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Williams adrift in midfield battle
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Posted By: James Allen  |  09 Aug 2011   |  10:04 am GMT  |  94 comments

It’s good from time to time to glance at the Constructors’ Championship table and remind yourself of the big picture in terms of the state of play between teams. There is the usual disproportionate sharing of points with the top two or three teams hogging the majority and the new teams desperate for even a sniff of a single point.

But it’s the midfield teams which are so interesting at the moment.

Last year the top four teams were followed by Renault in fifth, then Williams, Force India, Sauber and Toro Rosso.

This year Renault has 66 points, Sauber 35, Force India 26, Toro Rosso 22. They are all reasonably close to each other on performance, either qualifying around the fringes of the top ten or, in Toro Rosso’s case, managing to get cars regularly into the points using a particular race strategy. The odd one out is Williams, with only 4 points on the board, down in 9th place in the table.

The car clearly has its difficulties, not least that in races it is quite hard on its tyres and for much of the season it has had a poor start performance, losing many places off the grid. But Pastor Maldonado has managed to qualify it in the top ten three times since Barcelona. The problem has been converting that into points. Rubens Barrichello’s two ninth places from Monaco and Canada are all the team has to show for the season so far.

I asked him over the Hungarian GP weekend whether he thought the team would be able to bridge the points gap with some strong results, as it did in the second half of last season.

“If we don’t improve the fundamental problem, if we keep on testing and experimenting then we are going to score points but not in that range,” said Barrichello. “Unless we go to a race where there are 15 cars off and you finish on the podium.

“The car has its problems. If we don’t go down under and cure the whole situation to start growing again and we keep just changing the top then it’s just like masking.

“It’s not a lack of effort that Williams isn’t bringing new things. They are bringing loads of new things, but they are not working. Last year some of them did work and then our year improved so much. Right now, we are trying new stuff and not feeling that it’s getting there.”

Last season Barrichello qualified in the top ten in nine of the last ten races and scored three top seven finishes. That’s the kind of performance Force India is showing now with its updated car.

Barrichello has been keen to volunteer to test and evaluate things, such as running without KERS in Germany to see if that helped with rear tyre issues.

And he points out that the team is actually in the fortunate position of having a new technical director, Mike Coughlan, focussed on next year’s car and the old TD, Sam Michael, working on developing this year’s car.

“We have Mike Coughlan working on next year and Sam is being paid already so we might as well use him to do something for this year. In that respect we are quite lucky. We just need to improve the damn car.”

Williams boss Adam Parr said at the start of the season that the team’s business model required them to finish in the top five or six in the championship. Currently sixth place Sauber is 31 points ahead and that looks like a very steep hill to climb from where the team is now.

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1

Will you be publishing a team-by-team look at all of the teams similarly, James?

2

Been following Williams since the ’70’s.

I always thought tWilliams are a bit tough on drivers especially any driver who tried to improve his pay after winning a title.

I think Frank and Patrick need to move aside and let the team develop into a race winner again. They are the 2 principals at Williams and they are responsible for what the team has become.

What goes around comes around.

I’m not impressed with Parr at all.

Maldonado has been impressive and Reubens would still win races in the right car.

3

And yet, even though ….

1. they’ve had many, many years of mediocrity

2. newer teams are now out-performing them

3. there are no signs of likely improvemement

They still receive their yearly bonus from F1 for being one of the longterm teams ! Nice one.

4

As others have noted above, there are several reasons for Williams’ prolonged sojourn in no-man’s land.

Williams now looks like Lotus did toward the end. Going back a bit more, people sometimes forget that Colin Chapman was often criticized for what most take to be his greatest strength – always looking for the Next Big Thing rather than the more conservative “consolidate and refine” approach. But history shows that Chapman was at his most successful when he steadily refined a new concept, rather than quickly dropping it and taking the next big chance (viz., the 16 was overcomplicated, the 18 was simple. The 18 won races. The 25 developed incrementally into the 33, winning championships or coming close to doing so; the 49 was steadily refined; ditto the 72. Overreaching came back with the Lotus 80).

