Williams F1 team, 0 wins, 1 pole, 6th in Constructors’ championship
Williams is considered the weather vane of F1 – if it is in reasonable shape, then F1 is in good shape. The team struggled during the manufacturer era, whereas this moment should be good for the team, with the Resource Restriction Agreement pulling the staff numbers and resources of the leading teams down.
The team is definitely in transition from the late Frank Williams/Patrick Head days to the Adam Parr/Sam Michael days. This means everything from finding sponsors and drivers to technical direction. In practice it has been this way for a while but now it’s official.
The Williams team entered 2010 having not won a race in five years and while that didn’t change, there was at least the pole of rookie Nico Hulkenberg – the team’s first pole position for five years – at the Brazilian Grand Prix to boost the team. Sadly, that wasn’t enough to save his job as just nine days later he got the boot with this season’s GP2 champion Pastor Maldonado taking his place. Several sponsors left the team at the end of the year; RBS and Philips particularly and Maldonado brings a significant sponsorship package from Venezuela. This allows the team to retain Rubens Barrichello, whose impact on the team was very noticeable as the year went on.
Williams had a reasonable car at the start of the year, but it wasn’t very driver friendly. And Williams’ resources are not what they once were, so they couldn’t afford to run multiple programmes or take a wrong direction. With his 18 years experience, Barrichello made suggestions for an aerodynamic direction which really started to show results in the second half of the season. From Valencia onwards he qualified in the top ten at every race, bar one. He lined up seventh on the grid for the final race in Abu Dhabi, a very positive sign. Where Williams were impressive technically was in being able to incorporate the blown diffuser straight away. They brought it to Valencia, tested it on Friday and raced it on Sunday. McLaren struggled to do that.
Barrichello told me at the end of the season that he thinks his input on the design phase of the 2011 car should make it a more driveable car from the outset. He’s loving being listened to by his team and is driving very well. He should easily have the measure of Maldonado. This year Hulkenberg was on his pace in the second half of the season and the German was always faster than Maldonado when they were team mates in GP2.
Will the Williams team win again? Will the new management team be able to build it up to championship level using the existing business model and technical team? It’s a long term process and no doubt Parr has a strategic plan.
The team is diversifying into hybrid technology in partnership with the authorities in Qatar and I suspect that Parr has also had extensive discussions with the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar about getting more involved with the team as Abu Dhabi is with Ferrari and Bahrain with McLaren. That could be a bit of a game changer for the team if they pull that off. For 2011 they have the funds from Maldonado as well as other sponsorship income and FOM money, but the fact that they had to drop Hulkenberg tells its own painful story.
I’ve seen Williams from close up through several phases of their history, particularly the long, successful period of the 1990s. F1 is a different game now and needs a different road map. Let’s hope Williams finds it.