Patrick Head

Patrick Head

5/6/1945

With nine Constructors’ Championships under his belt, Patrick Head is one of the most successful engineers in the history of F1. Best know for his involvement with Frank Williams, he help establish Williams Grand Prix Engineering.

Patrick Head was born in Farnborough, England, is co-founder and Engineering Director of the Williams Formula One team.

For 25 years from 1977 Head was technical director at Williams Grand Prix Engineering, and responsible for many innovations within Formula One. Head oversaw the design and construction of Williams cars until May 2004 when his role was handed over to Sam Michael. Frequently blunt and outspoken, Head has a formidable reputation for speaking his mind to both employees and the press, making him a highly popular figure in the sport.

Patrick Head was born into motor sport, his father racing Jaguar sportscars in the 1950s, and was privately educated at Wellington College. After leaving school Head joined the Royal Navy, but soon realised that a career in the military was not how he wanted to spend his life and so left to attend University, first in Birmingham and later in Bournemouth. Head graduated in 1970 with a Mechanical Engineering degree from UCL and immediately joined the chassis manufacturer Lola in Huntingdon. Here he formed a friendly relationship with John Barnard, whose Formula One designs for Benetton and Ferrari would later go on to compete against Williams.

Head was involved in a number of new projects all trying to become established as car builders or engineering companies and it was during this period that Head and Frank Williams met. Finally becoming disillusioned by his lack of success Head quit motor racing to work on building boats.

In 1976 thirty-four year old Frank Williams decided that the time was right to start his own team and promptly set about luring Head back into Formula One. After one abortive attempt, on February 8, 1977, Williams Grand Prix Engineering was founded with Williams and Head taking seventy and thirty percent of the company respectively. In 1977 the team raced a customer March chassis, but in 1978, with backing from Saudi Airlines and having signed Australian driver Alan Jones, the Patrick Head-designed FW06 made its first appearance. Despite having no money, and with Williams himself frequently forced to conduct business from a telephone box, Head still managed to design a respectable car.

The following season Williams scored 11 world championship points finishing 9th in the constructors championship and from here momentum began to build. As early as the fourth round of the 1979 season Jones made the teams first visit to the podium. The same year saw a Head designed car take the first of over one-hundred race wins at the British Grand Prix. Four more victories followed in 1979 and Patrick Head was now an established Grand Prix car designer.

Head's 1980 car was the class of the field, taking Alan Jones and the team to both titles, and securing Williams as a front runner. More success followed in the 1980s and Head began to move away from designing the cars himself, effectively creating a role of Technical Director, a person who oversaw the processes of design, construction, racing and testing, bringing together all the different disciplines. During the 1980s he is also credited with many revolutionary concepts including a six wheeled car, which tested in 1982, and continuously variable transmission, which replaced the car's conventional gearbox and allowed the engine to remain at optimum RPM during the entire lap. Sadly neither system made it into racing due to rule changes, which many attribute to pressure from other teams, who were worried about the time required to develop similar systems of their own.

In 1986 Patrick Head, with other Williams management, was forced to assume control of the team when Frank Williams was seriously injured in a road accident. Despite this diversion, and under Head's temporary stewartship, the team still secured drivers and constructors tites in 1986 and 1987.

Many of the top engineers in Formula One, such as Neil Oatley, Ross Brawn, Frank Dernie, Egbahl Hamidy, Geoff Willis and Enrique Scalabroni have worked under Head's supervision early in their careers, and all have moved on to senior positions within other teams. Ross Brawn particularly has had success as Head's opposite number at Ferrari. Perhaps the most fruitful of all his associations with upcoming engineers began in 1990 when Williams hired Adrian Newey, recently sacked as technical director of Leyton House. The two engineers rapidly formed the outstanding design partnership of the 1990s with Head/Newey cars achieving a level of dominance never seen before, and not repeated until the Ferrari / Schumacher era a decade later. In a seven year period between 1991 and 1997 Williams won four drivers and four constructors titles, and fifty-nine race wins.

Since the departure of Newey in 1996 Williams have often appeared a spent force, rarely able to win more than one or two races each year. Finally in 2004 came the news that Patrick Head was to stand down as technical director in favour of thirty-three year old Sam Michael. Head's move to Engineering Director was widely seen as demotion and final acceptance by Sir Frank Williams that he was no longer able to bring the team the level of success it had once enjoyed.

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