F1 2007 preview: Williams

Mark Webber, Ralf Schumacher, Melbourne, 2006Williams slumped to eighth in the 2006 world championship, two places and 24 points behind Toyota.

Now the two teams have done a deal which will see Toyota use Williams’ gearbox technology and Williams use Toyota’s engines.

It offers Williams the chance not only to bounce back from the disappointments of recent seasons – but also draw attention to the strength of their technical outfit by giving the ‘factory’ Toyota team a run for its money…

Juan Pablo Montoya, Williams-BMW, Hockenheimring, 2003In 2003 Williams made their last convincing bid for a championship title. But for the controversial change in the tyre rules by the FIA late that year, they might well have won the drivers’ championship with Montoya, and then who knows where both parties would be today?

Williams’ relationship with engine supplier BMW deteriorated. The 2004 car went down an aerodynamic dead-end and Williams’ refusal to let BMW contribute more on the technical side frustrated the Munich company.

The mutually incompatible Montoya and Ralf Schumacher vanished that year and, another year later, so had BMW. Suddenly Williams were a customer team, scrabbling for cash and cheaper drivers.

Mark Webber, Williams-Cosworth, Monte-Carlo, 2006Last year was a rude awakening for the team – the car was rapid early in the season but their rivals pace of development overwhelmed them and they never truly sorted out the car’s reliability troubles. Race after race passed them by without any points.

That simply has to stop in 2007. Even if the car is no quicker relative to the opposition, better quality control to halt the needless squandering of points due to ancillary failures is vital.

Despite Williams’ cash flow problems they have secured an effective and cheap pair of drivers. Nico Rosberg has a difficult rookie season behind him and shouldn’t be written off yet.

Alexander Wurz, Williams-Cosworth, Silverstone, 2006Alexander Wurz’s strength as a test driver (he played a major role in unlocking the performance of the Bridgestone tyres last year) has too often eclipsed his racing abilities. Remember he jumped into Montoya’s McLaren at Imola in 2005 and scored a podium in his first race for five years.

But expect these two to shoulder most of the development work. Testers Kazuki Nakajima and Narain Karthikeyan are the price to Williams for Toyota engines and Tata cash respectively.

The car’s livery at least suggests the team have more cash than last year, when the FW28′s sidepods were blank at most races. The team has a new title sponsor in AT&T.

Frank Williams, Patrick Head, Sepang, 1999Frank Williams and Patrick Head are dyed-in-the-wool racers and I admire them greatly. But they must realise the gravity of the situation facing Williams.

The customer cars situation may stink a bit but there is nothing to be gained for them in wasting their energies trying to get the FIA to change the rules or chuck Super Aguri and Toro Rosso out of the championship.

It may be a bitter pill to swallow, but perhaps the best way forward for the team is to explore what options are available as chassis suppliers to Toyota, who in six years have struggled to make much of their own cars.

The only alternative at this time – with no other manufacturer interest on the horizon – is a long decline and eventual extinction.

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