Williams' secret ingredient


Williams, rejoice, rejoice, won the Spanish Grand Prix. What a difference an engine makes. Or does it? Caterham, too, has the Renault engine and they are far from winning.

In modern times all engines are good. Some do say that the Mercedes has the edge, but not by much. Engine builders are notoriously secretive, detailed figures from the dyno rarely made public. In times gone by a motor could make the difference. Ferrari made some very potent V12s, Matra built a great engine and Cosworth, as we know, produced a mighty V8. These days it’s all about aerodynamics.

What does make a difference is a bad engine, but there are not many of those these days. It is sometimes said that the Cosworth is less ‘driveable’ than others and certainly Williams was keen to get its hands on a Renault ahead of the forthcoming return of turbos. Now only HRT and Marussia run a Cosworth in F1 and the engine is the least of their problems.

So what, if anything, can we deduce from the return to form of the Williams team?

I sense that, in no particular order, we can point to the arrival of Mike Coughlan, vastly improved aerodynamics, some new and very clever personnel in key positions, a vigorous desire to recover and, of course, that Renault engine that has served Red Bull so well these past few seasons.

We are currently in the middle of an engine freeze, with only minor ‘amendments’ allowed, so the people matter very much. And when it comes to people, a strong and motivated leader is a vital ingredient. Frank Williams does not do defeat, he never did, and he never will. His long-time partner Patrick Head has stepped aside but his legacy is there for all to see in the integrity and quality of the engineering. And then there’s the money, ever crucial these days, and that has arrived in the form of drivers Maldonado and Senna plus renewed interest from sponsors. They may not win in Monaco this Sunday but they are back from the brink.

The victory in Barcelona, coming when Frank was celebrating his 70th birthday and after eight lean years, was universally popular. The fire in the garage was a cruel interruption in what should have the day of days, the night of nights for a party. We sent our best wishes, of course, trying to convey the way we felt for them. At the end of last week the leader himself sent out an email thanking us for our support and sympathy, and expressing his relief that all the injured had now returned safely to Grove. Frank Williams is one of a handful of people who would have done that.

It is not about the engine, or the aero, or the money. They have to be in place. It is about a raging desire to win, bloody hard work, and, in the case of Sir Frank Williams, a lifelong passion for his team and his sport.

Call me sentimental but, I tell you, it is not commonplace to see the universal joy for a winner we saw in Barcelona.

Of course, if they keep on winning, the joy along the pitlane will quite rapidly evaporate. That’s racing.

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