2008: Williams

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Nico Rosberg, Williams-Toyota, Barcelona, 2008 pre-season

There’s a buzz around Williams as the new season approaches but team boss Frank Williams isn’t getting carried away:

I don’t subscribe to what the press has said. Our competitors around us, of which there are many, are just as competitive.

Is he being cautious or pessimistic?

It’s easy to get carried away with testing and teams are cautious not to promise too much in the winter break only to under-deliver once the season gets under going.

Williams’ weapon is the FW30, which the team promised would be substantially different to its predecessor. Last year Sam Michel described it as:

Not an evolution of the FW29; it’s a new car. A car that’s a revolution, is fast, and wins races. It’s not the same car as this year’s. We’ve started from scratch. It’s not the direct successor.

That sounds ominously similar to what they said two years ago.

Williams ended 2007 fourth, promoted one place by the exclusion of McLaren. A repeat of fourth place would most likely mean beating either BMW or Renault over the course of the year. Williams may be able to start the year ahead of either or both those teams, but can they match the development rate of the manufacturer outfits over a whole year? They couldn’t in 2006.

How good is Nico Rosberg?

Rosberg had an excellent 2007, particularly his string of points finishes in the second half of the season. He’s also one of those drivers like Mark Webber and Jarno Trulli who seems to thrive on the pressure of modern-style qualified and can be relied upon to get the car into the top ten.

The only question mark over Rosberg for me is are his wet-weather driving skills – he didn’t score in any of the wet rounds last year.

Is Kazuki Nakajima ready for F1?

Kazuki Nakajima, on the other hand, is all question marks. He’s been fast-but-wild in the lower ranks and didn’t win a round in GP2 last year – the championship Rosberg won three years ago.

He’s looked rapid in testing though – more than quick enough to dispel suggestions that he’s only in the team because of his connections with Toyota.

But as last year’s pairing of Rosberg and Alexander Wurz showed a few tenths of a second in qualifying can be the difference between points or no points on race day, in an era when reliability is a given and overtaking is virtually impossible. Nakajima could be Rosberg’s next scalp waiting to happen.

What about the long-term?

The car might look quick but there’s no escaping the fact that this is an independent team with a customer engine deal. The quickest way for Toyota to solve the problem of being beaten by a team that use the same engines as them would be to stop giving them engines, so Williams are inherently vulnerable.

The presence of three sponsors on the car linked to the Baugur Group may point the way forward for them. There may be a lot of good will directed at Williams at the moment, but that alone cannot guarantee their long-term future.

But in the meantime, expect them to embarrass some of F1’s more profligate outfits in 2008.

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