BRM followed much the same path – successful when simple, laughing stock when they got too cute. V16 overcomplicated farce, no matter how glorious the sound. V8 = victory, H16 = return to farce. V12 and simple chassis (P153 developed into P160) = winner.

Williams has gotten too cute. They haven’t had a consistent technical direction – veering from one “next big innovation” to another rather than evolving a solid, basic concept over time – in years. The “walrus” car; flywheel KERS; ultra-compact gearbox and rear packaging. You can’t hit a moving target (getting on terms with the competition) if the target in your own team (technical direction) keeps changing.

Williams has also emulated the BRM, Lotus (and Tyrrell) tradition of steadily bleeding driving talent – some of it coming in this case through sheer bloody-mindedness and inciting resentment in drivers. In the last 20 years, they’ve lost or discarded multiple world champions (Piquet, Mansell, Hill, JV). Then they lost or discarded multiple-race winners (DC, JPM, Ralf). Since then, they’ve had, at best, solid pros (Webber, Rubens) or young talent not yet at race-winning level (Rosberg, Maldonado) – some of whom they’ve lost through disillusionment or lack of financial wherewithal (Webber, Rosberg). I will be surprised if Maldonado stays very long. Notice the trend toward instability, if not a downward trend in quality.

It looks like Mike Coughlan is walking back into Arrows, rather than the (formerly) championship winning Williams. I fear it’s too late for him to save the patient. Rather like Aubrey Woods unsuccessfully trying resuscitate BRM, Coughlan may turn out to be the doctor who simply turns off the light.

5

I think its fair to say Adam Parr is not exactly the most popular F1 boss of the moment! I have to agree, and just as I wondered why they hung onto Sam Michael for so long, I wonder why Parr has been able to assume such power and not face up to his very evident failings so far. Like Michael, he seems to have been very highly rated by Frank and Patrick but has probably been promoted to a position beyond his competence. I think this season is a write-off for Williams but I have hopes that the new team and Renault can bring about an improvement next year – and that Rubens keeps his chin up. Roll on 400 races, Rubinho!

6

The one problem facing Williams, beyond anything else, is that they don’t have a race winning driver at the helm. I know Rubens has won races in the past, but he is no longer out and out quick enough to be regarded as a top 3/5 driver any more.

Having a Senna (or modern day nearest equivalent) at the wheel would do wonders for them. Firstly, they would understand just HOW fast or slow their car really is. They’d also maximise the potential of what they have, and this would change the morale.

Right now, I’m not sure if the design or engineering teams have absolute faith in their driver line-up either. So no-one trusts anyone, and a lot of F1 depends on pure, blind faith.

All this being said, when will Williams ever have a young race winning driver at the helm? They are famous for not paying driver’s large salaries, and that is what it would take to lure someone of that ilk. I wonder if they have the funds at their disposal if they wanted to sign someone?

7

This is nonsense. Two years ago Rubens was blowing everyone out of the water because he had a great car. Now you want some ‘young race winning driver’ behind the wheel?

Do you really think Vettel or Hamilton would do any better than Rubens? Maybe, and I said MAYBE, they would occasionally beat him for 3 tenths or so and that’s it, which would be expectable.

The car is a dog. End of.

8

Agreed.

When they are 3 tenths off pole, then ditch Rubens for a young-gun.

When they are 1.5 seconds off pole, keep Rubens so he can help develop the car.

9

They definitely need to ‘pull one out of the hat’ and somehow land a young gun thats quick out of the box. Maldanado has done ok, but they need somebody to blow the doors off everybody else.

I suppose all the teams have at least an informal way of tracking prospects, but Williams need to step it up and dedicate some serious resources to a continuous search for talent. They need to uncover and sign the next Hamilton or Vettel.

10

I swear they have said “next year will be better” for quite a long time now.

I will remain a Barrichello fan, but Adam Parr has stopped me from supporting his team (for the first time since that moment in Austria with Ferrari). Still, I would prefer to see Rubens in a quicker car.

