Designers – Sir Patrick Head

The Colin Chapman F1 Design Peers series

Sir Patrick Head: Winning by a Head at Williams


The A&R considers that Colin Chapman’s design career in FI embraced two periods:-

  1. From the inception of Lotus cars to the late 1960’s early 1970’s
  2. The mature period covering the wings/ ground effect and turbo era until his sad and early death in 1982

We don’t know what he might have achieved had he lived beyond this.

The FI designs of Colin Chapman were considerable not least because of his relatively low budget .He did not have the resources of a multinational to cross-subsidize its racing programme against publicity and a means of developing its engineers.

In order to evaluate Colin Chapman better the A&R is committing to a series of benchmarking exercises analyzing the design achievements of his peers.

These design studies are a natural complement to our series on Design Heroes that gives priority to Industrial and Product Designers.

The Designers

We offer the list below and would be interested to hear from our subscribers if they would like to make other recommendation for inclusion and also if they have priority/ preference in our selection.

We appreciate that some of these designers were colleagues of Colin Chapman at Lotus at some point in their careers but went onto achieve success in their own right.

As a prompt subscribers might like to use the list to pencil in those cars they associate with the designers.

Designer Marque Model

Len Bailey
Dave Baldwin
Ralph Ballamy
John Barnard
Michel Beaujos
Nigel Bennett
Eric Broadley
Gustav Brunner
Rory Bryne
Paul Carillo
Colin Chapman
Carlo Chiti
John Clark
Peter Connew
Gordon Coppuck
Andre de Cortanze
Frank Dernie
Richard Divila
Gerrard Ducarouge
Geoffrey Ferns
Mauro Forghieri
Derek Gardner
John Gentry
Chuck Graemiger
Herve Guilpin
Patrick Head
Robin Herd
Jean-Pierre Jabouille
Ray Jessop
Georges Martin
Tico Martini
Alan McCall
Arturio Merzario
Kenij Mimura
Robert Morin
Vic Morris
Gordon Murray
Morris Nunn
Martin Ogilivie
Masa Ono
Enzo Osella
Luciano Pederzani
Maurice Phillippe
Mike Pilbeam
Harvey Postlethwaite
Adrian Reynard
Franco Rochi
Ken Sears
Tony Southgate
Giorgio Stirano
Ray Stokoe
Nigel Stroud
John Surtees
Andy Swallman
Ron Tauranac
Len Terry
Michel Tetu
Antonio Tomaini
Martin Walter
Tim Wardrop
Dave Wass
Peter Wright
Edy Wyss

Each of the assessments will adopt a set format for a degree of uniformity and fairer evaluation. The assessment criteria as follows [but again we are happy to take suggestions from our subscribers]:-

    • Brief biography and design methodology
    • FI car design
    • Sport / sports racing car design
    • Road car design
    • Consultancy and any other product design
    • Legacy or design influence

The editors are thinking of starting with Gordon Murray but will be influenced by our regular subscribers. The editors have been influenced by “The Art of the Formula 1 Car” but aesthetics alone will not influence inclusion.

Our discussion and analysis of Sir Patrick Head and Williams is topical.

Williams have earnt a place in the Parthenon of F1.Their decision for the family to withdraw in 2020 ends an important era in British based F1.

Sir Patrick Head might be considered one of the greatest F1 designers. He has been accorded honours commensurate with his contribution.

Williams competed directly with Lotus for approximately two decades. Lotus possibly indicating directions to take in several technological developments [examples being ground effect and Active Suspension .Sir Patrick Head, his colleagues at Williams created some very significant cars, won F1 glory and introduced some extremely advanced technology of their own initiative along with radical concepts like the FW 08

They have legacy and it’s to be hoped they can continue and prosper inspiring F1 progress as they have in the past.

Frank Williams


“Frank Williams enthusiasm, commitment,and utter singlemindedness have established his team as one of the very best in the GP business, earning him as much respect in the 1980’s as Colin Chapman was accorded in the preceding two decades……..”

Lotus 78&79 [1977-79], Williams FW07 series [1979-1982]

Two excellent works giving thorough technical analysis of these cars are provided by Nye and Incandela [see bibliography below]. This includes explanatory diagram and cut-away drawings of both F1 contenders.

Subscribers are directed to our dedicated pieces on the Lotus types.

Both authors mentioned use diagrams by Giorgio Piloa to explain ground effect.

Here with a primary focus on Williams we quote Nye:-

“After the Lotus 78 and 79 had so successfully introduced “ground effect” aerodynamics in 1977 -78 the replacement Lotus 80 flopped and it was left to others to hone the ground effect principles to its keenest edge.

