Will Gray

Team by team previews: Williams

Will Gray

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Will changes at Williams result in success?

It's all change at Williams this year — but after a disastrous 2011 in which they posted their worst-ever championship finish will those changes be enough for them to make a quick comeback?

The team's ninth-place finish in the constructors' championship last year, with just five points, was the low point so far in a now long-running downwards spiral for the former world champions.

The form of 2003, when they were a championship runners-up with the might of BMW heavily supporting their campaign, are long gone and their name is now only mentioned alongside the likes of McLaren and Ferrari in the history books.

But since last year's disaster, the car, the senior personalities and part of the driver line-up (a Brazilian switch from Rubens Barrichello to Bruno Senna) has all changed, leading driver Pastor Maldonado to claim the team is a 'completely different' outfit to the one he raced for last year.


The big hope this year is that a return to the partnership with Renault, which helped write many of the most successful chapters in their past, will bring them at least back to a respectable level.

The Cosworth engine - used by the team in the two years since the end of their post-BMW tie-up with Toyota - is not believed to be on a par with the other options on the grid. Underpowered, it is also understood to be heavy and quite cooling dependent.

The Renault, in contrast, is a world championship-winning engine used in the back of the Red Bull Racing machine, and although that also has been criticised for a lack of overall power, its driveability and design elements are what stands out.

The performance alone is a clear benefit of the switch while marrying the Renault engine with Williams' own super-small gearbox design has allowed them to produce a tidily packaged rear end on their new machine, which suggests this is a step in the right direction.

But it is not going to be the answer to all the team's problems.

The old days of front-running success came thanks to significant manufacturer support — and while the return of Williams-Renault is being played up by the team, this is no works deal — it is a simple customer supply arrangement that will not see the team enjoy the levels of integration they once had.


Much has been made of the team management changes, with Patrick Head and, recently, Frank Williams stepping down from the board — but the team is still in very good hands.

Adam Parr is to Frank Williams what Martin Whitmarsh is to Ron Dennis at McLaren, the lawyer and finance expert being a well-schooled replacement for the next generation — even if Williams will, for the time being, remain fully active as team principal. Indeed, annual profits on Friday showed a team in rude health despite recent on-track woes.

It is the design team, however, where the focus now lies, and the question of whether Mike Coughlan and COE Mark Gillian can fill the boots of Head and former technical chief Sam Michael.

Some say Michael's departure is a blessing for both parties and that his new role as sporting director at McLaren is far better suited to him than his more technical position at Williams.

Coughlan and Gillian arrived early enough to manage the 2012 car so it should have a solid base — but it will be the new head of aerodynamics, Jason Summerville, who joined from Renault in August, who will be biting his nails most this year as that area appears to have been in biggest need of improvement.


Williams himself recently declared last year's car "deficient in most areas that matter" - suggesting it was heavy, had very poor aero and was low on power.

Technical chiefs suggest that several design development routes were blocked last year because of the way the car behaved and the way it used its tyres.

The team has been working hard to find a way for the new car to take more care of its tyres and Senna was making positive noises in this area after a race simulation during recent Barcelona testing.

However, reports suggest the new machine is a hard one to handle and the team still appears to be struggling with downforce, particularly in low-speed corners — an area where significant lap time can be found.

The team will probably miss the input from Rubens Barrichello and in the hands of two relatively rookie drivers (Pastor Maldonado being the second) the development pace could be limited.

Perhaps that is one reason why Alex Wurz, the new driver mentor, has been brought into the team — and with his huge testing and development experience, if he can bridge the gap between the drivers and engineers, his input could be vital to their early success.

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