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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Williams' Engine

There have been many rumours and speculation on this topic over the last couple of months and especially once it was confirmed that BMW will now have a works team in Formula 1. is carrying this story telling how Williams might use Cosworth next year before switching to a Lexus badged Toyota engine for 2007. It has also been speculated that Honda might do a deal with Williams if they agree to let the BAR team keep Jenson Button for next year and beyond. Meanwhile Sam Michael, the Williams technical director, is screaming for some sort of decision to be made, obviously so that he can get on with designing next year's car. The later the decision comes, the less time he has.

There are pros and cons of each supplier. With Cosworth, Williams will presumably be getting their near exclusive attention, notwithstanding a supply to Minardi of rev limited V10s next year. On the flip side, Cosworth cannot command the resources of the manufacturers. But would they need to? V8s have been Cosworth's speciality for ages ever since the introduction of the famous double four valve (DFV) Cosworth engines in the 1960s. Today, Cosworth still supplies V8s to Indycar and Champcar. And their V10s are pretty handy as well. Also, their new F1 V8 is already in an advanced state of development over the rest. Whether they can sustain that lead is another matter but Cosworth is specialist manufacturer par excellence.

With Honda, Williams would still be tied to a manufacturer although it probably means a "customer" unit. The Toyota deal looks more promising. With all three options, Williams just might have to pay for engines next year but thats something they want to avoid. Williams could also stay with BMW, as Mario Thiessen have an open invitation to them for a continued supply. That to me is actually the best option especially since BMW promises them works quality engines. But the problem is most likely a human one. The relationship between these two companies have been soured and damaged perhaps to a point of no return now.

In the final analysis, the choice of engine partner is irrelevant for one reason. Williams have got to get the car sorted out first. In the May 2005 issue of F1 Racing magazine, it is estimated that the most powerful engines in F1 are Toyota, BMW and Ferrari in that order (930-970bhp). And yet, the fastest car at the moment is the McLaren powered by perhaps the most puny engine (around 900 - 920 bhp) of the lot (Minardi excepted). However, McLaren have got things absolutely sorted. Williams are still screwing around.

Unlike in the 1980s or the mid-1990s, when one absolutely and simply must have a Honda and later a Renault engine for any chance of championship success (Ford powered Benetton being the exception), the glut of manufacturers involved in Formula 1 today ensures that the choice of engine is not such an important factor. If your car is sorted, you will be competitive. All engines are producing roughly the same power, all around the 900 bhp mark or more. But could you imagine a Toyota powered McLaren? Renault and the rest would be eating dust every weekend. But as it stands they're still doing the business.

Never mind BMW, this is the leanest spell for Grove ever since they started grand prix racing. Come 2007, this spell would have stretched to 10 years without a world title. The previous lean spell would arguably be the period between Keke Rosberg's 1982 title and Nelson Piquet's third title in 1987. After the successes of the 90s with the likes of Mansell, Prost, Hill and Villeneuve, Williams are starting to lose their credibility.

So perhaps they should just swallow their pride and start dishing out dosh for engines. They aren't as blue chip as before. Perhaps the most insulting thing I've read about them is a Reuters journalist calling them wannabes a few seasons ago. Williams??? A wannabe?

At the moment, Jenson Button would probably be wise to remain at Brackley. The continuity and commitment by Honda will probably produce better results for him over there than at Grove. Williams will still be finding their feet for at least 2 to 3 seasons more the way it looks. Unless of course they can play nice with BMW.

Finally, I have no doubt that young Sam Michael is a genius. But is a software developer really qualified to lead the technical department at Williams? I would imagine they'd be better off with someone who has some mechanical or aero engineering qualifications, as in an Adrian Newey, a Pat Symonds or a Mike Gascoyne. Oh well, in this I'm no expert and I'm sure Patrick Head knows what he's doing. Despite the dismal results.

Update: Toyota says no to Williams for 2006 but is a possibility for 2007. Honda meanwhile says that time is running out.

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