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The View From Over Here - Tainted Legacies

FEATURE BY JIM CASEY
16/11/2011

This past weekend in Abu Dhabi, Williams Grand Prix Engineering reached a nadir that could hardly have been imagined in the years they were dominating the sport, first with the Cosworth-powered FW07 - Clay Regazzoni seen here giving the team its first Grand Prix win - and later with the Renault Turbo FW14 and 15. Championship-winning cars that dominated the sport in the same manner as Jim Clark's Lotus 49, the McLaren MP 4/4, and Herr Schumacher's various Ferraris. But there they were, Williams Formula One cars on the last row of the grid, behind Virgin, Lotus and even HRT. Sitting at the back with their Cosworth engines, surely now the least desirable motor on the grid, with few in attendance who could recall the days when virtually every car but Ferrari had a Ford DFV engine in the back.

This season has been a disaster for Williams and Cosworth, with the cars usually only faster than the three rearguard teams, and even with the huge points inflation that has taken place the last two years, they struggle for an occasional finish in the top ten. But the last row? How had this indignity come to pass?

Cosworth engines that were not only down on horsepower, but were leaking oil like an old MG, and the team's engine quota for the season, another stupid cost-cutting FIA mandate, left them with no fresh engines, saving one for Rubens Barrichello's home race in Sao Paolo next week. Maldonado was put on the last row for having worn out all of his engines, and having to use the forbidden 9th engine to finish the season, bringing on a 10-spot penalty. The fact that both cars finished, in 12th and 14th respectively, can hardly have been cause for joy.

The team has been on the back foot all season, after the new transmission design proved both unreliable and unable to transmit the Cosworth's power to the wheels. Barrichello's relentlessly upbeat attitude, at least in public, is admirable, but why he would want to spend his last season(s) in such a car is beyond understanding. Frank Williams' infamous temper has undoubtedly had some serious behind the scenes explosions this year, but the designers and engineers are men of his choosing, so he must shoulder the lion's share of the blame.

Why Cosworth, makers of the most successful Formula One engine of all time, are unable to match the horsepower of any of the other teams is also a mystery. With all the engines now rev-limited, it is appalling that the Cosworth-powered cars are all still so down on top speed compared even to the Renault-powered cars. The grandstands at Grand Prix races world-wide used to echo to the roar of the DFV, and hundreds of races were won with the engine, from its debut in 1967, to its ultimate demise at the hands of the turbos in the mid 80's, not to mention its cousin the DFX, the dominant engine in Indy Cars for 20+ years as well.

Whither Williams and Cosworth? Will the team from Grove ever recapture its former glory? Will Cosworth ever build another winning engine? With former Williams employee Adrian Newey the man of the hour as the designer of the all-conquering Red Bull RB8, can Frank Williams find the next design genius lurking in the cubicles of some design studio in Essex, Marseille, or Hamburg?

For those of us who happily remember the days when a Williams was always at or near the front, we can only hope.

Jim Casey
jim.casey@pitpass.com

To check out previous features from Jim, click here

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