Sir Frank Williams and Patrick Head, the main men behind Williams, have been due for a comeback for many years now. Since 1997 (read 1996 really), they haven’t shown dominant championship promise. And despite a flutter of wins here and there, the team appear to be lacking confidence and motivation. I say 1996, the year when Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve dominated the championship, because in my opinion, Williams only managed a title in 1997 due to Mercedes unreliability in the back of the McLaren. And yes, they have won races since with Heinz Harald Frentzen, Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya. But they haven’t really relived the pre-97 times since, despite shaking up the drivers and the team.
However, 2006 looks to be the brightest season for Team Willy in a long time. The reason? They have two good drivers, testing has shown a reasonably good chassis, and Cosworth are so determined not to embarass themselves, they should a reasonable engine as well.
Firstly, Mark Webber is entering his second season with Williams and has been praised and lambasted by the team for 12 months now. It shows though, and his steely Australian temprement has been doing wonders for the team. Mark admitted that he had been given a bollocking last year for a few silly mistakes, but in the same sentence also admitted he had thrown a few words back at the Oxford-based team. Mark Webber is not a man you really want to pick a fight with – despite is charming presonality – it would seem. But last year is indeed, last year. And Mark has been steadily working hard with Williams over the winter to improve the car and his testing skills have again come to the fore as the car has been gradually getting quicker and quicker.
Williams lost Nick Heidfeld to BMW Sauber at the end of 2005, and this was quite a blow to them, I feel. Whilst Nick didn’t exactly set the track alight with his performances, he was a steady and mature racer who occasionally managed to pull a good race out of his bag. So Williams needed a replacement, and with Mark settling into the team okay, Williams appear to have taken a bit more of a gamble and signed (another) son of a world champion,Nico Rosberg. I’m sure it is quite obvious to everyone, but is Frank setting a trend here? First Damon, offspring of Graham Hill. Then Jacques, son of legendary Gilles Villeneuve, and now Nico, son of Keke Rosberg who took the title back in 1982 (with Williams, incidentally).
Nico has been putting in some impressive lap times over winter, and many an interviewer have remarked at the young mans intelligence and cool-nature. He has been learning the ropes fast at Williams, and Sir Frank has been praising the youngest driver on the 2006 grid at every opportunity.
The Williams car looks good, and testing has been going okay for them. Whilst they haven’t been spectacular, both drivers are praising the 2006 entry. And this year, going against the popular trend of getting a manufacturer supply, Williams have chosen to use the privately built Cosworth V8.
Last year, relations with BMW really hit rock bottom, and they soon went lower when BMW announced they had bought Sauber and were going it alone. BMW was highly rated and considered to be one of the most powerful engines in Formula One. Williams faced a tough decision for 2006 with regards to engine, and has decided to opt for Cosworth, whom Williams has had success with in the past. Despite Cosworth’s diminutive size in comparison to Honda and Toyota and the likes, the engine has been going very well in testing. Cosworth used to build V8’s back in the day when it was the main choice of engine, and are putting all this knowledge to good use.
Team Willy aren’t yet championship-winning material, but they have made some big steps over the winter, and should be clawing their way back soon. This year may see a few podiums, and maybe even a win if they are lucky.