The Williams FW15C was a new car designed in 1992 to incorporate the active suspension modify developed and executed on the earlier FW14B. The FW14B had initially been designed as a passive car (FW14) and had been pushed into being active. This meant it had various new active components implemented on the car which had not been in the original design brief. It was therefore considered a bloated and relatively overweight package.
The original FW15 was an active car from the start which enabled a much tidier package closer to the minimum weight limit. The success of the FW14B meant that the FW15 was not needed in 1992.
Williams quickly established themselves as the team to beat, with Prost winning in South Africa by a margin of almost a lap over Senna’s McLaren. The FW15C was so dominant in qualifying that Prost and Hill often qualified 1.5 to 2 seconds in front of Schumacher and Senna, who usually qualified 3rd and 4th. For example, Prost outqualified his teammate by a whole second at Interlagos, who was again a second ahead of the eventual winner Senna. In Brazil Prost retired midway through, a victim of someone else’s accident, and Senna managed to get past Hill to win, with the Englishman registering his first podium and points in F1 in second. The third race of the season at Donington saw Senna’s most dominant performance, with Hill taking second and Prost inheriting third from Barrichello late on, the Frenchman’s race hampered by intermittent gearbox problems.
With three races gone Senna lay 12 points ahead of Prost, but it was already becoming clear that even Senna in his prime would struggle to keep ahead of Prost and the superior Williams car, and so it proved with the team going on a run of nine wins in the next ten races. Dominant displays from Prost at San Marino and Spain lifted him above Senna in the standings, but Senna regained the lead with his sixth and final win at Monaco before Prost’s Canada win give him back the lead.
By now Hill was starting to consistently challenge his team-mate. The Englishman was in touch with Prost nose to tail virtually throughout the French Grand Prix, and seemed to be set fair for his debut win in the British Grand Prix before a rare engine failure 18 laps from the end left the home crowd disappointed. In Germany Hill came even closer after a stop-go penalty held Prost up, but this time the Englishman’s rear tyre suffered a puncture on the penultimate lap, with Prost again inheriting the win.
In Hungary Hill finally got his first win, a task made easier after Prost stalled on the warm-up lap and had to start last. Prost fought his way up to fourth before a rear wing failure ended his bid for a points finish, but a retirement for Senna meant there was no ground lost. Hill made up for lost time completing a hat trick of wins in Belgium and Italy. Hill and Prost’s 1-3 finishes, respectively, at Spa secured Williams their sixth Constructors’ Championship.
Senna had had a terrible run of fortune but was still in with a mathematical chance of the title as the teams met in Portugal, but Prost’s second place was enough to secure his fourth World Drivers’ Championship, prompting the Frenchman to announce his retirement at the end of the year. In the last two races Prost followed Senna home, which meant Hill dropped to third behind the Brazilian in the final Championship standings
The primary criticism of the FW15C was an inconsistent handling manner arising from occasions when the computer systems wrongly interpreted the information they was receiving from their sensors, or due to air being present in the hydraulics of the active system. Slight changes to the weight distribution of this latest Williams produced a car that was slightly more responsive than its immediate predecessor, if rather more nervous when driven on the limit. In particular this trait manifested itself in slight rear-end instability under braking, most notable on high speed circuits such as Hockenheim when the car was operating in a low downforce trim. It was a trait that particularly caused problems for the smoother driving style of Alain Prost who could set up the car best when it had even handling characteristics.
Alain Prost was quoted as saying:
“I think that an active suspension car with traction control needs to be thrown around quite a lot, whereas I like to drive a little more quietly, perhaps using the throttle more sensitively, which perhaps is not needed quite so much in an active car”.
In the wet the car also exhibited a tendency to momentarily lock the rear wheels during downchanges. This however was alleviated with the fitting of a power throttle system at Imola ensuring that the revs could be perfectly matched when the clutch was engaged.