The most successful of these successors to the Lotus 79 was the long line of Patrick Head-designed Saudi-Williams FW07s”………….

……….The Williams men now began to appreciate FW07’s enormous potential.

The type would evolve as the most successful of the ground effects era C1 chassis winning two consecutive Constructors Championships titles in 1980-81……….”

Sir Patrick Head

“Having decided against a career in the Royal Navy, Patrick Head graduated from University College London in 1970 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He immediately joined the chassis manufacturer, Lola, in Huntingdon and it was during this period that Patrick and Frank Williams first met.

In 1976, Patrick was approached by Williams to spearhead the design department of what became, the following year, Williams Grand Prix Engineering. The team raced a customer March chassis at first, but in 1978 the Patrick Head-designed FW06 made its race debut. The ground effect FW07 came next and the car took the first of the team’s 113 wins at the 1979 British Grand Prix. Four more victories followed that season, resulting in Williams finishing second in the Constructors’ Championship.

Patrick’s 1980 car took Alan Jones and the team to both world titles, securing Williams as a front-runner. As more success followed in the ’80s, Patrick moved away from designing the cars himself and created the role of Technical Director. He oversaw the processes of design, construction, racing and testing, bringing together all of the different disciplines. It was during the ’80s that Patrick was credited with many revolutionary concepts, including a six-wheeler, which tested in ’82, and continuously variable transmission, which replaced the car’s conventional gearbox. However, neither of these systems made it onto the grid due to rule changes.

In 1986, following Frank’s road car accident, Patrick was forced to assume control of the team. Under his temporary stewardship, the team secured the Constructors’ titles in 1986 and both the Constructors’ and Drivers’ title (with Nelson Piquet) in ’87. In 1990 Williams hired engineer Adrian Newey. Both he and Patrick rapidly formed the outstanding design partnership of the decade with their cars achieving a level of dominance never previously seen, and not repeated until the Ferrari/Schumacher era a decade later. In the seven-year period between 1991 and ’97, Williams took 59 race wins, five Constructors’ titles and four Drivers’ titles.

The company continued to expand over the following years and Patrick changed his role from Technical Director to Director of Engineering, until on 31 December 2011 he stepped down from the WGPH Board of Directors.

In 2015, the Queen knighted Patrick in her birthday honours for his services to Motorsport.

Williams FW07

Hodges commented:-

“FW07 Williams’- and Head’s –first ground effect car was exemplary, and to a greater extent than the FW06 it marked the team’s transition from a British kit car

Builder to a fully fledged constructor with the resources to dedicate time and effort to research and test programmes”

Gordon Murray commented:-

“Patrick Head is another one of those solid engineers.He was excellent at looking around at what everyone else was doing and then making a better version of it.

This whole period of Williams’s chassis was like that-not innovating in their own right, but really making the best of what was around and turning it into a solidly engineered car that could win championships.”

Williams FW14 from the nets:-

“One of the great F1 cars, the FW14B combined active suspension and traction control to move the technical goalposts in 1992. Nigel Mansell won nine of the 16 races, which was a record at the time, on his way to the drivers’ title.

One of the most dominant machines in F1 history, the FW14B was only beaten to pole position once, by Ayrton Senna at the Canadian GP. It also looked fantastic, particularly with Mansell’s red five adding an extra splash of colour to the already iconic blue, yellow and white Williams scheme of the time.

The FW14B had an attractive low nose, which was soon to go out of fashion, partly due to the much more ugly Benettons. The body was also smooth and uncluttered – bargeboards and complicated aero flicks hadn’t quite arrived just yet.

In some ways, the 1993 FW15C was a neater machine, but we don’t think it’s quite as imposing as the FW14B – and it had to use narrower rear tyres due to a rule change aimed at controlling lap times.”

Gordon Murray commented:-

“You can see the family resemblance to the Leyton House, the clean aero. With that, and all the power and all the electronics it’s no wonder it was pretty much untouchable…………..

I was out of F1 by the time this car raced.And thank God I was, that time was just a dead end for F1

That direction-active suspension, traction control, and so on- it was totally the wrong thing to do.It was never going to lead anywhere, except to pain and rears and complication and to many failures in the races for spectators.

It took too much away from the spectacle “

FW15C from wiki:-

“As the car that won both the drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships in the last season before the FIA banned electronic driver aids, the FW15C (along with its racing predecessor FW14B) was, in 2005, considered to be the most technologically sophisticated Formula One car of all time, incorporating anti-lock brakes, traction control and active suspension.[2]

Building on the hugely successful FW14B which took Nigel Mansell and Williams to both titles in 1992, the car was the first all-new car to be produced by Patrick Head and Adrian Newey in collaboration (Head had designed many of Williams’s previous cars, while Newey had designed cars for the March and Leyton House Racing teams).

