“One of the racing team said to me last year, ‘It makes no sense to practice pit stops, because the car is so bad.’ This gets you nowhere. Check out our pit stops today; they are very good. The mechanics all believe in themselves again. There is a very different atmosphere in the team.”
Williams technical director Pat Symonds has been part of a revolution at the team that has seen them go from ninth in last year’s Constructors’ Championship with just five points, to podiums, a pole position and 135 points after half of this season.
The second fastest car in the winter testing is still the second fastest car at most venues, seven months and 11 races later, despite a smaller budget than Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari.
Clearly a huge part of the story is the change to the Mercedes engine, but while acknowledging this, Symonds and others in the team point out that last year Williams also shared an engine with the dominant champion team – in that case the Renault, also used by Red Bull.
But with power units being far more of a performance differentiator this year, the Williams has benefitted hugely from the Mercedes association. They also have a quick, experienced driver in Felipe Massa paired with a young driver who is starting to hit peak form in Valterri Bottas.
But what is remarkable is how good the car is – for a relatively simple design – and how well they keep improving it.
Speaking to Auto Motor und Sport, Symonds has shed a little light on how they are doing it.
“I believe that we have just developed faster than our opponents,” says Symonds. “We have significantly improved the aerodynamics, which is pretty impressive because the new regulations actually allow only small steps in this area.
“How have we done it? We proceed logically. When I arrived at Williams, I spent the first period of time just watching. I could feel the panic in this team. They felt that everything would work out fine if they could screw enough new parts onto the car. Which is obviously not the case.
“This year we have fewer developments to be approved than last season, and I am proud that all of them have worked, bar one (a new rear wing). And that just needed a small modification to work; the problem was it was stalling. We have now corrected that.”
Williams’ 2014 experience is important for F1 because it shows it can be done. Like Marussia (Symonds’ last team) scoring points in Monaco, which showed that life in the back of the grid teams is not without hope, Williams’ renaissance this year gives a beacon to some of the top teams like McLaren and Ferrari that have found themselves becalmed in recent years in the face of the slickness and sharpness of Red Bull and this year, Mercedes.
McLaren and Ferrari are currently groping around looking for the answer, with new management teams compared to last season. With far less money to spend than either of those grandees (and using the same power unit as McLaren), Williams has found a competitive formula – although not yet winning races, which is the ultimate goal for all of them,
“When people talk of a ‘miracle’, I say that it is just honest and logical engineering,” says Symonds.
“The good news for Williams is the quality of the people. They knew how to do it, just not what they should be doing. This has made my job easy. We have not flooded the company with highly paid celebrity designers, but fixed weaknesses here and there or strengthened some departments. We have managed to get more from the people who were already here.
“It was incredible. When I arrived, there was no confidence in the team. That is why they had all the panic reactions.
And Symonds believes that there is room for optimism that the gap between teams will decrease as the Sporting Regulations on wind tunnel and Computational Fluid Dynamics kick in, restricting the amount of time even the richest teams can spend on aerodynamic development to 30 hours of each per week. This, he feels, will have an impact for the rest of the year, when trading off the development of the current car and next year’s car,
“Previously a big team with a wind tunnel that ran around the clock, could run both programs in parallel. Now that is no longer possible.
“Mercedes, for example, certainly has a greater aerodynamics department than ours. They can certainly generate more ideas (in the drawing office), but they too have to pass through the bottleneck of the 30/30 rule. This is a great leveller.”