Williams FW15C (partially found footage and lap time information of unraced CVT Formula One car; 1993)

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The Williams FW15C in action.

Status: Partially Found

The Williams FW15C is a Formula One car built by the Williams team for the 1993 Formula One Season. Driven by Alain Prost and Damon Hill, it guided Prost and Williams to the Drivers and Constructors Championships respectively. The FW15C's success stemmed from being one of the most technologically advanced cars in Formula One's history, incorporating features like traction control and active suspension. Additionally, The FW15C was tested with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which allegedly made the already quick car a few seconds a lap faster.


The Williams FW15C is one of the most successful Formula One cars of all-time, thanks to a combination of a powerful Renault V10 and revolutionary technologies. With input from Technical Director Patrick Head and Chief Designer Adrian Newey,[1] the FW15C was the most technologically advanced car for its time, and remained so even by 2005 standards.[2] It incorporated many key technologies that were considered electronic aids. These include, but not limited to, active suspension, traction control, ABS braking, a semi- and fully-automatic gearbox, and the ability to stall the rear diffuser so that drag could be reduced during the straights of each circuit.[3]

Such was the dominance of the FW15C that it guided Alain Prost to seven wins, while Damon Hill won three.[4] Prost won the Drivers Championship with 99 points, 26 ahead of McLaren's Ayrton Senna.[5] Williams easily won the Constructors Championship by 168 points to McLaren-Ford's 84.[6]

CVT Tests

The FW15C's dominance, combined with concerns over spiralling costs and that the technologies were reducing the emphasis of driver skill and could potentially reduce safety, led to many of these technologies being banned for the following season.[7] However, prior to the banning of the technologies, one other feature that ultimately was not utilised for racing was being tested on the FW15C, called Continuously variable transmission (CVT). CVT is a belt transmission that unlike other mechanical transmissions, allows for infinite gear ratios to enable the vehicle's engine to turn at the RPM during its peak power production, theoretically maximising its performance by increasing its power and top speed. During the 1993 Formula One Season, Williams finally constructed a belt strong enough to allow CVT to occur from the 850hp Renault engine.[8]

In July 1993, tests were conducted with the CVT FW15C. David Coulthard tested the car at a wet Pembrey Circuit at Wales, with touring car racer Alain Menu also being given the chance to test the modified championship-winning car. There was an immediate change between the CVT car and those using typical transmissions, where because the revs remained consistent throughout each bend, it created a highly unusual sound from a Formula One car. Not only did the tests prove successful, it was claimed that the CVT FW15C was several seconds a lap faster than the car had been without the new transmission.[9] According to a pre-select gearbox specialist who worked on the car, it may have been two seconds a lap faster than the non-CVT counterpart.[10]

Likely to ensure greater competition and to again emphasise the importance of driver skill, the FIA, Formula One's governing body, issued new regulations for the 1994 Season that not only forced cars to have four and seven fixed gears, but also were not allowed to incorporate CVT. According to Coulthard, the technology, which he claims made the cars at least half a second faster on average, was unfinished by the time of the ban's announcement.[11] Thus, CVT was never used in a Formula One race.[12]


Limited footage of the Williams CVT FW15C is available, thanks to a Discovery documentary. The footage shows Coulthard accelerating the car down the Pembrey straight, while also showing the end of the test. No other footage of the CVT FW15C is known to be publicly available. Additionally, despite the CVT FW15C allegedly being several seconds a lap faster than its non-CVT counterpart, no lap time information has ever been publicly released. Thus, it is also unknown exactly how much faster the car ultimately was, outside of those present for the tests.


Footage of Coulthard testing the CVT FW15C.

See Also