Do you have any way of assessing how well they might have performed, having saved tyres, if Budapest had been dry?

11

I have faith. They will be back on form.

12

It saddens me to say but I find it impossible to see Williams ever winning a race again, they will likely be the first of the established teams to be overtaken by Lotus in the next couple of years

13

Running an F1 team looks a pretty gruelling business to me, one that can’t get any easier as you get older. Frank Williams and Patrick Head are approaching their 70’s. Maybe it’s time to step down and take a well earned retirement

As a company that held an IPO, there is a duty to protect the shareholders interest – this is no longer a lifestyle business.

It would be a shame to let that great heritage fade away, when some dynamic new leadership could re-energise a team that is clearly in the doldrums.

14

Williams has certainly been ‘snake-bit’ this year. During pre-season testing, they were testing the new gearbox that was the darling of the media. When that didn’t pan out it seemed to take the wind out of their sails and things went from bad to worse. Radical chic just ain’t cuttin’ it this year.

15

They just need to bite the bullet and become less ‘independent’: buy a successful engine/tranny combo from one of the top teams and become a “semi-customer car” like everyone else.

16

When an organization (team or whatever) is continually failing to perform, look to the common denominator, which in this case is ownership. Until that changes, in spite of best wishes and the flogging of past glories, this team will not change its lackluster performance levels.

17

Adam Parr is classic CEO material.

In many ways, he reminds me of Max Mosley, both ex-lawyers, both very intelligent and applying the unemotional methods of big business management over a sport that makes a huge amount of money (although Mosley is more of a motorsport enthusiast than I suspect Parr is).

And although I like them, Williams have never been the cuddliest team in the paddock have they? 🙂

Aside from that, maybe there’s a longer game being played here by Adam Parr. I wonder if he isn’t quietly eying up Todt’s job …

18

Jem, I have no doubts at all that Mr Parr is positioning himself very well for future moves into higher positions -> i.e., he “talks” a lot, but “says” very little.

19

Hi James,

It’s perhaps a bit off topic, but think it’s interesting matter.

In the beginning of the season, Christian Horner pointed out regarding the situation with engines. As he said, because of the lack of power of Renault unit they are loosing some 0.3-0.4 sec per lap compared to competitors with Merc or Ferrari engines.

For sure this retardation depends on track’s configuration and will change from layout to layout, but could you please Clarify, whether the situation is similar that at start of season, or just it’s diminished a bit, I mean the effect of engine power lack is minimized (is there any assessment of how many tenths it could be per lap). Or do RBR engineers deal with same issue; as Horner said: our performance to be superb, to recover this power lack and beat competitors…

20

Looking at the results for Williams, it strikes me that under the old top 6 or even top 8 point systems, they would still be on zilch. That’s a pretty terrible situation for them to be in. In 2007, Barrichello scored no points for Honda, but had a best of 9th, the same as his best for Williams in 2011. So if anything, the new top 10 point system masks their problems slightly more. I can’t see them winning again any time soon…although Maldanado deserved a good few points in Monaco, so they have had the odd bright-ish spot.

21

Every year we hear how Williams is going to move up the grid and every year they don’t. They are the team version of Coulthard. Next year, next year, so on and so forth. I’m glad team scab is awash in mediocrity. Hopefully it folds one day. I haven’t forgotten they were the first to bail out when the teams were fighting against Mosely. Frankly I haven’t liked them since they tossed Mansell aside for Prost.

22

“They are the team version of Coulthard”

No disrespect to Coulthard but LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I like Coulthard tho.

23

What a very successful racing driver, who achieved more in F1 that most drivers could dream of?

Or a well respected man even after F1?

Typical British view on our sports person- just because the did not acheive a championship. The same goes for Henman- a top 10 tennis player in his prime.

24

Tossed Mansell aside for Prost? You mean when Mansell threw a hissy because he didn’t want to be beaten by Prost (again)?

