Losing H???lkenberg is a sign of the times at Williams

2010 F1 season reviewPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Nico H???lkenberg, Williams, Interlagos, 2010

In the sixth year since Williams last won a race, are there green shoots of recovery at the team?

Perhaps Nico H???lkenberg’s remarkable Brazilian Grand Prix pole position was one of them?

If so, it’s a worrying sign that he was dropped by the team just nine days afterwards.

Williams team stats 2010

Best race result (number) 4th (1)
Best grid position (number) 1st (1)
Non-finishes (mechanical/other) 6 (2/4)
Laps completed (% of total) 1953 (86.49%)
Laps led (% of total) 0 (0%)
Championship position (2009) 6th (7th)
Championship points (2009*) 69 (99)
*using 2010 system

Williams began the year with a new engine supplied and driver line-up. Goodbye to Toyota, Kazuki Nakajima and Nico Rosberg, hello to Cosworth, Rubens Barrichello and Nico H???lkenberg.

It took a while for the team’s new elements to gel. H???lkenberg may have joined them in 2008 but testing restrictions meant he had far less time behind the wheel than rookies in previous seasons.

That much was clear when he spun out at Bahrain and crashed at Melbourne, but there were better things to come. Barrichello, meanwhile, looked instantly comfortable at his new home.

The team made progress with Cosworth whose engines proved very reliable. But speed trap figures indicated they were not on a par with Mercedes and Ferrari in terms of outright performance.

Williams were on a steadily upward trajectory all season. Over the final half of the year Barrichello was a fixture in Q3 and H???lkenberg often joined him there.

Unfortunately this wasn’t matched by a similar gain in race performance and the pair often struggled to hold onto the places they qualified in.

Having lost ground to Force India early on they reeled in their rivals over the final races, passing them for sixth in the championship thanks to H???lkenberg’s efforts in Brazil.

The deciding moment in this battle came when Barrichello kept Sutil behind at Abu Dhabi after the Force India driver came out of the pits close to the Williams. Barrichello hung on around the outside of turn four in a moment he described as a “huge move” which seemed to go completely unnoticed by the cameras.

Signs of H???lkenberg’s progress were apparent before that Saturday at Interlagos. In the wet qualifying at Sepang he was an impressive fifth and at Monza he solidly out-qualified and out-raced Barrichello.

Frank Williams’ words following H???lkenberg’s departure carried an unmistakeable tone of regret: “We wish him well and hope that our paths will cross again in the future.”

Pastor Maldonado arrives at the team with a more convincing CV than Kazuki Nakajima did – Maldonado had the GP2 title wrapped up comfortably before the end of the season.

But even so it’s hard to avoid the impression that Williams wouldn’t be swapping one GP2 champion for another if Maldonado wasn’t bringing a reputed ??15m in sponsorship.

The bottom line is despite finishing higher in the championship than they did last year they scored fewer points (adjusting to today’s points system). Williams can’t stop the rot without money and with several sponsorship deals expiring this winter a tough decision had to be made.

It remains to be seen whether they got it right or not.

What did you think of Williams’ performance in 2010? Was letting H???lkenberg go the right thing to do? Have your say in the comments.

Williams’s season in pictures

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Image ?? Williams/LAT, Bridgestone/Ercole Colombo (see individual images for details)