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2011 In Review: Williams

NEWS STORY
31/12/2011

Mat Coch writes:

There's little that can be said of Williams season that hasn't already been said. 2011 was a disaster of unprecedented proportions for the Grove-based squad, the worst season in its long and glorious history.

Fact of the matter is that Williams has been on a slippery slope for a few years, harking back to the withdrawal of HP and BMW in 2006. The team hopped from Cosworth to Toyota and back again, and next year will be using Renault engines, rekindling a successful partnership from the 1990's. But times have changed, and it's unlikely Renault power alone will be enough to turn around the British team's fortunes.

Change is needed, and while senior personnel changed over the course of the season it has not been as sweeping as some feel it needs to be. The new staff have simply replaced the old, the fundamental structure remains the same, and if Sam Michael is to be believed that's as much of a problem as the constant engine changes.

It's no secret that the team is short of funds, and as much as the team denies that Pastor Maldonado was brought in because of his links with the Venezuelan state oil company it no doubt played a part in the team's decision making process. He was fresh from success in GP2 - against a comparatively weak field - and let's not forget Nico Hulkenberg wiped the floor with him in the 2009 series. He did contribute a single point, twenty percent of the team's constructors points total, but on balance he acquitted himself well enough and improved as the season went on. It was the team could realistically ask for under the circumstances.

Barrichello hardly fared better, two ninth places in Monaco and Canada was a disappointing return for the year. He was consistently twelfth or thirteenth, loitering around the fringes of the points while rarely getting among them, but the fact of the matter is he managed only two points scoring results all season. The team enjoyed just three in total, amassing a paltry five points.

Exactly what went wrong is anyone's guess. The investment the team once enjoyed is no longer there. Without money the team can't develop as it would wish, while chasing dead-end development avenues also doesn't help. It never got a blown floor working, for example, which cost it substantial lap time compared to those around it, not to mention development budget and time under the Resource Restriction Agreement.

Technically the team that is producing the 2012 car is markedly different from that which produced the FW33. Sam Michael stepped down in May and finally parted ways with the Grove outfit after the Singapore Grand Prix, leaving Mike Coughlin at the helm with Mark Gillan. They'll be unassisted by Patrick Head who has decided to step away from Formula One after a long and glorious career - he was the man that truly understood ground-effects after Lotus stumbled across it by mistake and can be credited with a large proportion of the team's past successes.

So Williams circa 2012 will be a different beast than that which limped through 2011. It has Renault power and Venezuelan money, that much we know, but there are still a number of question marks. The biggest is who will be in the second car, with a number of drivers linked to the seat Barrichello has occupied for the last two seasons.

It seems strange that a veteran of more than 300 Grands Prix, and who is still competitive, can't secure himself a place on the grid based on performance alone but with the likes of Adrian Sutil and Vitaly Petrov on the market, drivers who can bring talent and, more importantly, budget, the team can hardly be blamed for taking its time.

The revised rules should sit favourably with those in charge at Grove. While it tried hard the blown floor was not a success, so its banning for next season is a blessing for the team meaning it starts the year without the need to play catch-up to those who did manage to get their versions working.

On the other hand it does once again have to shoehorn a different engine in the back, and while, on the face of it, the Renault motor has a better pedigree, at least in modern times, it remains to be seen just how much of a difference it makes. If any.

At risk of repeating myself, 2012 is an important year for Williams, just as it is for those behind it in the 2011 pecking order. Williams must bounce back, and one can't help but feel that if it can't turn its fortunes around we could be waving goodbye to the team which dominated the sport in the 1990's in much the same way we said farewell to Brabham and (Colin Chapman's) Lotus. In Grove, the stakes have never been higher.

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