With Williams admitting the shame of 2006 in front of the world’s media at the FW29 launch in February, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the great British team were on a downward spiral and heading for the back of the grid, forever to run around with the Rossos and Spykers. It was a bad year for Williams, and with only a total of 11 points, the tally equaled that of the team’s first season in Formula One back in 1978. However, Williams were once a formidable force in Formula One, and one day they will be again. The signs of improvement have started to appear in winter testing, and the recent partnering with Toyota should be good for the Grove-based squad. So how will they fair in 2007? Let’s take a look at the team and see for ourselves.
Williams will run a development of their 2006 chassis, dubbed the FW29, which in all honesty wasn’t that bad. The real issue that faced Team Willy last year was one of reliability. However, when the planets were in alignment, Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg charged the blue warrior into places it arguably shouldn’t have been. So to develop what is already looking good is the correct thing for the team to do.
What the team need desperately is a decent engine partner. Since Renault left the team after 1997 (their most recent championship win), Williams have struggled with the engine. Initially they maintained the aging Renault units and had them badged (or sponsored, if you like) by Mecachrome and Supertec. However, it soon became clear the units were no longer up to the pace of their rivals and performance dropped. BMW came on board in 2000 to much fanfare, and the engine soon developed a reputation of being one the most powerful on the grid. But it was at this time that the chassis development took a hit as Adrian Newey moved to McLaren in 1997. The relationship between Williams and BMW began to sour and eventually the two went their separate ways at the end of 2005.
Cosworth jumped in for 2006 and reunited the team with the engine supplier that dominated the sport for so many years in the late ’70s. However, it just couldn’t hold itself together and failed far too many times. Not happy with the current situation, Frank Williams and Patrick Head looked to Toyota to supply a second team, and eventually the negotiations turned in Williams’ favour. The new engine should prove better for the team, and testing has at least shown the unit to be reliable.
Unfortunately for the team, their Australian ‘no-nonsense’ driver Mark Webber left at the end of 2006. Not happy with the way Williams was being steered, and feeling bitter at the lack of results, Webber moved to Red Bull Racing, and Williams chose to promote test driver Alex Wurz to a full race seat. Alex has raced previously, and even had a great tussle with Michael Schumacher at the 1998 Monaco Grand Prix. Alex has been on stand by for quite a while, and although he has managed some appearances in the car replacing injured drivers, he will need some adjusting to competitive racing again. However, his times during testing have been admirable and it seems the Austrian driver still has what it takes to drive hard and fast.
Teaming up with Wurz will be 2006 sensation Nico Rosberg. I say sensation quite literally, as the young German stole the show in the early part of last year by racing the nuts of the Williams. Son of former World Champion Keke Rosberg, Nico is considered to be an intelligent and gentlemanly racer, although he made a few errors last year that weren’t always polite. However, the young driver will do well to learn from is errors, and he is certainly a driver to watch for in the future.
Williams have a great heritage, and they carry the hearts of many British Formula One fans, as well as those from all over the world. It was Williams that had every British race fan on the edge of their seats in 1996 as Damon Hill took the title in Japan, causing Murray Walker to stop his commentary. It was Williams that powered Nigel Mansell to the 1992 World Championship and started the F1 careers of David Coulthard and Jenson Button. For this it would be great to see Williams improve on their 2006 form in 2007. But is it possible for the team to pull themselves out of the rut they have been in for so long? I hope so, because I would like nothing more than to see a Williams driver step onto the podium again. It won’t be this year though, as the team still have a long way to go. But 2008? Maybe…
2007 Constructors Prediction: 6th