News and views on motorsports

Sunday, September 10, 2006

BMW and Williams

An excellent qualifying session by Nick Heidfeld for the Italian Grand Prix prompted me to think about the fortunes of both BMW and Williams so far this season. After a messy divorce last year, BMW bought over the Sauber team whilst Williams opted for Cosworth power for this season. Mario Thiessen of course was being very cautious when he stated that Williams would probably have the upper hand in 2006.

The results so far have been very different. At the beginning of the year, indeed Williams as expected by fans and pundits alike were blazing trails with both drivers Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg. In fact, the young Finn / German took the world by storm with a great finish in Bahrain and then a remarkable qualifying session in Sepang. But unfortunately for Grove, things took a turn for the worse.

By contrast the BMW team have gone from strength to strength. Dr M. Thiessen must be grinning from ear to ear especially after reading what both Williams and the British press, most notably Pitpass, had to say about him after all the acrimony from last year. 'I told you so' doesn't quite cover it. Still, it seems that BMW are putting that super sophisticated Sauber wind tunnel and Albert supercomputer to far more effective use than Peter Sauber ever could. Of course, Peter Sauber didn't have the budget that the Munich concern can command. And it seems that BMW's expansion of the Sauber operations by bringing in lots of new staff have proven to be spot on. The results on the track do not lie. The now ousted Jacques Villeneuve still leads both the Williams drivers on points as of the Turkish Grand Prix. Nick Heidfeld looks to be uncatchable the rate he's going.

I fear for Williams. He's the last of that hard core breed of racers from the 70s. Yes I know Ron Dennis is still there but let's face it McLaren are now indistinguishable from the team that won the 1976 driver's world title with James Hunt. Nowadays they are as disgustingly corporate as Mercedes, their biggest shareholder. No, Frank is the last of the lot. And yet now after nearly 10 seasons without a driver's title and ages since their last win, they are beginning to look a lot like Tyrrell and Ligier did in the 80s. Contenders throughout the 70s, absolute has-beens in the early 80s. Williams is in danger of being well stuck in midfield. In fact, Williams' loss of prestige began quite some time ago. For instance in 2001, I remember reading a news report from Reuters termed the team as "wannabes." Oi, have you no respect??!!

Of course hope still survives in the form of Toyota for next year. The deal is expected to last through to 2009 (or was that 2008?) and for me represents the last chance for Frank to pick his team up and become contenders once more. Of course he probably needs a good title sponsor to decorate his side pods in order to do so but with Toyota power behind him, that ought to be easier. Ought being the keyword for it is by no means certain the way the team have been going in recent times and of course due to poor world economic conditions.

In Nico Rosberg they have a promising (and cheap) young talent but is he capable of being a team leader? He seems intelligent enough and this is after all only his first season. Senna was pretty much the same at Toleman in 1984 before rising as virtual commander in chief of the Lotus team in 1985 (to the chagrin of the poor late Elio de Angelis). The other driver for next year Alex Wurz to me represents a poor option. No doubt he will bring some money to the table but there is a reason why McLaren kept him as a test driver all these years. That is, he's simply is bollocks no matter some people may think. At best, he's just a journeyman.

With so many changes at Williams one wonders who really is in charge of the car these days (I'm too lazy to find out right now). But surely, the technical team is not quite what it used to be. Yes, Sam Michael is something of a genius but I'm not sure that a software systems chap should be leading the tech guys in a racing team. Not at this level at any rate. Just as I don't think Vasselon is a good choice for Toyota. Both Williams and Toyota have plenty of work to do. Williams to me have more to lose because of their proud history. I sincerely hope they succeed.

And what of Toyota? What if the Williams Toyota consistently outperforms the works cars next year? I simply wonder how that would go down in the corridors of power in Japan. Eddie Jordan did suggest recently that Frank ought to be selling up to the Japanese. But surely this is untenable. After all the investment made to their Cologne operations, surely the Japanese are not considering making another major purchase in Britain, no matter how much better that would be in fact. There's just too much sunk into Cologne. And surely no one should suggest that Frank sell out to a non-manufacturer and end up being another stupid Midland team.

Finally, I do hope BMW does well too only if to make folks like Pitpass eat their words. They certainly are showing signs of improvement technically. In Sebastien Vettel I believe they have a true superstar in the making. Not since Alonso and Raikkonen debuted in 2001 have I seen a more impressive new driver. No, not even Nico Rosberg. Of course Vettel hasn't raced yet but any guy who can jump into a Formula 3 car and end up on the podium in Macau on his first attempt has got to be quite good. Nico Rosberg was nowhere on his first try. And now jumping into a Formula 1 car and going quickest, albeit in practise, shows that this lad simply understands what's going on. And that is incredibly important in this sport.

Interesting to see what happens next year. Come on Frank. Pull your socks up.

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