It pains many in Formula 1 to see the Williams team’s difficult start to the season. Around for over 30 years, responsible for some of the most celebrated moments of F1 history, they are still popular with millions of fans and are many people’s second favourite team.
But there is no getting away from the fact that the beginning of 2011 has not been kind to them. Like Ferrari and Mercedes they are a team which looked better in pre-season testing than in the races and, like Ferrari and Mercedes, the pressure is on to fix it, starting this weekend in Turkey.
In qualifying in the three races to date, they have been consistent at least, with a firm downpayment on 15th place on the grid in each race and either 17th or 18th place with the other car. They have placed a lot of resource and effort into engineering the gearbox and making the driveshafts robust, but faced the old problem of having to get on top of reliability issues before being able to push development.
They are playing catch up on the latest blown diffuser technologies. Meanwhile some other steps have not matched up to expectations, such as the front wing. Technical director Sam Michael says that the car is better than it is being made to look and should be judged once it has all the intended pieces in place.
Upgrades on the diffuser should be on the car in Barcelona, while in Istanbul this weekend they have a modified floor, new front wing, new rear wing and new brake ducts to both cars. We will see whether that puts them closer to the top ten.
All teams have tricky moments, but normally they are only answerable to themselves, their shareholders and their sponsors. It is unfortunate for Williams that their situation co-incides with the flotation of part of the company so they now have institutional and public shareholders as well as an ambitious young shareholder in Toto Wolff.
In such situations changes need to be seen to be made to remedy the situation.
Williams chairman Adam Parr has already indicated that there will be some restructuring and the technical department is under scrutiny, with many expecting an announcement quite soon. The simplistic view is that the responsibility lies with Michael, but lead driver Rubens Barrichello has stepped in to defend the Australian,
“I have known Sam since our days at Jordan,” he said. “The problem is not that he is the wrong man for the job, but that he has too much to do.”
Williams is a team which, because of its past, has a large factory and therefore a big overhead. It still has ambition to be on the McLaren/Red Bull/Ferrari level, but is struggling to find its true level in modern F1. So sometimes it does not have the resources to do what it wants to do, or used to be able to do. And that means being prudent in deploying the resources that they have. It also means they are not always able to deliver the car in definitive specification from the start of the season.
That said, the development programme has been pretty good in recent years. Let’s not forget how the car performed in the second half of last season, with a pole position (albeit in strange conditions) and consistent top eight qualifying and race runs.
However there are suggestions that it’s not just about the technical team and that Parr’s position may be under review as well. No doubt some heads will roll at Williams shortly, but the team has a difficult balance to strike between taking the correct new direction for the future on the one hand and unsettling the team on the other.
AMS also suggests that Patrick Head is going to retire completely, which is not what he was saying at the start of the season after the team floated on the Frankfurt stockmarket. We will see if that is the case, or if he maintains an overview role, as he has done in recent years.
Parr told me at a pre-season media lunch that the team does not need to win to survive, but that the business model calls for them to finish in the top five or six in the championship as a minimum.
They have no points at the moment, but sixth placed team Sauber, have only seven points, so nothing is lost yet and the picture can change quickly over the course of a long season.