Racing driver father and son combinations are not uncommon in Formula 1 history, but the expression “like father, like son” applies to other walks of F1 life as well. It also works for “like father, like daughter” with people like Robert and Sophie Sicot, Ford public relations folk both, or with the Dupasquiers, Pierre and Marie-Pierre, the one head of Michelin competition for many years, the other a PR in various different roles. Engineering DNA can also pass down through the generations, although such talents are not restricted to a single discipline or formula. In F1 we have seen the likes of Don and Nigel Beresford, but engineers enjoy the challenges of diverse problems and while F1 pays well and provides both satisfaction and high profile, a lot of engineers come and go.
David Wood was one of them. He qualified with a BSc from the celebrated Chelsea College of Aeronautical & Automotive Engineering back in 1963. He was interested in rallying and by the end of the decade he was tuning Ford BDA engines for Ford Escorts, which were widely used in British rallies. In 1972 the FIA decided to change the Formula 2 rules to allow 2-litre production-based engines. This attracted a whole group of BDA engine tuners to join in, competing against BMW engines. These included Cosworth, of course, but also Brian Hart, Broadspeed, Felday, R.E.S, Alan Smith, Novamotor and David Wood. It helped that one of Wood’s engines won the very first European Formula 2 Championship race under the new rules, at Mallory Park in March 1972. The winning car was an Edward Reeves Racing Brabham BT38 driven by Dave Morgan, who beat Niki Lauda, Carlos Reutemann, Jody Scheckter and Mike Hailwood that day. This attracted business and GRD took up Wood engines, with a Scottish youngster called Tom Walkinshaw. In 1973 even the Brabham factory team was using them.
Wood moved from his original workshops in a mews in London to spacious premises at Mildenhall in Suffolk, but gradually the BDA tuners were edged out by the muscle of BMW. Eventually Wood moved on to join the British Leyland’s competition department, working on the development of the Triumph TR8 for Group 4 rallying in the late 1970s and then on the Rover V8 engines used in Group A touring car racing by Walkinshaw’s TWR in the early 1980s.
After that David was involved with the MG Metro 6R4 Group B rally programme. The original plan was to use the 3.5-litre Rover V8 (derived from an all-aluminium Buick engine from the early 1960s). The chassis designer of the 6R4 – no less a figure than Patrick Head of Williams F1, the deal having come about thanks to Leyland sponsorship of the F1 team – wanted a smaller engine and so Wood reworked the Rover V8, lopping off two cylinders to create a 2.5-litre V6. This was a stop-gap while he created an all-new 90-degree V6 with 4 valves per cylinder (hence the name V64V). This was being developed when the death of Henri Toivonen resulted in Group B being cancelled. Austin Rover quit motorsport. The design of the V64V was sold to TWR and it evolved into a 3.5-litre twin-turbo engine, used in Jaguar XJR-ll Group C sports cars. One of the engines even won a World Championship race at Silverstone – and the units were used in the Jaguar XJ220 road car.
Wood moved on to Cosworth after Austin Rover and became the chief engineer in charge of the company’s F1 customer engine programmes, until 1995, when he opted for a quieter life and left motorsport.
His son Ben had caught the motorsport bug and studied to be an aerodynamicist, getting his first F1 job with Minardi, before going on to have spells with Ferrari, Tyrrell, Prost, Jaguar and Minardi (again) before spending two years working with Piper Design on the design of Le Mans sports cars. He then joined Honda’s F1 “B team” Super Aguri, working in the National Physical Laboratory windtunnel in Teddington, Middlesex. It was while doing this in 2007 that he began experimenting with a concept known as the double diffuser. Super Aguri shut down the following summer, but Wood (and his concept) transferred to Honda Racing F1 and the double diffuser concept was incorporated into the team’s 2009 F1 design.
At this point the Japanese firm made a really bad decision and quit F1, giving the team (and money to run it) to Ross Brawn and other members of the team management. The rest is history. Brawn secured Mercedes engines and in 2009 Brawn GP won the World Championship with Jenson Button… By the time the other teams had understood and copied the double diffuser it was too late.
Wood today runs his own aerodynamic firm called Dynamique Ltd, with its own wind tunnel near Oxford. It does contract engineering – but doesn’t say for whom. The word is that the current Ford GT might have passed beneath Wood’s air flows.
Wood also runs another business called Anakata Wind Energy, which markets small-scale wind turbines, using F1 aerodynamic expertise to help provide “free” power to home owners.
But even when the winds blow, apples do not fall far from trees…