Saturday, 2 February 2013

Williams' Late Launch: A Halt in their Revival?

Close of the 2012 Formula One season.   Williams are celebrating a year adorned with a plethora of accomplishments in comparison with the basal amount that decorated their substandard 2011. Claiming 76 points and securing eighth in the Constructors championship, compared with ninth place and only 5 points, hints that Williams are obtaining new life from the ashes of their season spent languishing in the abyss of under performance.   

On the up:  The team celebrate Maldonado's win.

Having replaced Adam Parr as Executive Director of the team, Toto Wolff, with his visionary leadership style, has administered an injection of vitality, and together with a rapidly gelling new technical team in the form of Chief Operations Engineer, Mark Gillan, and Technical director Mike Coughlan, the revival is on.  Victory in Barcelona at the hands of Pastor Maldonado demonstrated their potential and stands as the hallmark of their resurgence. The promotion of the next flying Finn, Valtteri Bottas, from reserve driver to a race seat alongside the Venezuelan, creates a driver pairing oozing speed and fireworks. 

Bottas and Maldonado:  A pairing to be revered?

F1 Racing’s January edition sports a front cover devoted to ‘Williams Reloaded’ with the respective article telling the story of their current optimism.  Riding high and looking forward to another season to consolidate and build on their 2012, a phoenix in the shape of the Williams F1Team is beginning to stretch its wings. 

2013:  A Different Picture

February 2013.  A month that opens with the shroud of secrecy  surrounding the new challengers for the new season being removed, as the teams unveil their new cars and put them through their paces during winter testing at Jerez.  Having already announced that they will not be revealing the Renault powered FW35 until the second test in Barcelona, Williams head to the first test with the 2012 FW34 in tow.  While the other ten teams on the grid start gathering priceless data and information about the performance of their latest offerings, the extent of Williams’ learning will be about the behaviour of the new Pirelli tyres.  Talking to Finland’s Turan Sanomat newspaper, Valterri Bottas said,

“We will be experimenting with a lot of parts for the new car, but of course the main focus is to get a feel for this year’s Pirelli tyres.”

The limitation of only being able to try out components that may or may not make their way onto the finished machine, while the other teams and drivers gain a fundamental  feel for the whole car enabling tweaks to extract more speed to be made, sees the Williams phoenix dissolving slowly into the shape of an albatross. 

Playing catch up in terms of development is not the only obstacle Williams are faced with.  Tempted by the lure of the three pointed star, Toto Wolff took his passion and vision to Mercedes, appointed as Norbert Haug’s successor.  Prior to this, leader of the restored technical team, Mark Gillan announced his departure from the team for family reasons. Having been central to their 2012 revival, the departure of these key figures has delivered a significant sting to the Williams tail. 

Mark Gillan on the pit wall.

Although gifting Williams their first win since 2004, Pastor Maldonado’s erratic driving style cost the team a lot of points in 2012.  To the detriment of the team, last year’s most penalised driver has admitted he has no desire to modify the way he drives. Speaking to Spain’s Marca Sports newspaper, Maldonado revealed,

“Every time I walk down a hallway in my house and see everything I’ve got with this style, I think I should continue on this path.  Yes I’ve had run ins with other drivers, not only now, but in the past,”  “That gives me strength to keep going because you can always improve.” 

The arrogance exuded by Pastor is another battle Williams have to fight.  Another season ruing loss of points due to careless and often erratic racing will not support Williams’ wish to end the season further up the table.    Imagine what they could look forward to if their most experienced driver toned and refined his approach. 

Maldonado loses points as a result of the clash with Lewis Hamilton in Valencia.

Whilst hotly tipped to be a star of the future, Valtteri Bottas is a rookie and may take a longer to get a handle on the car.  Mirroring his inexperience, Bottas’ new race engineer, Jonathan Eddolls is also new to the position. 

Two months on from the climax of the season in Brazil, the situation at Williams paints a very different picture.  We look forward to our first glimpse of the FW35 at the second test in Barcelona and only then will we see if this once consistently triumphant team can revive their revival.  For now at least, it would seem that the wings of the majestic Williams phoenix have been clipped, leaving it to languish in the ashes awaiting resurrection once more.

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