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Monday, October 3, 2011

William's Worst ever Season

With 5 races left Frank and Patrick are facing their worst ever result in the history of Williams in F1 - and that includes 1978, where they scored no points and only ran in 7 races.  If the points system were the same Williams would be on 0 points for the season.

Where has it all gone wrong for the Grove?  This will be the first time since 1978 that they've finished in 9th place.

The rot would appear to have set in around 2004 when the team finished 4th in the constructor's championship.

At the time the result would have been identified as a blip on the William's Radar in the same way as the 5th place in 1999 was.  At least there was an excuse for that '99 result - Mecachrome engines and the worst driver line-up of Schumacher (R) and Alex Zanardi (he of the steel brakes).

So what happened at Williams in 2004 and since? What has caused this spectacular collapse in form? Can it be addressed and everything made right again?

Three things of note appear to have occurred within the team in 2004; the first was the appointment of Sam Michael as Technical Director and Patrick Head moving to the position of Director of Engineering; the second was the opening of the team's second wind tunnel; and the third was the Walrus Nose (Yes - THAT nose!).  As well as these it was announced early in the season that Montoya would be moving to McLaren for 2005 and Ralf, of course, went to Toyota.

Of course the FW26 was also a relatively radical departure from the team ethos in that it was a brand spanking new car rather than a derivative of its predecessor which had been the most competitive of the BMW-Williams partnership.  The FW26, designed by Gavin Fisher, was further limited due to the fact that the BMW engine now had to last the full race weekend.

Nonetheless, the FW25 ('03) and the FW26 ('04) were both new cars out of the blocks but while the FW25 performed and brought the team 2nd place in the constructor's,the FW26 only brught the team 3 podiums, including the win in Brazil.

Antonia Terzi left her post as Chief Aerodynamicist in November 2004 and was replaced by Loic Bigois (ex-Prost designer).

One other thing of note happened in 2004 - the demise of the Jaguar Racing Team - in 2005 Red Bull Racing entered the F1 feeding frenzy.

With Montoya and R Schumacher gone the driver line up for 2005 was Mark Webber and Nick Heidfeld.  BMW and Williams fell out very publicly with each blaming the other for poor results. One of the rumours around the paddock that year was that BMW refused to allow Williams to utilise the engines power to its fullest extent during the race weekend, effectively installing a limiter on the engine revs. This due to the Rule Change which now required each engine to last 2 GP weekends.

Each team was also limited to one set of tyres to last both Quali and the Race event, in order to reduce cornering speeds.

The FW27 was the first outing of a car designed by Sam Michaels, Gavin Fisher, and Loic Bigois.  It was not as aerodynamically sound as some of its competitors, and if we take the rumours as fact, unable to make full use of the Beemer engine.  The car scored some good results but flattered to deceive, taking 2nd and 3rd at Monaco from the Renault of Alonso on bald tyres and a full fuel tank. No wins and 5th in the championship.

2006 was even worse.  8th in the constructor's.  Rosberg (Nico) came into the team while Heidfeld moved with BMW to Sauber.  A Cosworth Engine in the FW28, Gavin Fisher was fired as Chief Designer due to te 2005 results and was replaced by Jorg Zander (Toyota and BAR).

Now we had Sam Michaels in his second year as Tech Director, and ex-PIG (I mean Prost) aerodynamicist and a Chief Designer who had put in work on the conspicuously absent Toyota and BAR F1 wagons (Funny that BAR won its first GP in 2006 with Geoff Willis, ex-Williams chief aero).  How was the year going to work out? Obvioiusly poorly. No podiums and few points.

See where this is going?


Can we put it down to Sam Michaels - old to the game but new into the role?

In 2007 Webbo left the team to join Red Bull Racing and was replaced by Alex Wurz who had been test driver the previous year (good in his day but many years out of the racing game at this stage). Toyota engine. Limited testing. No Michelin Tyres.

The FW29 was designed by Sam and Loic.  Jorg Zander had resigned in 2006 and had joined up with BMW at Sauber.  A much improved performance but only one podium and 4th place in the championship.

2008 and the FW30 is designed by Sam and Jon Tomlinson (Jordan followed by the Championship Renaults). Loic goes to Honda in 2007. Kazuki Nakajima is brought in for Wurz.

The 2008 season was up and down for Williams. Rosberg managed 2 podiums in Australia and Singapore but the car struggled at circuits with high speed corners. The team switched to developing the 2009 car (where new regulations come in) mid-season and they finished 8th.

2009 and Rosberg is now an old hand, Nakajima just hasn't cut it but is still racing. The FW31 is another "from scratch" car because o the wholesale rule changes and everyone is trying to find their feet.  Perhaps the reason why Brawn GP spectacularly manages to capture both crowns.  Red Bull show their hand also.

This is a difficult call to make.  In '09 they come 7th but the entire season is riddled with innovation and creation and I think the season turned into a bit of a lottery in respect of a number of teams sailing close to the wind in design terms.

Nico got a number of points finishes and all the points and if Nakajima had been capable the team might easily have been 5th respectably behind Mclaren and Ferrari.

2010 they come 6th with the FW32 Cosworth.  Reubens and Nico Hulkenburg are in the driver's seats.  It's the tightest world championship in years with RBR, Mclaren, and Ferrari all looking to take the constructor's, nevertheless the 69 points puts them firmly in the second tier of constructor's.

What changes have been made since? well we know that Sam Michael is now gone to be replaced by Mike Coughlan in 2012, this should bring stability to the team in that he's a good guiding hand (regardless of his prior history).  If only the team could take on two strong drivers - guys who can finish GP's and who can race for position.  I love Reubens as a driver but I think the spirit is weakening - his desire is waning on the basis that he's driven uncompetitively since 2009.  Maldonado too is not an option - he's just not good enough. What is needed is a pairing like Webber and Coulthard in the early RBR.  Rip it all up and start again - Good tech data providers, older, strong drivers who can set up a car reliably, a bulletproof engine, a balanced car and write off 2012 and perhaps 2013 with a view to 2014.

William's have the track record (pardon the pun) and just need to be a little more patient.  I think Sam Michaels is excellent - perhaps just not quite ready for tech director. If the will is there Coughlan can steer the team back to success.  I'd cross check that second wind tunnel data though - just for the sake of accuracy!!