No one has endured a worse start to this Formula One season than Williams. With both drivers failing to finish in either Australia or Malaysia the team sit 11th in the constructors’ world championship, ahead only of Spanish minnows Hispania. But whilst the Colin Kolles-run team were happy just to get their cars on to the grid at Sepang Williams had expected a lot more; results need to improve quickly.
Heading in to the new campaign there were plenty of positive noises coming out of Grove. Rubens Barrichello was excited about the ‘aggressive’ approach the team had taken with its new car, whilst the management too was full of praise for their latest racer. They felt the Cosworth-powered FW33 could mix it with the likes of Renault and Mercedes, and also had words of praise for new signing Pastor Maldonado.
It is undoubtedly a fascinating car, particularly at the back end, where a large part of the gearbox casing is absent in an effort to improve airflow at the rear of the FW33.
But fascinating doesn’t necessarily translate in to fast – or at least it didn’t in Malaysia. There Maldonado looked strong in practice, setting the fifth fastest time in the first session, but then showed us the other side of his character by overcooking it on his way in to the pits. The car snapped away from him and in to the barriers, something we can’t recall seeing at this point of the circuit in 12 years of racing at Sepang. Valuable tracktime was lost.
And when qualifying rolled around it had all gone wrong for both Williams drivers. The pair were on the bubble throughout Q1, with Barrichello’s final lap leaving him vulnerable to elimination – by his own team-mate.
But Pastor missed his chance to get one over on Rubens, fluffing his apex at the final turn and failing to make it to Q2. 18th on the grid simply isn’t good enough for Williams. Barrichello then lacked the speed needed to get anywhere near Q3, recording the 15th fastest time of the second segment of qualifying and missing out on the pole shootout by over half a second. Again, that isn’t what this team expects.
In the race Maldonado lasted just eight laps before succumbing to engine problems. Barrichello was running at the back following an early puncture and would drop out 22 laps in with hydraulic woes.
Australia was no better, though the team did at least appear to have some pace there. Barrichello slid in to the gravel and out of qualifying during Q2, whilst Maldonado could only manage 15th on the grid. The Venezuelan dropped out early before Barrichello – who had decent speed at Albert Park – was left red faced when he substituted braking with slamming in to the side of Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes. He too would drop out late in the race.
Of course, we’re only two races in to a 19-race season, so it’s not quite time for panic stations. Nevertheless the team’s hierarchy have been open about their worry over the start they’ve made to the 2011 campaign.
“Like everyone at Williams, I am both surprised and frustrated with our start,” said Chairman Adam Parr. “In spite of having an ambitious concept for the FW33, the benefit of continuity with our engine, and moving into our second season with Rubens, we have come up short.”
Meanwhile technical director Sam Michael has hinted that changes could be made following the team’s poor showings in the opening two races.
“Our performance was well below expectations in many areas in Sepang,” said Michael. “This is not acceptable for us and we’ll be thoroughly reviewing all aspects of our lack of performance before Shanghai.
“Ultimately the performance and reliability of the car is down to the engineering group and we’ll respond accordingly.”
There may still be a long way to go, but every missed opportunity and poor result provides Williams’ rivals in the fierce midfield battle with a crucial advantage. Like many F1 fans Badger would love to see this legendary team recapture its form, but at the moment their nineties-inspired paintjob only acts as a reminder of how hard times have become at this once-dominant grand prix giant.