Will Gray

Gray Matter: Can Williams step up in 2011?

Will Gray

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The arrival of Pastor Maldonado and his Venezuelan financial support could signal a return to happier times at Williams after a tough few years - but can it steer the former world champions back to the front?

Sir Frank Williams and Patrick Head have faced plenty of highs and lows together during their years in Formula One, but it is some time since they were enjoying the real fruits of success, and 14 years since they actually won the World Championship.

Recent years have seen the team slowly drop down the order, and the crossover between 2010 and 2011 was a crucial one as the team lost significant financial feeds from lucrative partnerships with RBS and Philips, which both ended at the end of last season.

Now, however, the Maldonado deal and its associated funds from Venezuela's national energy company PDVSA looks to have plugged the gap and the team's chief executive Adam Parr is bullish about their ability not only to survive but to spend through 2011.

By all accounts, Williams has developed a strong baseline for their 2011 car but development is, of course, key to all progress, and traditionally in recent years the team has usually been one that starts off well but tails off as the more well off teams accelerate development and slowly ease away an advantage.

This new cash injection is rumoured to be worth around US$36m per year over five years, and that is likely to provide the funds to cover the loss of the two sponsors that have just left plus a few million extra.

Every penny counts in Formula One, especially with the teams' resource restriction agreement cutting in ever harder, but while this new cash injection would help any team, Williams may have the ability to do more with it than most.

At the recent Venezuela run, where the PDVSA deal was announced, Sir Frank said that the company was a "substantial" partner and added that the deal "will make a meaningful difference to our fighting ability".

His comment was spot on. While the team still has several additional sponsors, it does not have the major double sponsorship injections that support the pace of development of teams like McLaren, with Santander and Vodafone, Ferrari, with Marlboro and Santander, and Mercedes, with Daimler and Petrobras. Nor does it have a backer with seemingly bottomless pockets like Dietrich Mateschitz at Red Bull.

However, what Williams and Head have always done is managed to retain a respect in the industry that draws in talented engineers, and the well structured core team and strong management structure is always ready to make the most of any finances that come the way of the drawing office.

The team is still hampered by having to support a pay engine deal, using a Cosworth engine that appears to have its limitations, but certainly in Barrichello and probably in Maldonado they should have a driver pairing that can peddle a good car up the order, coupled with a reasonable amount of development funds to keep it there.

This level of cash injection should be enough to keep them ahead of teams like Force India and Sauber in the championship table but combined with the strong team structure it should and a consistent development rate it could get them back on the heels of teams in the lower top five.

But it is whether Barrichello, as lead driver, then has what it takes to handle the likes of Kubica at Renault and Schumacher and Rosberg at Mercedes, the two teams that currently should be Williams' main targets, that could decide just how far they climb back up the ladder.

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