1989 was such a crucial year for Williams, at the outset of its new partnership with Renault, that technical director Patrick Head decided to persist with development of the 1988 Judd-powered FW12 for much of the season. Its replacement, the all-new FW13 which was designed specifically around the innovative 67° 3.5-litre Renault V10, was put back and did not appear until the final four races.
Created by chief designer Enrique Scalabroni under the supervision of technical director Patrick Head, and with aerodynamics by Eghbal Hamidy, the FW13 used a carbon fibre and Kevlar composite monocoque chassis that was notably narrower than the FW12’s. Initially it mated the Renault RS1 to a Williams/Hewland six-speed transverse transmission, and used double wishbone suspension front and rear. The lower front end of the tub facilitated mounting of the pushrod-operated spring/damper units atop the drivers’ knees, however, and the original longer-term intention was that the car should run in 1990 with an upgraded version of Williams’ computer-controlled reactive suspension which had already been run on the FW11 in 1987 and the FW12 at times in 1988. Besides small sidepods and lowline nose, the car was also notable for its flattened oval air intake.
The FW13 disappointed initially when it finally appeared at the 1989 Portuguese Grand Prix, as its FW12C rear end overpowered the new front end, whose effectiveness had to be compromised to maintain some semblance of balance and straightline stability. Both cars retired with overheating after rubber debris blocked the radiators. Patrese went back to his FW12C for the following race in Spain, but Boutsen persisted with the new car but retired with fuel pump failure.
By the end of the year, however, a prolonged test session with Patrese at Estoril had improved the handling significantly. The Italian led the Belgian home in second and third places in Japan, where Alessandro Naninni was controversially declared the winner after the infamous shunt between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna (who won on the road before being disqualified by Jean-Marie Balestre). And in the rain in Adelaide Boutsen took a great victory ahead of Nannini, with Patrese third.
These late results moved Williams-Renault up to second place behind McLaren-Honda in the World Championship for Constructors, while Patrese was third overall in the Drivers’ behind Prost and Senna. Much was thus expected from the FW13B which was ready for the start of the 1990 season, and the principal changes included aerodynamic and suspension enhancements, plus Renault’s more powerful RS2 V10.
Chassis FW13B-08 is one of the most significant cars in the FW13 production run: a Grand Prix winner.
It was Thierry Boutsen’s favourite chassis and the Belgian raced it 14 times in 1990. However, he failed to finish the San Marino Grand Prix, which opened the European season, after running a strong second to Senna before missing a gear and damaging the engine. Team-mate Patrese won that race.
FW13B-08 was also out of luck in Canada, after spinning off in the rain when running fourth, and in France the engine broke after seven laps. There was also a lean spell when in consecutive outings he retired with driveshaft failure in Belgium, rear suspension breakage in Italy and a broken gearbox in Portugal.
But after qualifying sixth Boutsen finished fourth in Monaco, then fifth in Mexico from fifth on the grid. The British Grand Prix at Silverstone then brought him second to Prost from fourth on the grid, before Germany yielded sixth place. He’d had to abort an attempt to run non-stop there, and set fastest lap as he recovered on a fresh set of Goodyears.
The big day came at the Hungaroring on August 12th. The FW13Bs were very well suited to the tight track by the second day of practice, and Boutsen started from the first pole position of his F1 career with a lap of 1m 17.919s with Patrese alongside on 1m 17.955s. “Changes to the engine management system made things a lot better,” he said. “Even so, I think I could have gone quicker than I managed, because a slight gear selection problem meant that I had to be very slow and precise with each change.” The McLarens of Berger and Senna were on the second row, unable to break 1m 18s.
Boutsen took an immediate lead and in the race of his life held off challenges from Berger, then Patrese, then an increasingly threatening Alessandro Nannini. But the Italian’s Benetton was aggressively punted out of the way by Senna at the chicane at the top of the hill on the 64th lap. The Brazilian was on much fresher tyres than Boutsen’s, which were well past their best as the race drew to its conclusion, and Senna kept up the pressure right to the flag. He made one real attempt to pass going into Turn One on the 75th lap, but the Belgian had that covered and retained his calm control of the race to take FW13B-08 to deserved victory two laps later by 0.288s.
“Right from the start I realised I had some understeer and just had to drive trying to save my tyres,” Boutsen said afterwards. “At one stage I built quite a nice little cushion. Then Nannini came up behind me, then Ayrton. In the end everything worked out just right, because I wouldn’t have got another lap in front of him out of those tyres.”
After he and Senna had crossed the line the McLaren driver pulled alongside and gave him a signal of appreciation of a job very well done.
After the string of retirements in Belgium, Italy and Portugal, Boutsen’s last races in FW13B-08 saw him finish fourth in Spain, then fifth in Japan and Australia.
With three Grand Prix successes to its credit the FW13/13B was a noteworthy member of the Williams family in its heyday, and its 20 races also yielded that pole position for Boutsen in Hungary in 1990, and fastest laps for the Belgian in Hockenheim that year and for Patrese in Hungary, Portugal and Spain. Tyre wear problems created some disappointment, but at the beginning of 1991 new signing Mansell drove FW13B-09 in a lengthy test session at Paul Ricard on January 18th to 21st. Setting it up with the stiff-sprung, oversteering characteristics that he preferred in a race car, he set some highly competitive lap times which suggested that critics were correct in their belief that the softer set-ups chosen by Boutsen and Patrese in 1990 may have failed to get the best from what was a better car than the overall results indicated.
It was also a highly significant design insofar as test driver Mark Blundell put huge mileage on the original car – FW13AR-01 – throughout the second half of 1989 as the team honed the reactive suspension that would become such a key part of FW14B in Mansell’s 1992 World Championship-winning season.