A change in direction

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In my final column for Motor Sport, I turn to a painful subject: the performance of Williams F1 in the 2011 World Championship. It is seven years since we won our last Grand Prix – in Brazil in 2004 – and eight since we were serious title contenders in ’03, a championship we should have won.

Since 2004 we have experienced a number of commercial challenges, starting with the departure of BMW at the end of ’05. With 10 GP wins together but no titles we did not achieve our joint targets, but BMW’s one race win in four years of running their own team shows that Formula 1 is never easy – a part of its fascination.

Frank Williams and I have always been very supportive of reinvestment and we have strong facilities for our engineers. Since ’05 the budget has somewhat restricted engineering bandwidth, design and manufacturing resource, but increased budget is generally linked with improving track performance. The challenge is to punch above our weight and move upwards.

In recent years Williams has made well-intended positive predictions about new cars, only to fall below expectations. We have then usually made relative progress through the year, but this characteristic had become so repetitive we concluded that changes in senior technical positions had to be made.

The mix of technical abilities and personal characteristics required in leading an F1 team is complex, and the subject of detailed consideration. It is a challenge to get these aspects right.

Adrian Newey is seen as F1’s most successful designer of the last two decades, but his record at Red Bull is particularly impressive. Much credit must go to Christian Horner in his direction of a large, complex structure, which combines getting the best from Adrian with the organisation and engineering discipline that wins titles.

So we have new senior staff at Williams. Technical director Mike Coughlan, head of aerodynamics Jason Somerville and chief operations engineer Mark Gillan are reviewing what they find. They seem pleased with the facilities, although obviously they bring some plans for improvement, and pleased with the standard of engineering design and manufacturing staff. I’m sure there will be some restructuring over the winter under their leadership.

The FW33 design was bold in a few areas, particularly the transmission and rear suspension, but the car has exhibited the same corner-entry rear-end instability all season. This has been challenging for the team and drivers, but operational disciplines have been maintained, and the car has been generally reliable. But regular 11th, 12th and 13th place finishes earn nothing in points.

The Williams-designed and built KERS has been good, if sometimes limited by cooling considerations, but a considerable achievement by the system designers and technicians. However, this alone does not overcome the handling weaknesses.

Without intending to detract from the achievements of teams that have moved ahead of us in 2011, some have benefitted from being able to apply the developments of larger teams that they are associated with or purchase assemblies from. The benefits to a car from the sophisticated management of engine exhaust ‘blowing’ has been considerable, but not available to ourselves.

If Williams is to maintain its design and manufacture of almost the whole car in-house, it must justify it by producing a faster car capable of consistent top 10 qualifying and podium places. This is a big challenge for the new technical staff, but meet it they must.

I am confident that the new technical leadership will bring Williams back to a stronger position. Our recent performances have been affected by unexpected engine problems, often limiting practice mileage, and at Abu Dhabi preventing Rubens [Barrichello] from qualifying. We’ve been working with Renault for some months on the installation of their engine in our 2012 car and, with a second straight title behind them powering the Red Bulls, we know this part of our package will be fully competitive.

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