One point separates Williams from Marussia and Caterham. A solitary points finish for Pastor Maldonado and that just two weekends ago in Hungary a whole lap behind Lewis Hamilton. It barely seems relevant now to mention that Williams built the car Ayrton Senna offered to drive for no fee just over twenty years ago — that’s how good Williams once were.
It is relevant however, to mention that Williams scored 76 points across of all last season, the bulk of them in the first half, because Williams – like so many teams – seem utterly, utterly lost once again this year.
You could be forgiven for thinking the design and development of a contemporary, competitive F1 car is a matter a luck and a shot in the dark which may or may not work. How else do you explain a team with the experience of Williams creating a car — like almost everyone else’ car a simple evolution of its predecessor — that is so much worse than the one that preceded it? The technical regulations are near identical to 2012 when the Williams car was a race winner remember, and an indication after a poor 2011 (which this season may yet eclipse for awfulness) that the engineering department had a sense of direction, knew what made a car work.
There can only be two conclusions. Either the totality of Williams’ resource — the people, the data and the systems designed to allow the former to best exploit the latter — is broken or this year’s Pirelli rubber is so impossible to model the team might as well be trying to design a reliable wind farm. Recent and dramatic changes in Williams’ design and engineering department suggests Sir Frank and daughter Claire believe the problem does lie close to home and are determined to fix it. Williams doesn’t have the swagger of McLaren, but its trophy cabinet is barely any less impressive and its engineering services group is at the heart of the Jaguar C-X75, the Audi R-18 E-tron and the Porsche GT3 Hybrid.
But back to F1 and to the man Sir Frank Williams said was as good as anyone who had driven his cars (and we can only assume that included Senna). Valterri Bottas has done the job on Pastor Maldonado this year, out-qualifying him six to four and bagging that second row start in Canada. In the races however he’s been less impressive, finishing all but one race (last week in Hungary) with an eleventh and a couple of twelfths to show for it. Then again Maldonado has been a shadow of himself this year too, so deep are the issues with the FW35. Both drivers stand to have their reputations obliterated. No wonder Maldonado has already said he wants to stay next year.
The FW36 will have a Mercedes engine, the reunion with Renault having failed to roll the team back to the glory days. One assumes the team is already working flat out on that car on the basis that there really is nothing to be done to sweeten this year’s lemon. Hard not to feel terribly, terribly sorry for Williams — its 600th race anniversary was painful to witness. The greater fear — fuelled by McLaren’s not dissimilar lack of direction — is that this is F1’s problem, not Williams’.
Half term grades
Maldonado: B Minus
Bottas: B Plus