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On This Day: 8th January 2004 - Teams consider the tusk-nosed Williams - The new Formula One car design raised eyebrows

Published by Christine

Seven years ago, Williams debuted the design of their brand new car - the FW26 - to much consternation amongst fans and the paddock alike. The design featured a much shorter nose than normal, with the front dipping down rather suddenly. The struts split into two with a wide gap between, and that gave it an odd look, resulting in the car being dubbed "tusk-nosed".

The Walrus Williams takes to the track in 2004
The Walrus Williams takes to the track in 2004Credit: Williams F1

On this day in 2004, chief engineer at Renault, Pat Symonds, admitted that his team were analysing what Williams had done to see if it would be competitive.

We'll look at it in the wind tunnel soon and other teams will be trying it as well, I'm sure. We could incorporate the idea into our 2004 car. But really you can't look at one part in isolation. You need to understand the whole concept otherwise you won't get very far.

- Pat Symonds

If the other teams did look at it in their wind tunnels, they soon dismissed the idea, and quite rightly too. Williams were coming off the back of a couple of super competitive years, with 2003 seeing them second in the constructors championship, just behind Ferrari. Juan Pablo Montoya finished third in the driver's title battle, and the team were hotly tipped to continue their upward trend through 2004.

In pre-season testing, both Montoya and Ralf Schumacher looked like they had good speed, and they might be able to build on the momentum of previous seasons. Unfortunately, 2004 was a very difficult year for the team, and the so-called "walrus nose" didn't help matters at all. Once the racing started, the cars were strong enough to pick up points, but could only secure the occasional podium position.

There was no love lost in the first half of the season

Meanwhile, relationships within the team were struggling. Montoya had confirmed he would be leaving to join McLaren at the end of the year, and he wasn't making things easy for his current employers. He and Ralf did not get on at all, and there was no love lost in the first half of the season.

In Canada, both cars did well, finishing in the top five, but it was all for nothing. Schumacher and Montoya were both disqualified after the FIA discovered a problem with the brake ducts. Their best finish of the year so far and it didn't even count. The next race at Indianapolis was no better.

Montoya's FW26 failed on the formation lap, so he jogged back to the pitlane to hop into the spare car. He completed the race but was disqualified as he took too long picking up the T car, and therefore shouldn't have been allowed to race at all. On the other side of the garage, things took a worrying turn when Ralf suffered an enormous crash. He was hospitalised, and left with a concussion and some fractures to his spine - meaning he was out of contention for the next few months.

In his place, Marc Gené competed in two races, finishing just outside the points, and then Antônio Pizzonia showed him how it was done in the next four events. He finished seventh for three of those, with the other ending in retirement. Montoya continued to bring in the points as well, and then in Hungary they had a reprieve.

A new nose had been created for the car, gone was the walrus front, and in it's place a more normal looking design. Performance improved, Ralf returned, and finally in the last race of the year at Brazil, Montoya finally got to the top step of the podium. It was Williams' first win of the year, and marks their last win to date.

For 2005, they had banished the walrus design completely, and along with the other teams, presented a more normal looking car. Renault must have been thanking their lucky stars they didn't examine the tusk design too strongly. Sometimes pushing the envelope makes you faster and turns you into a winner. Sometimes it is better to run with the crowd.