25

I’m sure Prost had a clause saying that he wouldn’t have Mansell or Senna as a partner. He subsequently agreed to allow Mansell as a partner but by then he was already miffed by the situation.

Even as a Mansell fan, I can’t say it was a bad decision by Williams – Prost and Hill delivered.

Incidentally, I presume merchandising has no place in Williams’ business model (I’m sure it’s doable, based solely on prize money, sponsorship, technology licensing and corporate services). It can be the only reason they allow someone as hostile to fans as Parr to speak to the media.

26

I think floating on the stock market has just increased the pressure on the williams team and drivers which may be putting them into conflict and trying for quick fixes rather than sorting fundamental flaws.

As others have said think Adam Parr has given Williams some bad publicity re SKY/BBC deal. Didn’t quite understand the relevance of it. Saying its fans fault F1 is expensive and we should support cost reduction in F1, I don’t remember fans having a big say in that issue, it was the teams who couldn’t agree.

27

Perhaps it would be worthwhile considering both Williams and Sauber getting together to form a single team. Would it produce a larger private team with more clout capable of taking it to the top three? Just a thought…

28

+1

Now that’s an idea no one ever thought of =)

Though I doubt this’ll work.

29

If a large south american oil company is interested in a relationship with a large south american telecoms company, it might have legs!

Neil.

30
Christopher Snowdon

Kudos to Force India, they lost an awful lot of their top technical staff (at a time when their car was pretty quick) which did set them back, but they have regrouped and have come on leaps and bounds. Nice to see a team not bemoan their fortune, get on, work hard and reap the deserved results.

It’s sad to see the demise of Williams, a team we all love, bit it does make you wonder why they didn’t offer Adrian Newey what he wanted (was it a management position or something??). James is this a major cause of regret at Williams?

On a more positive note, can’t wait to see Williams Renault, one of Formula one’s made in heaven partnerships.

31

I thought Williams did what they could to retain Newey but he was determined to leave.

32

As I understand it, Newey wanted a shareholding in the team which Frank and Patrick weren’t willing to provide at the time.

33
Christopher Snowdon

I had a feeling it was something along those lines, thinks its logic to say if they had given him what he wanted he’d still be there, especially as he would have been a shareholder. I’m sure you guys would agree that was a disaster of a decision. Not on the same scale, but there are probably similar moans and groans at Mclaren to.

Would love to know if James has any inside track on whether there is regret at William’s, as in my view they paid a heavy price for loosing him.

34

It’s a shame and almost sad the way Williams have fallen to the back. I guess it’s easy to say many things from our side of the fence, but the vibe and feeling from the outside does seem to suggest a political poison inside the Williams camp.

Must also be a very frustrating time for Rubens, who only a few years ago was winning races.

I hope for Rubens and F1 that they get their s**t together soon!

35

Williams remain my second team, and I’ll probably always look out for how they are doing.

There are reasons to be positive, Coughlan and Renault are both excellent additions (although I dont think the Cosworth engine is at all the weak component).

In Pastor I think they have a driver who will improve (much like everyone wrote petrov off last year) in the coming months and years. The fact that he comes with good sponsorship allows them to have some financial sound footing.

I’ve heard it said many times that Sam is stretched too thinly, as is his team.

Didnt I see at the same time Mike Couglan was joining that they’d hired someone else (I’m afraid I’ve lost the name in my memory) for Aero?

For what its worth, I honestly think it is now time for Rubens to be replaced (Hulkenburg would be great… again….). He was saying that back end of last year people has started listening to him on the direction of next years car and he was very positive. That worked out well then.

36
Jesper Mathias Nielsen

I would have liked to see a comment regarding the significance of the Cosworth engine in the situation.

37

I’ve supported this team for over a decade and seen a steady decline in that time.

I’m curious about how much teams earn for their constructors points at the end of the season, and how such a bad year might affect Williams’ (already lean) budget for next year?

38

I used to be a big supporter of Williams, still have an original Williams Renault jacket, but quite frankly I couldn’t support any team that has Alan Parr associated with it.

39

… Adam (damn predictive text)

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