It would appear, glancing back through BlogF1’s archives, that each and every year I preview Williams I find myself hoping that this will be the season when it all starts to come good again. By the time the last race of the year is over though, the Grove-based team’s usual result is only a couple of podiums at best, and they remain languishing towards the bottom of the championship standings. So what can we expect from the FW31 and the team’s 2009 campaign?
Well hopefully, a return to the successes of old; front row grid slots, competitive races, maybe a win or two. When the new car was first tested back in January, it didn’t look too bad. Dressed in it’s dark blue winter livery, the car was aesthetically pleasing, certainly much nicer than the BMW that had been charging around. The team were buoyed and spoke of the regulations shakeup being a boost for the squad. Since then though, as the other new cars made their way out on to the circuits, Williams have slipped backwards a little.
The FW31 has been developed over the winter though, and many parts have been changed as a result of testing. When the race livery was introduced in February, the car showed off skate-fins sprouting up from the side of the monocoque, just behind the driver’s head rest. Although these were quickly removed after the FIA said they could impede marshals in the event of an accident.
Williams retain their driver lineup from 2008, partnering Nico Rosberg with Toyota-friendly Kazuki Nakajima, and therefore needless to say, the Japanese engine remains in the car. Last year Kazuki did quite well in testing, managing a few quick laps and setting some wagging tongues in motion. However, while he did manage to improve throughout the course of the ’08 season, he was generally outpaced by Rosberg.
Having been around for a while now in Formula One, Nico is starting to show signs of being restless. 2009 will be the German driver’s fourth year at the sharp end of international motor sport, and he has said on occasion that he will evaluate his future at the end of this campaign. Nico arrived at Williams full of hope, but so far the best season Rosberg had was back in 2007, when 20 points were accrued on the way to ninth in the championship. Clearly talented, Nico does deserve a better car than those he has peddled around, but any decision to leave Williams should be taken with a lot of thought and consideration.
From looking at Williams and Toyota, we can say that the RVX-08 engine is fairly reliable and relatively easy to drive. The problems that have dogged Williams in recent years is the chassis and the development of it through the season. With a ban on testing during the racing year, Williams will have a hard time addressing issues with their car if it doesn’t hit the ground running in Australia. Although it should be noted that at the final test in Jerez, when McLaren were said to have found some pace themselves, Nakajima managed a lap time 0.5s faster. A pinch of salt is gladly taken, but it could be that Williams may have improved their chances for this year.
From a personal note, I hope Williams can challenge towards the front of the grid. It was the Oxfordshire team that got me interested in the sport many moons ago, and the privateer nature of the squad in a sport where the manufacturers attempt to rule with limitless budgets is impressive. There was fear over the winter that Sir Frank’s team could be on the brink of folding. The team are surviving though, and the passion that flows from the factory to the car is visible.
Williams are the only squad to attempt to develop a battery-less KERS system (instead they are using a flywheel) and the team is well-known for the little innovative ideas that find their way onto the car. Williams prove that big budgets aren’t necessary when you have great minds at the factory. But for the sake of the squad’s future and the option to retain Rosberg, it needs to start coming together on Sunday afternoons.