The FW15C used a semi-automatic transmission very similar to the FW14B, but with changes to the hydraulic activation system. A press button starting device by means of which the clutch comes under automatic control, attracted the drivers unreserved approval during a succession of tests, but they did not use it in races, preferring the notional, psychological reassurance of controlling the clutch pedal at the start.

The transmission also featured an automatic system. If the “auto-up” button is pressed, which could be at any time on the circuit, it will do automatic changes until the next time drivers call for a gear change with the levers. The software is so programmed that it recognises when a driver calls for a gear change before the automatic system is ready to do so and immediately hands back control to the manual system.”

Category Formula One
Constructor Williams
Designer(s) Patrick Head (Technical Director)
Adrian Newey (Chief Designer)
Paddy Lowe (Head of Electronics)
Eghbal Hamidy (Chief Aerodynamicist)
Predecessor FW14
Successor FW16
Technical specifications[1]
Chassis Carbon fibre and Aramid monocoque
Suspension (front) Pushrod, Williams hydro pneumatic active suspension system
Suspension (rear) Pushrod, Williams hydro pneumatic active suspension system
Axle track Front: 1,670 mm (66 in)
Rear: 1,600 mm (63 in)
Wheelbase 2,921 mm (115.0 in)
Engine Renault RS5, 3,493 cc (213.2 cu in), 67° V10, NA, mid-engine, longitudinally mounted
Transmission Williams 6-speed semi-automatic
Weight 505 kg (1,113 lb)
Fuel Elf

Design Methodology


“But I think every body forgets the crucial role played by Patrick Head in educating Honda to the fundamental philosophy of contemporary F1 design. He was the one who showed them that a powerful engine alone was not enough, that it needed to be integrated into an overall package “

“Williams of course was the last of the front-line teams in climb aboard the carbon-fibre composite bandwagon, practical and down-to-earth Patrick Head not willing to make the transition until he had all the specialist manufacturing facilities under his own factory roof………………

He always held constructional integrity to be an equal priority in his own personal philosophy alongside competitive performance……………


“Alright I’ll admit we weren’t a bit slow off the mark developing our own composites………..but I have always tried to adopt a practical approach to building our race cars……….”


We like our technology at Williams but we don’t go racing with the gizmos for the sake of it………….to beat them is by building a car that’s plain faster.

All this trick stuff-active ride, semi-automatic gearbox, and so on –should make things easier and less tiring for the drivers, as well as make the car quicker”

Significant engineering Personnel at Williams

  • Neil Oatley
  • Frank Dernie
  • Ross Brawn

Learning Opportunities

Our learning /educational opportunities are intended to be challenging thought provoking and requiring additional research and/or analysis.

These opportunities are particularly designed for a museum/education centre location where visitors would be able to enjoy access to all the structured resources available in conjunction with any concurrent exhibition.

In this instance we suggest the following might be appropriate:-

  • Lotus Designers and cars competed against each other and feature in our series, see appendix 2 below and benchmark
  • Chapman mutated ideas and technology, Williams progressed and perfected what is the difference?
  • How does Patrick Head-design methodology apply in the where of Industrial/ Product design? Which manufacturers have succeeded by this method?
  • To what extent did engines benefit Williams?
  • Williams were subject to politics to what extent does it continue in F1?
  • Examine Williams from the organizational perspective-what has been its respective strength and weakness? What does the future hold?
  • Patrick Head was a designer and part owner at Williams how might this reflect in design methodology?
  • Head and Williams considered the 6 wheel racing car which other marques attempted this?
  • List Williams F1 championship drivers

Exhibitions, Education and Economics

In the museum context the editors believe that commercial considerations are both necessary and complementary with its educational objectives.

For these reasons our suggested outline Business Plan includes provision for promoting products and services which share Chapman’s ideals of mechanical efficiency and sustainability. In addition we propose merchandising that explain and interprets the social and cultural context of Chapman’s designs in period. It’s suggested there will be catalogue for on line purchasing.

In this instance we suggest the following might be appropriate:-

  • Williams Head race
  • Head on the block at Williams
  • Keeping up with the Jones at Williams
  • Head boy at Williams
  • Head start at Williams
  • Winning by a Head at Williams
  • Williams Head Long into F1
  • Eastern promise Sponsor at Williams
  • Head, brains and Brawn at Williams


In bullet form we evaluate:-

  • Frank Williams was a remarkable man, strategist and team owner
  • He with Patrick Head and an extraordinary team achieved exceptional results consistently
  • Although perhaps not thought of as innovative Williams considered the 6-wheel FW08
  • Patrick Head’s approach to design and business has lessons for Industrial/Product design and perhaps also for the importance of patents
  • As we write Williams family are leaving F1 but the brand created will have a lasting legacy
  • Lotus and Williams are linked and significantly both have double entry in The Art of the F1 Race car. Both possess an aesthetic


“Between 1980and 1997,Williams won the constructors championship nine times, seldom innovating, but always taking the best technology available and –improving it”

From the net:-

“If it was the bloody-mindedness of Sir Frank Williams that got Williams onto the grid in 1977, it was the technical genius of Sir Patrick Head that helped turn them into race winners within three years, and championship winners within four.

