The key is in the name. The founders of Williams Grand Prix Engineering, known for its exploits in Formula 1, have made their reputations and fortunes through the pursuit of advanced engineering for 40 years, so it is no wonder that for most of the years, the group has not had a outward-facing of the engineering of the operation.
This is probably more of a comment on the determination of the riders in the motor racing at the highest level than anything else. As Steve McQueen famous: racing is life and everything else is waiting. But Williams’s own hairs on the tongue co-founder, Sir Patrick Head, has a famous quote, also, labeling Williams as “an engineering company that just happened to go to motor racing” instead of the other way around.
This and the fact that in 2011, Williams became a public company – which increased its priority to make money for investors – is probably the reason why the famous Grove estate 12 miles south-west of Oxford today is the home of the rapid expansion of the technology business called Williams Advanced Engineering.
WAE of the managing director and leader of the light is Craig Wilson, a highly experienced Australian engineer, known for his role in the celebration of Tom Walkinshaw’s TWR Engineering business together in the 1980s and 1990s, and then as boss of Holden Australia’s Special Vehicles operation in Melbourne. At the end of 2013, Wilson returned to the united kingdom, when “he saw the writing was on the wall” to manufacturing cars in Australia, and was soon recruited by the group MD Mike O’driscoll, after a recommendation of the director of design of Jaguar, Ian Callum, a former colleague.
After three years, Wilson looks very much at home when he speaks to us in a meeting room on the spacious foyer. Outside and below, WAE people are hard at work in all the areas that will improve the car of the future: the aerodynamics and heat management, lightweight composite structures, energy storage systems and electrical transmissions. In addition, of course, selected non-F1 race projects. And all for paying customers.
“We have found our niche,” says Wilson, “is to provide energy efficient performance for our customers in all of its forms, with speed and precision. It sounds easy when you just say, but it is not.”
A couple of years before Wilson arrived, the business that has become Williams Advanced Engineering had been established around a project: Jaguar earthshattering plan for the manufacture of a batch of 250 C-X75 hybrid supercars in a seminal 2010 in Paris concept. The production was scheduled for 2013 until 2015, but Jaguar Land Rover chief Ralf Speth decided at the last minute to kill the project, citing the need to look for more pressing major activities such as the XE and F-Pace. Williams was left with 60 engineers and an elegant headquarters on the same basis as the F1 operation, but very little to do with them. There was a small military project and the engineers were helping Caterham, then F1 team with aero tests, but, in essence, the cupboard was bare.
Wilson, with enough experience in the ups and downs of the car game of your TWR years ago, I started to search up to the age of engineering contacts in the job search consulting, which provides in-depth knowledge and promising top class customer service. Account both in the engineering services business, he says, as in the retail trade. “We’ve had a great basis for a business,” he says, “but we had to find our place in the world”.
Eon Productions, producer of James Bond films, provided that the early attention by the decision that a V8-powered C-X75 would be a perfect car for the villain in the film Spectre, as well WAE built a small run of prototypes, including one that was destined to burn to the ground. As part of that, the engineers were asked to design and fit a pedaloperated clutch to one of the paddleshift prototypes, because Eon the tip of the drivers could not pull up a particular movie maneuver without it. Have managed to the night to the morning, her speed even impress your F1 neighbors.
Another one of the first clients was Porsche. WAE did the by-wire braking system for the 919 racer, in addition to quite a lot of the car’s aerodynamic test, because Grove wind tunnel was one of the few in Europe sufficiently advanced for the work, and the new limits of the F1 aero (tests previously carried out 24/7) meant that the group had suddenly tunnel of hours that could be sold.
“It was a good source of income, but that was not the main thing,” says Wilson. “Porsche were very motivated, very rigorous. They taught us things. We have improved our hardware and our procedures as a result of having you as a customer for two years. We ended up far ahead of where we would have been working for ourselves – and benefited from our F1 effort, too.”
This, says Wilson, is a advantage of your organization that goes beyond pure profits. Work for you, and you run the risk of aging. Compete with others outside of the company and will remain strong – which then helps you to your house of performance.
We began to discuss Williams ‘ role in the 2015 Land Rover Evoque, And project (an SUV electric in a new platform) to which Williams is cited as one of the seven partners – but confidentiality is a problem. Companies like this can only speak selectively about its activities, and in Williams case there is any other impediment: the stock exchange. Wilson can’t spill the beans on WAE the profitability and achievement without telling the shareholders in the first place.
However, WAE’s accomplishments speak quite well for themselves. “Our count is 200 people and we’re very profitable,” he says, while I’m forming my own impressions. There are a lot of rumors about this place, which has tripled its staff in three years. In the entrance hall stands of Aston Martin electric Rapide prototype of a car that was launched a year ago by the visit of the Chinese prime minister, and surely it must contain all of the information that will improve the battery crossover DBX is planned for production in a couple of years. Aston Martin really need the DBX if it is to drive annual sales to 10,000-plus needed to generate significant profits and, perhaps, fuel a potential public float.
Talking about modern things, it is only two months since Jaguar launched its new team in Formula E, citing WAE as his “close collaborator”. Wilson, appointed as race director, adds little, but I have my own very clear vision of what it means. Even more recently, Jaguar has launched its Pace electric SUV concept, new naming Williams as a key partner.
One of the main the direction of WAE’s work is becoming more and more obvious – especially when it is shown to us in a templelike laboratory, where a Formula E battery, complex and super-secret, it is open to our view. Williams, as the single-stream battery supplier for the electric single-seater race series, is proud of its excellent record of reliability, and is understandably perplexed at the recent abrupt decision of the authorities to move the contract to supply the next generation of batteries to McLaren the following season.
Other activities include participation in a large-scale energy storage project in Germany, the use of part-spent car batteries as the medium. They may have lost 20% of its capacity and ended its useful life in cars, says Wilson, but you can do a useful work in a battery bank for another 20 years.
There is so much more: military projects, aerospace projects, a plan for the construction of driving simulators autonomous, a project for the electrification of a popular brand of folding bikes through a shaft of the motor in the front wheel. Williams even built a competition bike for the gold medal winning River paralympian Karen Darke. WAE has 41 jobs on the go at present, all of them urgent. The variety is not only the spice of life, says Wilson, is the thing that keeps you strong.