Rob Smedley may have teased as 'radical' upgrade for the team towards the end of 2015, but from this view Williams appears to have settled again for something rather more conventional with the FW38... or has it?

In short, while the FW38 may differ little from the FW37 at first glance, I am convinced what we see here could yet undergo plenty of changes before it hits the track for the opening round in Australia.

Overall the car is clearly an evolution of what we saw with the 2015 Williams FW37 - indeed some of the design areas on the launch spec car are straight carry overs, such as the front wing, nose, airbox, which all are fundamentally the same as the old car. We can expect a lot of this in 2016 as the rules year on year have not changed all that much at all.

In terms of the pure technical regulations there have been some loopholes and grey areas tidied up, and some minor bodywork rule changes. In terms of safety the drivers will have slightly increased head protection and the cockpit crash tests have been increased. You can see the impact of this on the Williams, which has slightly larger headrests for the driver and they are much stronger.

This will have a minor impact on the weight distribution on the car and will have lead to some trade-offs elsewhere in the package, though since the design of the FW38 follows that of the FW36 and FW37 quite closely, moving weight around should not be a great issue.

The FW36 carried a lot of ballast according to Pat Symonds and some parts of the FW37 could be beefed up as a result. On the FW38 parts will have been further optimised and so the heavier cockpit protection should not create a major issue.

However, one area where the FW38 will differ, if the design works as intended is in its performance in low speed corners, this will be achieved by design features which we may not yet have seen. The suspension will have been adapted somewhat as part of this effort and the aerodynamics especially at the front end of the car will be quite different by the time the car gets to Melbourne, much like it was last year.

Then again, in the images released by Williams it is clear that the rear end aerodynamic package is quite different. The cooling layout on the FW38 also appears to be different, re-shaped sidepods and ducting suggest that perhaps a new layout of coolers has been developed by the team, or that the new Mercedes power unit has significantly different cooling demands, though I doubt it is the latter.

The FW38 has already been testing so Williams will have an idea of how it performs on track but one area of major focus, which is interlinked with the suspension and aerodynamic concepts is how it works with the revised Pirelli tyres.

In testing last year, something unusual was found in the 2016 Pirelli tyre construction according to Rob Smedley, "It's certainly not an insignificant change, and I would be so bold as to say I think it was sold as a little bit insignificant to reduce the tread depth by 30 per cent and therefore have 30 per cent less wear. We have found that you've got very different thermal properties on the layer that sits underneath the compound, and that gives you different properties of the compound itself after a certain extent of wear," he explains.

This unexpected characteristic could make tyre selection very hard indeed for the opening races (something which has already been done under the new rules of course) and could lead to some very unpredictable results. It could well reward a team like Williams which with the FW38 has designed a car with quite a versatile suspension package.

But perhaps there is still a lot more to come, in a story on this website last year Rob Smedley said:

"The 2016 car we have in the wind tunnel and the 2015 car is significantly different, so there's nothing we could do from an aerodynamic point of view. Other parts of R&D and the mechanical design we are trialling things all the time.

"However the FW38 presented to us is at the moment not all that different, so I suspect there is a new nose front, wing and under nose treatment to come as well as new floor and turning vanes on the leading edge of the sidepod. But perhaps Williams wants to keep some of its secrets under wraps for now. Let's wait and see."

Max Yamabiko

Max Yamabiko will bring you a closer look at the technical side of F1 and motorsport in 2016, from the latest developments and solutions employed to keep you ahead of the game

 

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