But while Nico Rosberg became a regular feature among the ‘best of the rest’, Alexander Wurz slipped down the field and into retirement.
Williams’ 2006 season was wrecked by diabolical reliability. They clearly got a handle on that problem this year.
While 11 races ended in mechanical failure last season, that was cut to three this year, which even given that there was one fewer race is still an exceptional improvement.
There was none of last year’s late-season drop-off in performance, either. In fact Nico Rosberg scored five times in the last seven races, ending the year on a high with fourth in Interlagos (appeal pending).
A tale of two drivers: Rosberg
Rosberg exploded onto the scene with a stunning debut drive at Bahrain last year with two points and fastest lap, then stuck his car third on the grid at Sepang.
And then… it petered out in a mess of unreliability (see above) and over-driving. This year he got his head sorted out and comprehensively trashed Alexander Wurz. While the Austrian would often struggle to reach the second part of qualifying, Rosberg started seven races from the top ten.
He raced as well as he qualified, too. He got the better of Button in a cracking duel at Monza and single-handedly beat both BMWs in Brazil.
The Hungaroring race was disappointing by these standards as questionable strategy saw him slip from fourth on the grid to seventh at the flag.
A tale of two drivers: Wurz
Wurz’s season began with a nasty collision and Melbourne and got worse. He slipped gradually further behind Rosberg and it seems that after he made his decision to retire at the time of the Canadian Grand Prix he had definitely lost his edge.
Ironically that race saw him score the team’s best result of the year, triumphing in an attrition-hit race to take a deserved third. But by the end of the season the consistent Rosberg overhauled him in the points standings.
Wurz ended up sitting out the final race with Kazuki Nakajima taking his place, the Japanese now confirmed at Wurz’s replacement for 2008.
It was a disappointing end to the F1 racing career of a popular driver, who now has his sights set on repeating his 1996 Le Mans 24 Hours triumph.
Not out of the woods
As the 2007 season drew to a close although Williams looked strong on the track – fourth in the constructors’ championship thanks in part to McLaren’s exclusion – the long-term prospects are worrying. They revealed significant losses for the 2006 financial year when they had been forced to pay for Cosworth engines.
There is a significant irony in the team signing Nakajima for next year. Twenty years ago the team refused to sign his Honda-backed father and as a result lost the contract to use the Japanese company’s potent V6 turbo.
Today the importance of keeping Toyota’s man Kazuki has perhaps forced them to opt for a driver that might not have been their number one choice.
Photo: Steven Lee / LAT Photographic | Glenn Dunbar / LAT Photographic