Will Gray

Team preview: Williams

Will Gray

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It is more than 100 races since Williams last topped the podium but new backing and a determined stock market floatation shows they are not giving up — now can their radical car bring back the glory days?

The last three seasons have seen Williams steadily climbing back up the F1 ranks, in terms of position at least, going from eight to seventh to sixth in the constructors' championship table. But for a team that as recently as 2003 was fighting for the title, this provides little to smile about. Neither does the fact two major sponsors, RBS and Philips, departed at the end of last year.

Yet Williams is the classic privateer, with a never-give-up attitude and a determination to seek success from such adversity — and to do so takes radical action on a number of counts.

From the financial perspective, one radical approach has been to drop talented German Nico Hulkenberg in favour of PSDVA-backed Pastor Maldonado. That actually may not be so radical after all, because it brings in big Venezuelan sponsorship cash and as reigning GP2 champion, Maldonado could yet prove to be an equally good partner for number one man Rubens Barrichello. More radical is the decision to float on the stock market, but although the team's share price dropped immediately by several percent, the move has already netted a significant new investment supporter.

This, however, could all pale into insignificance compared to the radical gamble in the design office.

A unique approach to rear-end aerodynamics ensured the new Williams made an immediate impact when it was unveiled — and this is an area that will prove vital in design development this season as teams try to encourage clean air flow into the rear area to compensate for the drop in downforce caused by the ban on the double diffuser.

Williams has worked hard on the gearbox design — traditionally the most bulky item in this area - and the radically small unit they have created this year has allowed them to take a completely new direction in the conceptual design layout at the back of the car.

The gearbox has decreased in size to such an extent that it is now too low to mount the suspension on, so that now attaches to a rear wing strut rather than on top of the gearbox. Coupled with the pullrod rear suspension and a radically low differential (rotated back and down from conventional designs), this creates a very low centre of gravity at the rear and less blockage with plenty of space for the air to flow through the diffuser area.

There were reports of major vibrations in testing, but the team denies it will be a problem and of greater concern could be the very steep the driveshaft angle, which could cause power and reliability issues — although Williams is also confident this will not be a problem.

The rest of the car is less radical but still innovative, with a neat triple element / twin element upper front wing and a high nose, a round airbox with a very large undercut beneath it to improve airflow off the driver's helmet and heavily undercut sidepods, with the undercut running fully around the car to feed clean air into the rear area and the top surface seeing a massive sweep down to also improve airflow into this section.

One possible question mark is over the Cosworth engine powering this radical chassis, but it proved a solid solution last season and although major development is not allowed there have been areas where Cosworth has been able to improve. One major element here is that this is the team's second year with the unit and they will have had more time to develop the right gear ratios — they can only homologate 30 and last year they were not all correct and couldn't be changed — so there could also be a step change from the engine as well.

Testing has been mixed so far. Maldonado had an off on the second day at Jerez and also in Barcelona on day three while rear wing problems also lost them a day. Conversely, Barrichello topped the times in Jerez - although could that have been for appearances ahead of the share flotation? — and before the final test they had still done almost 4,000km of running.

This year they have reverted to a livery that appears similar to the classic title-winning Rothmans Williams designs of the mid-1990s, and that fact will not be lost on some of the team's greatest fans.

If the radical design proves to be the right solution, the long lead-time on gearbox design means Williams could enjoy a long advantage — but so far the car has not blown its rivals away, so although it could put them back in the mix it will be a big surprise if they return to the top this year.


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Every day leading up to the start of the F1 season, Will Gray will be breaking down a different team's prospects for 2011.

The schedule is as follows: Mar 14 Virgin; Mar 15 HRT; Mar 16 Lotus; Mar 17 Toro Rosso; Mar 18 Sauber; Mar 19 Force India; Mar 20 Williams; Mar 21 Renault, Mar 22 Mercedes; Mar 23 Ferrari; Mar 24 McLaren; Mar 25 Red Bull

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