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Drawing the Curtains

September 21, 2011

It is unlikely that Sam Michael had 9th in the Formula 1 Constructor’s Championship in mind when Williams released the FW33 earlier this year.

Indeed many elements of Williams’ 2011 season show a team struggling to meet the demands of modern Formula 1 competition.

Following a tough start – it took Rubens Barrichello six races to score points, with Pastor Maldonado achieving his first score three weeks ago – the former top dogs of Formula 1 have been unable to pick up the pace. Now lagging a long way behind the likes of Sauber and Toro Rosso, Williams barely seem able to muster a bark, let alone a bite this season.
Now with Michael on his way to McLaren and Head of Aerodynamics Jon Tomlinson being moved aside, Williams find themselves in the midst of a significant restructure of its technical staff.

Movement of the team’s driver line-up is also looking more and more likely and Maldonado’s seat more-or-less solidified thanks to backing from Venezuelan oil money, courtesy of PDVSA.
Despite having captured a majority of Williams’ points tally (a mammoth four of five thus far), Barrichello looks to be the driver who may find himself without a seat at the team come next March.
The Brazilian was initially hired to bring experience to the team following the departures of Nico Rosberg (to Mercedes) and Kazuki Nakajima (to Formula Nippon). Partnered by then reigning GP2 Champion, Nico Hulkenberg, Barrichello helped the team climb to 6th in the Constructor’s; however 2011 has been less than stellar.

Although the Brazilian veteran has performed better on paper than his current rookie teammate, several of his drives have been somewhat lacklustre. Indeed, had Maldonado not been involved in an incident with Lewis Hamilton at Monaco, the rookie may well have had overtaken Barrichello in the standings.

Visits by former World Champion Kimi Raikkonen and Force India’s Adrian Sutil to the Williams’ factory in Grove, have sent rumours into overdrive – and it appears Barrichello may the driver on the firing line.

Last week’s Italian Grand Prix was typical for the team this season. A solid start (helped by several in the midfield getting wiped out) was followed by a slump back down the order as the race aged.
Come the flag, Maldonado had fallen to 11th (after running 6th), while Barrichello crossed the line 12th after beaching himself on a kerb in the first corner incident.
Whereas Maldonado struggled (and lost) in a fight to hold off both Toro Rosso’s, Bruno Senna (Renault), Force India’s Paul di Resta and Sergio Perez (Sauber), Barrichello found himself in a battle against the Lotus of Heikki Kovalainen, with the Finn running the Williams in lap times for the first half of the race.
Although Kovalainen fell away in the second half of the Grand Prix, it displayed worrying signs for once successful team.

At this stage, it looking less and less likely that a large allotment of points will be forthcoming for the Williams team, especially as the rest of the midfield garner their final upgrades for a late season battle.
With a twenty-four point deficit to Toro Rosso, Frank Williams’ squad are on the verge of the worst result in the team’s history – and with it, Barrichello’s long Formula 1 career may end on something of a bum note.

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4 Comments
  1. It’s so sad that Williams have fallen so low in the standings and I can’t but think they should be using some of Patrick Head’s retirement shares fund to prop up the team instead of trying to run it on a shoestring. For a team that does not exist to do anything other than Formula One, I can’t make out why they would want or need to continue in this downward spiral.

    As for Rubens, I love him to bits, but it’s time he hung up his helmet (sorry Lukeh), I really can’t see Sutil or Raikkonen heading towards Grove, are either of them development drivers, I’d doubt it.

    • Leigh O'Gorman permalink

      I do wonder on occasion if Williams may partner Jaguar’s Le Mans efforts further. If so, it could be interesting for the future, but for now their F1 path is somewhat muddled.

  2. As a longtime fan I keep hoping for a Williams turnaround, a DC-like ‘next year it’ll be better’. I’ve been hoping for an awful long time now and patience is running thin. I’m hopeful that Renault is the light at the end of the tunnel and that this is the last staff reshuffle for a while. We’ll see.

    • Leigh O'Gorman permalink

      True Pat,
      Williams have an interesting proposition next year with the Renault engine. One wonders if the team will go conservative in the first year of their partnership, knowing well this might not help their overall position or will they throw it all on the line for a risky design?

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