to be your last race with the team? Even going back a long time - when we were winning championships - I didn't go to all the races. There was usually somebody else, like Frank Dernie, Adrian Newey, who did half the races and I did the other half. In recent years I've been doing less than half the races, anyway. My focus is going towards Williams Hybrid Power, which is another growing company with about 30 people in it at the moment, doing some very interesting projects away from the Formula One side, but I'm still a shareholder in the F1 team, so I will be keeping an eye on how they're getting on.
What would you say - other than the team itself - has been your legacy in your years with Williams? I don't really think of legacy. Motorsport, at all levels, is about people. We've had some great people through Williams in my time, a number of whom are still at Williams and a number of whom have moved on to other teams. I'm not claiming that I trained them, but maybe they learned something from me. People like Ross Brawn, Neil Oatley, even Adrian Newey - these people and many, many others passed through Williams. We've been successful together and they've gone on to be successful at other teams.
One of the things that always comes to mind when your name is mentioned is the innovations for which you were famous, which the FIA later banned. Do you have a particular favourite? I'm not claiming it's an innovation exclusively of mine, but I did push and support the development of it: the active ride I was very keen on. It was, in effect, hydraulic control of the car attitude dynamically around the track. Unfortunately, it got banned - mainly because Ferrari proved to be completely inept at doing it themselves. They put pressure on the FIA, and ultimately it was banned on the basis that it was a driver aid. But it wasn't a driver aid in any way, it just raised the performance of the car. So that was an interesting one. We had two goes at what's called CVTs - continuously variable transmissions - and one was with a system that now goes under the name Torotrak and another one, later, was with Van Doorne, who are still producing CVTs. They were great engineers, Dutch company, and we worked closely together on that project. The project was at the track and running, but unfortunately - again - somebody got wind and assumed that it would be very quick and cost people a lot of money to follow down that route. So unfortunately it got banned before we were able to bring it to the track. We had the same problem with our six-wheeler; other people had done sixwheelers before, but not in the way we did it. We could have made it very successful, but that got banned as well. Unfortunately, it sounds like a waste of money because of things being banned, but in the course of those projects we learned an awful lot anyway, added to our engineering knowledge.
One of the things that makes Williams stand apart as a team is the way in which you've been able to be flexible, to adapt, and to last much longer than any of the other privateers. Do you think there's a future for privateers in Formula One? I think there's a future for privateers if they do a better job on the track than we've done this year. Fundamentally, that is a problem. I think the business model for Williams as a private company is not sustainable unless we - they - can do a much better job on the track. There's really no reason why they can't; it's just down to the talent and the open-mindedness, and the aggressive thinking of the engineers, because the equipment they have at Williams - I'm not saying it's identical, or just as good as it is at McLaren, but - it's fully competitive and there is no reason why… Next year we'll have the Renault engine, and I'm sure it will be exactly the same as the Renault engine that will be in the back of the Red Bull. So there's no real reason why the Williams team can't be running up at the front. Albeit, that I think that for the new people who have come in this year, to take the team from where it is to the front will probably take a couple of years.
And the drivetrain adjustment - will it take time to get used to running the Renault after the Cosworth, or is that not a problem? Maybe optimising everything, but we knew we'd be using the Renault engine way back in July, so we've had plenty of time to get the installation right, or as right as we can get it. I'm sure there'll be some optimising of that, but I think it will be a good step for the company. In particular, going forwards to 2014 and onwards, it will be a very important step.
And are you confident in the team going forwards? Adam Parr's got a growing role, you brought in Mike Coughlan; it's a time of change for Williams. Yes, very much so. I think some work's still got to be done on assuring the budget for next year. I'm very confident that they'll have a full and good budget for next year, but work's got to be done there. Obviously, we have Mike Coughlan now in position as technical director, Mark Gillan as chief operations engineer, Jason Somerville leading the aerodynamic department - some quite big changes within the team. But I think that the company recognises the capabilities of those people. Ultimately, the people we had leading before in many ways were good people, but we didn't get the mix right. We didn't get the balance of skills right. But I'm pretty confident that it will be a lot better for next year, and those people - they've all got good history behind them, the Gillans, the Coughlans, the Somervilles - but they've got the challenge to prove that they're the new Adrian Neweys, they're the top people. And they have the opportunity to do that - I'm sure they'll rise to the occasion.
Everyone's been talking about your drivers - or rumoured drivers - is there anything you can tell us about that? It's not something that I can talk about, but I think that the PDVSA situation is stable, from what I gather. I'm sure there will probably be something in the press about it coming up, but from what I understand it's stable. Obviously we've got to make a decision about the drivers. I can be pretty certain that Pastor [Maldonado] will be in the team next year; we've got to make a decision. We're up for making a decision, but we'll make a calm decision after the season. No particular timing, but I'm sure we'll make what we consider to be the best decision in the interests of the team.
There's an awful lot of talent looking for seats at the moment. That must be a great position for you to be in. It's a question of… One wants a mixture of speed, experience, leadership in a way, good feedback… All those things. There are a lot of good drivers out there. Fundamentally, our problem is the car. We're not really debating whether one person is two-tenths a lap quicker than another person. When you're 2.5s behind, yes, we've got to have the best we can in the cockpit. But fundamentally the big challenge is to get the car sorted out.
Could you tell us what your favourite grand prix memory is? I like to see our cars racing hard from the beginning of the race to the end of the race, being driven to the limit of the car's capability. In truth, I don't really look back on races, most of them I don't really remember. But there were some outstanding races between Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet in '87 and '86 when they were literally like qualifying laps every lap of the race. There were some races where, in those days - yes, we had a very good engine with Honda - but there were some races where I think we finished first and second and there wasn't another car on the same lap. Equally, Nigel with the active ride FW14 in 1992. And, in truth, some stunning races going way back - and I hardly remember those - we had a great race in 1980 at the French Grand Prix in [Paul] Ricard. Frank [Williams] is a great Francophile; we've never really had problems with the French. But our competition in those days were two Renault cars - turbo cars - and two Ligier cars; those were the people up against us. So it was quite nice in Paul Ricard, at the French Grand Prix in 1980, to come out on top and win the grand prix. There have been some fantastic times, but equally there have been… I can look at it and say that there were so many grands prix we should have won but didn't, which is always the way. Obviously the outstanding tragic event was Ayrton Senna's death at Imola in 1994. A great regret to all of us, and a terrible sadness to his family. It's been a long career, with many highs and a few lows.