Established as frontrunners after taking the drivers’ and constructors’ titles in 1980, Technical Director Head then oversaw the genesis of some of the finest Formula 1 cars to ever compete in the championship, the apotheosis being arguably the technical tour de force that was the 1993 FW15C, the active suspension marvel that carried Alain Prost to his fourth and final world championship.

With nine constructors’ and seven drivers’ titles in his locker, Head’s record as one of Grand Prix racing’s technical giants is unequivocal.”

We invite subscribers to bench mark Patrick Head with Colin Chapman using criteria set out in appendix below.

Appendix 1

Colin Chapman’s Achievement
F1 Constructors & Drivers Championship
Le Mans
British Club level
Single seat formula below F1
Iconic Road cars
Technical /engineering innovations
Development of human talent
Facilitation & sponsorship
Aesthetic appreciation
Product Design
Design Methodology
Legacy, continuity, heritage
Impact on popular culture
Contribution to British economy
Significant Awards
Documentation, books & articles etc.

Appendix 2: Design Peers relative to FW07 & FW14 data from Cimarosti.

Year Marque Model Designer Designer
1979 Alfa Romeo T177 Carlo Chitti
ditto Arrows A2 Tony Southgate Dave Wass
ditto ATS D2
ditto Brabham BT48 Gordon Murray
ditto Ensign MN09 Morris Nunn
ditto Ferrari 312 T4 Mauro Forghieri
ditto Fittipaldi F5A Ralph Bellamy
ditto Fittipaldi F6 Ralph Bellamy
ditto Ligier JS 11 Gerard Ducarouge Paul Carillo
ditto Lotus 79 Colin Chapman Martin Ogilvie
ditto Lotus 80 Colin Chapman Martin Ogilvie
ditto McLaren M28 Gordon Coppuck
ditto McLaren M29 Gordon Coppuck
ditto Merzario A2
ditto Renault RS10 Michel Tetu
ditto Shadow DN9/B Tony Southgate John Baldwin
ditto Tyrrell OO9 Maurice Phillippe
ditto Williams FW07 Patrick Head
ditto Wolf WR9 Harvey Posthlewaite
1991 AGS JH26/JH27 Michel Costa
ditto Benetton B191 John Barnard Rory Byrne
ditto BMS Dallara 191 Gian P. Dallara Nigel Coperthwaite
ditto Brabham BT60Y Sergio Rinland
ditto Coloni C/4 91 Christian Vanderpleyn
ditto Ferrari 642/643 Steve Nichols Jean -Claud Migeot
ditto Fondmetal GR1 Tino Belli
ditto Footwork FA12 Alan Jenkins
ditto Jordan 191 Gary Anderson
ditto Lambo 291 Mauro Forghieri
ditto Larrousse L-91 Gerard Ducarouge Michel Tetu
ditto Leyton House CG 911 Gustav Brunner Chris Murphy
ditto Ligier JS 35B Frank Dernie Michel Beaujon
ditto Lotus 102B Enrique Scalabroni Frank Coppuck
ditto McLaren MP4/6 Neil Oatley Henri Durand
ditto Minardi M191 Aldo Costa Rene Hilhorst
ditto Tyrrell o2o Harvey Posthlewaite George Ryton
ditto Williams FW14 Patrick Head Adrian Newey



ISBN: 1852603690

Art of the F1 race car.Codling.Motor Book.2010

ISBN: 9780760337328

Driving Forces.Henry.Patrick Stephens.1992.

ISBN: 185260302X

The Turbo Years.Henry.Crowood.1990.

ISBN: 1852333974

Grand Prix.Cimarosti.Arum.1997.

ISBN: 1854105000

The Anatomy & Development of the F1 Racing Car from 1975.Incandela.Book Club.1982.

History of the GP Car 1966-91.Nye.Hazelton.1992.

ISBN: 0905138945

A-Z of Formula Racine Cars. Hodges.Bayview.1990.

ISBN: 1870979168

Please note the editors of the A&R attempt to give the broadest spectrum of references but not all are available for consultation in an article. However by noting their existence it may assist students in their research.

*Items in italics non A&R library books.