Williams, they’ve been around forever haven’t they? Well, since 1978 anyway. For some of us, that’s longer than we’ve been alive, so it feels a bit like forever. From the team’s heyday during the eighties and nineties, the last decade really hasn’t been as kind (Ralf Schumacher pitched up, for a start). That said, the team keep lining up on the grid year after year, recently without major manufacturer backing and still having a moderate degree of success. More than any other team previewed thus far, the history of the Williams team could fill the space allocated to this article many times over, so it’s probably worthwhile saying now that this preview will stick (mostly!) to the team’s recent history and future prospects.
Think of the Williams team and your mind isn’t going to spend too long whirring before it turns to the team’s two stalwarts – Sir Frank Williams and Patrick Head. They’ve both been around for ages and, although their involvement in the team has changed over time, they’re still very large influences. Frank Williams travels far less than he used to and Patrick Head handed over his duties as Technical Director to Sam Michael in 2004, although he remains very much involved with the team as the Engineering Director. Sadly, your correspondent’s abiding memory of Frank Williams is his ditching of Damon Hill immediately after he’d won the World Championship in 1996 so, although the team is British, based in Britain and has had a number of British drivers, they’ve always proven somewhat hard to love. The man who replaced Hill was none other than Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Enough said.
The team finished last season in seventh place with 34.5 points, just one and half points behind BMW Sauber and eight and a half ahead of Renault. For those wondering about the rogue half point, it came courtesy of Nico Rosberg’s eighth place finish in the monsoon- shortened Malaysian Grand Prix. Another key factor in Williams’ season was that all the other points they scored also came courtesy of big Nico, hinting at why Kazuki Nakagima found himself without a seat at the end of last season. The team (for this, read Rosberg) did fairly well all season, picking up points throughout. They had a particularly purple patch in the middle of the season, scoring at every race between Spain in May and Belgium in August, increasing their total from 3.5 to 30.5 in the process. It could have been even better too, had Rosberg converted his good position at the Singapore Grand Prix instead of crossing the white line while exiting the pit lane. Although Rosberg was their only scorer all season, demonstrating a severe weakness in the team, Williams were doubtless heartened by the fact they could have finished above their former partner, BMW, and nearer to the works team of their engine supplier, Toyota, had they had a driver capable of scoring 10-20 additional points.
For next season, after Rosberg’s departure to Brawn just in time to be Michael Schumacher’s tea boy and Nakagima’s inevitable exit, the team have a completely new driver line-up. Rubens Barrichello comes in from Brawn and Nico Hulkenberg arrives fresh from being only the second driver to win the GP2 title in his first season (and the other was…?*). This mixture of massive experience and huge potential will surely set Williams in good stead, assuming they provide a half decent car. The team must be hoping that Barrichello’s development skills and Hulkenberg’s raw pace will allow them to improve on their showing last season, even though it’ll require a bit of jiggery pokery to compare, now the points system’s been changed.
Due to their rather unfortunate and frustrating habit of doing well at some circuits and less well at others, this year’s car has been substantially redesigned, especially taking account of the large degree of design consistency from last season. Given the difference in fuel tank size, a change in engine from Toyota to Cosworth, subsequent gearbox changes as well as revisions due to Rubens’ braking style, and Williams will hope to have a car that can provide the consistency they were lacking last season. Here’s hoping they have a good season – Williams is a proper independent racing team that deserves to mix it with the big boys.
Minimum target: After last season, consistency is very much king. Williams will want a car that can be developed throughout the season from a good starting point.
Ambitious target: Challenging for the odd podium.
Benson Jamichello’s prediction: Scrapping for positions 6-10 on a regular basis.